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I am reading a story. and there is a sentence in it as follows:

"Oh, mercy me!" she exclaims,"I can hardly stand it!"

What does the phrase "mercy me" mean in that context? What can I use instead of "mercy me"?

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"Mercy me!" is an old-fashioned expression meaning "God have mercy on me!" and would be used in a situation where the speaker feels alarmed or afraid, or even mildly agitated. You could use "God help me!" or, if you dislike religious oaths, some other exclamation such as "Oh my!".

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  • Thanks Harvey. In that story she says that when she is surprised with a great offer. So, can the phrase "mercy me" mean "thanks God"? – AR AM Apr 2 at 20:17
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    It can mean anything which could also be expressed by "Oh!". A great offer. Your dog is killed by a truck. You find a spider in your lunch. Your mother tells you she has won a big prize. Your sister cuts her hair off. A house collapses. Anything surprising or alarming. – Michael Harvey Apr 2 at 20:23
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    Given that it is, as stated above, just an expression of surprise; other - less obvious - alternatives might include: "Oh no!", "What the f---!" or even simply "Arrrgh!". – user5505 Apr 3 at 7:28
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    There are a very large number of exclamations of this type. – Michael Harvey Apr 3 at 13:39
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    @ARAM I associate "Mercy me!" with "Heaven help me!" more than "Thank God." They often have opposite meanings, but sometimes overlap. The first is an expression of lack --- of patience, or of providence ("Mercy me! I don't have time for this.") --- or of getting a surprise, often unpleasant ("Mercy me! My neighbor got sick, and I met with him yesterday."), or extremely pleasant and unexpected. ("Mercy me! I've won the lottery! I didn't even dream of winning.") – jpaugh Apr 3 at 23:00
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It's an interjection or exclamation that expresses surprise or fear.
It can appear as "mercy", "mercy me", or in other forms.

Here is a dictionary definition:
Lexico "mercy" exclamation
archaic Used in expressions of surprise or fear.
‘“Mercy me!” uttered Mrs. Garfield’

An etymological note about the word "mercy" and some derived phrases:
Etymonline "mercy"
As an interjection, attested from mid-13c. (short for may God have mercy, have mercy on me, etc.).

If this exclamation is used these days, it will be taken as humorous because it is so archaic.

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It's an old-sounding slang used to express shock. It can also be used for emphasis.

An equivalent phrase would be "Oh, lord have mercy (on me)".

Two additional notes:

  1. "Mercy me" does not follow standard English grammar rules because it is slang.

  2. Most people don't actually say "mercy me" anymore, so I would recommend against using it in day-to-day conversation.

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    #2 depends on who you hang out with. Certain church ladies say it frequently. – barbecue Apr 4 at 2:47

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