Oh My Stars and Garters – Meaning, Usage and Origin

Oh, my stars and garters” has been used in the English language for centuries. The phrase was particularly prevalent several decades ago.

Meaning

“Oh, my stars and garters” is an exclamation of astonishment. The idiom is a way to convey shock, similar to how “Oh my God” is commonly used today.

Examples

  • “Two Muffins are sitting in an oven. The first muffin says, “It’s really hot in here.” The second muffin replies[,] “Oh my stars and garters! A talking muffin!”
  • From Liz Sills’ “The Phenomenology of the Funny
  • “My stars and garters – 30 minutes to go[,] and this dress still makes me look like a double feature of Frankenstein and Dracula”.
  • From The Breeze, Madison College newspaper, 1939
  • “and Blitzen ate him up before Santa Claus could say My stars and garters! which of course he never does say unless he is just too dreadfully surprised for anything”.
  • From Mabel Fuller Blodgett’s When Christmas Came Too Early, 1912

What is the Correct Saying

Today, the correct saying is something akin to an interjection that shows surprise. “Oh my God!” can easily be replaced with “Oh, my stars and garters.”

Ways to use “Oh, my stars and garters!”:

  • “Oh, my stars and garters! You’ve scared the living daylights out of me!”
  • “Oh, my stars and garters, McKenzie! I can’t believe you told him that!”
  • He flew out from behind the curtain, right into Jessica’s face.

“Oh, my stars and garters, Ryan! I almost jumped out of my skin!”

To say the phrase in the way people initially used it, the speaker would have to have a touch of sarcasm and refer directly to the idea that the stars give people their greatness.

Ways to use “Oh, my stars and garters” in its original meaning:

  • “Oh, my stars and garters, Erin! I’m not the King of England!”
  • “Oh, my stars and garters! I guess they’ll elect anyone mayor in this town!”
  • Of a disliked candidate (with sarcasm): “Oh, my stars and garters! What an honorable man!”

Origin

Stars have been a popular symbol in the English language and literature for centuries. They usually point to something unchanging, bound to happen, or are said to describe a person’s personality.

For example, in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “star-crossed lovers” refers to two people who are destined to fall in love but are fated to be doomed. The stars in this phrase initially had the same meaning.

Garters, in this case, does not refer to stockings but instead to The Most Noble Order of the Garter. This order is the highest heraldic merit that the British monarch can bestow. A person who is honored with this distinction has usually done some tremendous public service.

So, the original phrase “stars and garters” merged the idea of a person fated to accomplish certain things in their lifetime with one of the highest honors that the British monarch bestows upon an individual. “Stars and garters,” or some other combination of these words, meant that the people who were high in political office were there because they were fated to do great things, and the stars have aligned well for them.

Later on, the phrase took a humorous turn. The first time it was known to be used comedically was in a poem in London Magazine called “A Journey to Oxford” in August 1765. After some ruffians roll into a landlady’s hotel after a night on the town, the following happens:

“The six-foot hostess at the Bear,

Toss’d up her nose, and head in air,

“Supper at such an hour!

My stars and garters! who would be,

To have such guests, a landlady,”

The landlady ironically uses “stars and garters” to say that people in her profession are used to disreputable persons.

Over time, the idiom lost its sarcasm but retained the character of exclamation and shock that it initially had in “A Journey to Oxford.”

Similar Phrases

There are many phrases in the English language where a person can show a feeling of shock.

Some of them include:

  • Oh my god!
  • Oh, my stars! (This interjection has a similar origin to “oh my stars and garters.)
  • Good Lord!
  • Holy Smokes!
  • Blimey!
  • Gee Whiz!

Opposite Phrases

Idioms that are the opposite of “Oh, my stars and garters” are those that show indifference or a blase attitude.

For example:

  • “I don’t give two hoots.”
  • “Big deal”
  • “Why am I so not bothered?”
  • “It’s not worth my time.”
  • “I don’t give a continental farthing.”
  • “Here’s a dime. Call someone who cares.”

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