English can be a notoriously tough language to learn. There are many reasons for this, from confusing contradictions to strange exceptions to rules. And if learning proper English wasn’t hard enough, you also have to consider all the weird words and phrases used in everyday conversations. Kick the bucket? Hold your horses? A piece of cake?
For Pete’s sake, where do some of these idioms even come from? And who is Pete?
“For Pete’s Sake” Defined
In the English language, the phrase “for Pete’s sake” is an interjection, used to expresses surprise, frustration, exasperation, or annoyance.
“For Pete’s sake, get moving!”
“For Pete’s sake, get off the computer!”
“I haven’t seen you in years, for Pete’s sake!”
Sometimes, the variant “for the love of Pete” might be used instead of “for Pete’s sake,” but they both mean the same thing.
Where Does “For Pete’s Sake” Come From?
Expressions like “for Pete’s sake” and “for the love of Pete” are considered to be mild oaths – a way to swear without being vulgar (think “shoot” and “darn”).
They have their origins as being substitute phrases for something stronger. In this case, these idioms were used as replacements for “for Christ’s sake”, “for God’s sake”, “for the love of God”, etc. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the name “Pete” in these exclamations is chiefly a euphemism for God.
The concept of using euphemisms as replacements for words like “Jesus Christ” and “God” is fairly old, and likely is inspired in some part by the Ten Commandments of the Bible. The 3rd Commandment states that “thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”.
If you have ever stubbed your big toe, you know that sometimes having a powerful word or phrase is needed to express your pain and frustration. If you don’t want to swear, or take your Lord’s name in vain, you might instead use phrases like “gosh darn it!”, “oh my gosh”, or “for Pete’s sake!”.
Who is Pete in “For Pete’s Sake”?
The use of “for Pete’s sake” is relatively new, dating back to 1903 according to Oxford English Dictionary citations. This was followed by “for the love of Pete” in 1906, and “in the name of Pete” in 1942.
This does beg the question – why Pete? Why not use another name, like John or Matt or Fred?
There is no definitive consensus on this, but some hold that “Pete” is perhaps used to invoke Saint Peter, though there is no evidence to necessarily support this.
It may also be that “for Pete’s sake” stems for the expression “for pity’s sake”, which is a much older idiom. Using “Pete” instead of “John”, “Matt”, or “Fred” might have come about simply because “Pete” and “pity” sound fairly similar when used in the expression.
Whatever the reason, you now have a family friendly phrase to shout the next time you slam the car door on your thumb in front of your grandma.
Like this post? Make sure to check out our other articles on Language and Grammar.
Mark Heald is an Associate Product Manager and Sporcle Admin. He enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, and bemoaning the fact the Sonics left Seattle.