Sam Hill » Sand Hill

Chiefly in:   what in/the/in the Sand Hill

Classification: English – questionable

Spotted in the wild:

  • “… for there are enough scrapped lottery slips and scratch-off cards accumulating along it to make one wonder just what in the Sand Hill is going on. … “ (link)
  • “Were are you?!? (Edd gets off the ride and finds Ed in Tommorrowland , building something) Edd:ED,WHAT IN SAND HILL ARE YOU DOING ????? … “ (link)
  • “… threw the middle like a clown tears thru a cow’s 4th stomach, which exploded the asteroid faster than you could say “What the sand hill is that thing?” “ (link)

Suggested to me by Roger Shuy on 18 May 2005, who even supplied a photograph (from an acquaintance) of a sandhill crane, with the caption “What in the Sand Hill is going on here?”

A reshaping of the utterly opaque “Sam Hill” expressions is entirely natural. Still, the numbers from a Google web search are small:
“what in the Sand Hill”: ca. 91
“what in Sand Hill”: 4
“what the Sand Hill”: 2
(I’ve removed references to Silicon Valley’s Sand Hill Road, home to venture capitalists and the Stanford Linear Accelerator.)

For comparison:
“what in the Sam Hill”: ca.832
“what in Sam Hill”: ca. 685
“what the Sam Hill”: ca. 642
(though a fair number of these cites are mentions of the expressions, not uses of them).

As for the “Sam Hill” originals, Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words concludes: “The expression has been known since the late 1830s. Despite the story [about a Connecticut politician named Sam Hill], it seems to be no more than a personalised euphemism for “hell”.” (…). The euphemism source is supported by the odd syntax of “Sam Hill”, occurring (like “hell”) with “what in the”, “what in”, and “what the”.

| link | entered by Arnold Zwicky, 2005/05/18 |


  1. 1

    Commentary by Jalet Farrell , 2005/06/03 at 3:06 pm…
    This is a site devoted to the sometimes strange and amazing work of Sam Hill. He often spent great sums of money on projects others did not have his vision for. HE was responsibe for paving the first road in the Pacific NW and aquired funds from congress. Congress often did not understand what he was doing or asking for funds for and the phrase “What in Sam Hill” became a familiar way of stating you did not understand the goings on of something in congress. The phrase filtered into the newspapers and became part of our American phrase quota.

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