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by jingo!

A corruption of St. Gengoulph, a word often used in a vulgar oath, “By the living jingo.” — Webster, 1882

“By jingo, that plow can handle the work by itself,” he said. “With all these new inventions nowadays, there’s no use for a man’s muscle. One of these nights that plow’ll take a notion to keep on going, and we’ll look out in the morning and see that it’s turned over an acre or two after the team and I quit for the night.” – Little Town on the Prairie, Chapter 2, “Springtime on the Claim”

In Little Town on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder writes about Pa’s new breaking plow. It was so easy for the horses to pull and made such quick work of plowing that at the end of the day, the horses weren’t too tired to frolic and even Pa wasn’t too tired to joke.

This is the only time the expression “by Jingo” appears in the Little House books; it’s not used in Pioneer Girl or the Little Town manuscript. Whether it was added by Rose or was an expression often used by Charles Ingalls is unknown. It is used in Rose’s Free Land.

Definitely, “by jingo” was in common usage by the 1880s, or the time of Little Town on the Prairie. It had recently been used in the chorus of a popular song of the late 1870s, “MacDermott’s War Song:”

We don’t want to fight but by jingo if we do,
We’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, and got the money too.
We’ve fought the Bear before… and while we’re Britons true,
The Russians shall not have Constantinople.

“MacDermott’s War Song” was written by George W. Hunt and sold to Gilbert Hastings MacDermott (known as “The Great MacDermott”), one of the brightest stars of the Victorian English music hall. The song was about the threat posed to Britain’s Mediterranean interests by Russia’s declaration of war against Turkey in 1877. It became known as “The Jingo Song” and introduced the word jingoism into the English language. A jingo was said to be anyone who professed their patriotism strongly and loudly, one who was in favor of a strong foreign policy and always being prepared for war.
Webster’s 1882 dictionary (the edition purchased for use in the early De Smet schools) defines jingo as a corruption of St. Gingoulph [sic], a word often used in a vulgar oath, “By the living jingo.”

It may have been used as a cry in adoration of St. Gengulphus… or “Jingo!” By the 17th century, it was used as an exclamation when performing magic. “Hey jingo” was said instead of, for example, “Abracadabra!” Earlier, “by jingo” had been a euphemism for “by Jesus!” It may also have meant “by God,” as the Basque word for God was Jainko.

One wonders why Caroline Ingalls didn’t gently reprimand Pa for his wooden swearing.


     by jingo (LTP 2)