Great Scott! is an interjection of surprise, amazement, or dismay. As a distinctive but inoffensive exclamation, popular in the second half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, and now considered dated.
It originates as a minced oath, historically associated with two specific "Scotts", notably Scottish author Sir Walter Scott and somewhat later in the United States, US general Winfield Scott.
It is frequently assumed that Great Scott! is a minced oath of some sort, Scott replacing God. The 2010 edition of the Oxford Dictionary of English labels the expression as "dated" and simply identifies it as an "arbitrary euphemism for Great God!".
Alternatively, it has been suggested that it may be a corruption of the Austrian greeting Grüss Gott.
In keeping with the Victorian-era origin of the phrase, it is sometimes anecdotally associated with Albert, Prince Consort.
Sir Walter Scott
An early reference to Sir Walter Scott as the "great Scott" is found in a poem entitled "The Wars of Bathurst 1830" published in The Sydney Monitor on 27 October 1830 (i.e. still during Scott's lifetime); the pertinent line reading "Unlike great Scott, who fell at Waterloo", in reference to Scott's poorly-received The Field of Waterloo
An explicit connection of Sir Walter Scott's name with the by-then familiar exclamation is found in a poem published 15 August 1871, on the centenary anniversary of Scott's birth:Whose wild free charms, he chanted forth Great Scott! ... When shall we see thy like again? Great Scott!
Mark Twain also uses the phrase to reference Sir Walter Scott and his writing. Twain's disdain for Scott is evident in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), in which the main character repeatedly utters "great Scott" as an oath, and in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884), where he names a sinking boat the Walter Scott.
John William De Forest, in Miss Ravenel's Conversion From Secession to Loyalty (1867) reports the exclamation as referring to Winfield Scott, general‑in‑chief of the U.S. Army from 1841 to 1861:"I follow General Scott. No Virginian need be ashamed to follow old Fuss and Feathers. We used to swear by him in the army. Great Scott! the fellows said."
The general, known to his troops as Old Fuss and Feathers, weighed 300 pounds (21 stone or 136 kg) in his later years and was too fat to ride a horse. A May 1861 edition of The New York Times included the sentence:These gathering hosts of loyal freemen, under the command of the great SCOTT.
The phrase also appears in a 3 May 1864 diary entry by Private Robert Knox Sneden (later published as Eye of the Storm: a Civil War Odyssey):‘Great Scott,’ who would have thought that this would be the destiny of the Union Volunteer in 1861–2 while marching down Broadway to the tune of ‘John Brown's Body’.
In the July 1871 issue of the The Galaxy, in the story "Overland", the expression is again used by author by J. W. DeForest:"Great—Scott!" he gasped in his stupefaction, using the name of the then commander-in-chief for an oath, as officers sometimes did in those days.
The phrase has the ring of being somewhat "dated," suggestive of the nineteenth century or generally an old-fashioned minced oath. Twentieth-century publications frequently use it to suggest such a context, as, for example, in the Rathbone–Bruce Sherlock Holmes films (said by Dr. Watson), Silver Age comics (especially Superman), the television series Dennis the Menace (said by Mr. Wilson), The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (end of chapter six), and the Back to the Future films (Dr. Emmett Brown). It was also said in A Christmas Story as Ralphie is in line to see Santa Claus, and in the episode "When The Rat's Away, The Mice Will Play" from the Batman TV show, said by Adam West (Batman). Perry White, as Superman, used the phrase when he would get upset. Scrooge McDuck uses it in DuckTales Remastered. It is also used in "The Laughing Fish", an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, by a one-time character voiced by George Dzundza when The Joker enters his office. The Joker, voiced by Mark Hamill, quips, "Actually I'm Irish."
In Half-Life 2, Dr. Kleiner says it when he first sees Gordon Freeman in the game. In the The Office episode "Valentine's Day", Michael Scott uses the phrase "Great Scott!" at the end of his home-made "The Faces of Scranton" video. "Great Scott Film Industries" is the name of his imaginary film company, and the logo includes a lightning bolt and a headshot of Steve Martin and Robin Williams. The phrase is said by Doc Spencer at the end of Danny the Champion of the World, by Aunt Sponge in James and the Giant Peach and by Miss Trunchbull in Matilda.
It was also used in Legends of Tomorrow by Dr. Martin Stein (in the episode "Marooned"), in Peter Pan 2 by Captain Hook, and in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by Gilderoy Lockhart.