From listener Richard Gaillard comes this question:
I lived in North Carolina most of my life and in the North Carolina mountains for 11 years. Working as a carpenter I heard lots of slang terms. One exclamation (almost expletive) I heard often, and now use, is pronounced something akin to “gee moh netti” or “gee muh neddy” said as one word. It seems to be exchangeable for “Jesus Christ.” Perhaps it is in the same vein as “gosh” which seems to be a replacement for using “God” in an expletive or profane fashion. I use it and have heard it used to express moments of shock, amazement, frustration, and other emotions experiences. My question is, where does this colorful and versatile word/phrase come from, what does it actually mean (if anything), and how should it be spelled?
This expression lands in the very-far-afield euphemism zone. It is indeed an oath, one related to a much larger family of oaths. Since all of these mild ejaculatory oaths occupy more or less the same lexical space, they also do a fair amount of cross-pollination and hybridization. Folks mix and match to make new, even more oath-tastic forms.
As Richard put it, “I particularly like the ‘word’ because it is a vessel to convey emotion through intonation and inflection. For me, it is just a string of neat-sounding filler syllables I can use creatively.”
According to the Dictionary of American Regional English, the Historical Dictionary of American Slang, the Oxford English Dictionary, and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, you might arrange the different family forms as shown below. The varied spellings are a tip-off that the words are primarily spread by word of mouth.
Gemini gimini The third sign of the zodiac, meaning twins, once used as euphemism for the Late Latin Jesu domine ‘Jesus Lord.’ It could be that the well-known Gemini simply sounded a bit like Jesu domine and came readily to mind and lips as a way of saving oneself from blaspheming, but it could also be a bit of a joke about the pleonastic Jesus Lord, which contains two names for the same individual.
jiminy geeminy, gemenee, jeeminee, jeminy, jimmety, jimminy, jumping jiminy
jiminy cricket jiminy Christmas, jiminy criminy, jiminy crimony Yes, like the animated top-hatted umbrella-wearing character. Usually said to be euphemisms of Jesus Christ, yet sharing so much with the above single-word oaths.
jiminetty geemenetti, geminetti, jeemanently, jeemanetty, jiminy netties
criminy crimeny Probably a euphemism for Christ, possibly from the Italian crimine, which was (is?) used as an ejaculation in that language. DARE says that in the US, criminy is chiefly found in the North, North Midlands, and the West. The dictionary’s map shows little use of it in the South.
crimanetly crimanently, crimanentle, crimanetlies, crimanightie This, too, is little used in the American South. Ben Adams called about this one last week, coincidentally, telling us his mother in Illinois, uses it. And a couple of years ago, Roxanna (originally from Schuyler, Nebraska), emailed to tell us that her husband Charles (originally from St. Joseph, Missouri), says it as “crime in Italy.”
Photo by Remko van Dokkum. Used under a Creative Commons license.