What the Sam Hill? Did This Censorship Phrase Really Originate in Michigan?
You've most likely heard someone utter the words "What in the Sam Hill?" as a substitute for cuss words. But did the expression really originate in Michigan?
Although there's no definitive proof that the euphemism was born here in the Mitten State, there's a pretty good argument to support that theory.
Useless Fact That No One Needs to Know
My dad said "What in the Sam Hill" (as well as many other colorful 'language enhancers') frequently when I was a kid and for the longest time, I wondered if he was saying "What in the Sam Hill," or "What in the Sam Hell." Of course, the latter would have defeated the whole purpose of self-censorship.
So What's the Story Behind the Phrase?
The euphemism is said to date back to the late 1800s. Very little record-keeping was done back then and the Internet was more than one hundred years in the future, so details are a little sketchy.
One popular belief points directly to a man named Samuel W. Hill who was a surveyor in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
According to Lost in Michigan, Hill was a geologist, surveyor,l and mining engineer in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Although Hill is said to have had a kind heart and a dedication to the Copper Country region, he was also reputed to have a foul mouth - one that would make a sailor blush.
Hill always had good stories to tell, but his stories were peppered with blasphemous and obscene language. As his stories were retold, many people tried to clean up Hill's stories by substituting Hill's name in the place of curse words.
Hill was twice elected to the Michigan state legislature before retiring in 1875 and passing away in 1889.
Other Possibilities for Sam Hill
As we said, record-keeping in the 19th century wasn't terribly accurate, so there are other men who bore the name Sam Hill that could have contributed to the birth of the expression.
Wikipedia contributors have also found evidence of foul-mouthed gents from Kentucky, Connecticut, and Arizona.
The story of Samuel W. Hill, the surveyor from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, however, seems to be the most plausible.