Nov 13, 2015

Holy Mackerel

It is an exclamation of surprise. Holy Mackerel dates back at least 200 years and is one of very many blasphemous oaths with the Holy prefix. Holy Mackerel was almost certainly a reference to Catholics eating fish on Fridays (rather like Holy Cow is a reference to Hindus, and Holy Smoke is a reference to incense burning and funeral pyres. Mackerel was popular because it did not cost much.

Holy Moses was shortened to the rhyming Holy Moley or Holy Moly. The way that words roll off the tongue is significant in how these expressions become widely used and adopted.

Another slang for Catholics of the 19th century was mackerel snatchers. The word Mackerel has historically been a strong fish symbol and fish stereotype.