I'm just read The Hound of the Baskervilles, and in few sentences it's said about "in thunder" or "by thunder".

"Now," said Sir Henry Baskerville, "perhaps you will tell me, Mr. Holmes, what in thunder is the meaning of that, and who it is that takes so much interest in my affairs?"

and also this

"And yet, my dear Watson, there is so very close a connection that the one is extracted out of the other. 'You,' 'your,' 'your,' 'life,' 'reason,' 'value,' 'keep away,' 'from the.' Don't you see now whence these words have been taken?"

"By thunder, you're right! Well, if that isn't smart!" cried Sir Henry.

So, what is that mean?

  • Also you'll find "What in blazes...!". – user3169 Nov 23 '15 at 2:49

It's a minced oath: a phrase which has the form of a stronger curse, and obviously alludes to a stronger curse (in these cases presumably what in the Hell! and by God!), but carefully avoids violating any strong social taboos.

  • 1
    "By thunder" is a further mincing of "by Jove" I do believe. – BobRodes Nov 23 '15 at 4:00
  • 4
    @BobRodes Unless of course it is a mincing of by Thor! – StoneyB on hiatus Nov 23 '15 at 4:59
  • Well, that could be, but "by lightning" just doesn't sound as good. :) – BobRodes Nov 24 '15 at 4:42

This may be a folk etymology, but is it possible that the expression might be a remnant of heathen days, during which the expression may actually have referred to Thunor the Anglo-Saxon god of thunder? The Norse cognate is Thor. Thunor is where the word thunder comes from and gives us the name Thursday, from "Thunoresdage" in Old English. Stripped of its divine reference post-Christianisation, it might have persisted as a figure of speech. In Crete, a similar remnant exists: when someone swears by Zeupater (Zeus the father) it means they really intend to keep their promise, mostly without realising it refers to Zeus, but just as a figure of speech.

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