the appearance of the phrase ‘cross my heart (and hope to die)’


Snuffy Smith - Jackson Sun (Tennessee) - 27 July 2007

Awright, class, who can gimme th’ name of th’ feller who painted on th’ ceilin’ of th’ Sistine Chapel… Jughaid?
Uh-uh, Miz Prunelly!! Cross my heart an’ hope to die, it wasn’t me!!

from Snuffy Smith, by John Rose – The Jackson Sun (Jackson, Tennessee) – 27th July 2007



The phrase cross my heart (and hope to die) is used to emphasise the truthfulness and sincerity of what one is saying, from the action of making a small sign of the cross over one’s heart, which sometimes accompanies the words.

It seems to have originated in the USA in the second half of the 19th century; it is first recorded in Fashions and Follies of Washington Life (Washington, D.C. – 1857), a play by Henry Clay Preuss. Capt. Jack Smith is an “Ex-Captain and retired politician—An old ‘fogy’”, and Tom Scott is “Capt. Smith’s body-servant—An ancient gentleman from Africa”:

– Tom. Here I is, Massy Jack.
– Capt. S. Have you obeyed all your master’s orders today, sir?
– Tom. Yes, Massy.
– Capt. S. Attended strictly to everything I told you?
– Tom. Yes indeed, Massy—cross my heart!
– Capt. S. Well done, thou good and faithful servant! take a drink, sir!

The earliest instance of cross my heart and hope to die that I have found is from A Day in June: Picnicking as It is Done in the Redwood Groves, published in The Record-Union (Sacramento, California) of 4th July 1891:

I painted a hay field once, by the way. It was a beautiful thing. So all my friends said, yet one suggested that I daub in some insects and call it a cluster of bee hives, which I did. Then another wanted me to cut it in two, which I did, and the last half, containing the sea of uncut, yellow grain with a gorgeous sunset at the west, he said would pass for a plate of buttered muffins with sorghum accompaniment, or the countenance of a dead or dying jaundiced Chinaman. Cross my heart and hope to die if I ever paint another haying scene.

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