Post to the Host

Host Garrison Keillor answers your questions about life, love, writing, authors, and of course, A Prairie Home Companion.

Send GK Your Question »

Holy Buckets

April 17, 2008 | 8 Comments

Mr. Keillor -
Our company down here in East Texas recently hired a nice young lady from North Dakota who recently graduated from college. She often uses the term "Holy Buckets" in conversation. She seems to use this phrase when trying to express surprise at an interesting or alarming fact or comment made by the person with whom she is conversing. Can you explain the origin and meaning of this phrase? We are not sure if it is a mild profanity or a religious exclamation.

Ryan T.
Tyler, TX

I haven't heard Holy Buckets in years and I wonder if the young lady might come from a linguistic pocket in North Dakota where this and perhaps other archaic expressions linger on—Jeepers Creeper, Glorioso, Leaping Lizards, etc. Probably she had a beloved old grandpa who used the phrase and the child picked it up. The phrase originally referred to a sudden downpour—raining "buckets" —which, to most people, represents good luck, and so it's not a profanity—it's an expression of surprise at a (possibly) good thing. So I'd imagine the young lady finds it exciting to be in your company.


"Holy Buckets" is a pun on "Hole-y Buckets" as in "My bucket's got a hole in it." The expression is, if you will, a non-suggestive double entendre, a sort of secret joke between the speaker and hearer.

I myself am a young lady from North Dakota, and my first job was in Chicago. Everyone in the office teased me about my "Holy Buckets!", "Geez oh Pete!", "Good Lord!" exclamaitions. The funny thing was, they began to use the phrases themselves. Thier teasing use of the phrases soon took on the innocence of everyday use, and I couldn't have been happier.

Now, if I just could have convinced my Grandma that "Geez oh Pete!" is not profanity.

I thought it was borrowed from an episode of the first TV's "Batman." Robin used to exclaim "Holy ____, Batman!" with a noun appropriate to the situation.

By the way, I'm a South Dakota native, and started to hear "Holy Buckets" in the '70s.

Indeed I picked it up from my husband's grandpa, who said it ALL the time and was born/raised in St. Paul MN, as was my husband (well, New Brighton). My husband doesn't say it much, but I do still from time to time, as well as mixing it with Holey Moley and his grandma's classic MN conversational addition of "you know and that..."

I have a good friend from the Panhandle of Nebraska who uses this expression often -- perhaps it is wider ranging than you think...

I really enjoy reading Mrs. Sundberg's Column. I was wondering if by chance she has ever had her letters and recipes compiled into a book. They would make pretty good Christmas gifts.

Lisa G.
Columbia, Mo.

I agree with poster Lisa G. I too love Mrs. Sundberg's column. Not too long ago, I was feeling very down and that is when I happened across her columns. I must have read 50 of them. My spirits lifted tremendously. She should publish a book. I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you, Mrs. Sundberg, for your delightful personality that comes through to your readers and makes them smile.

We live in Houston, Texas. My daughters have both used that expression for years. I'm not sure where they picked it up. Ironically, I was just watching the remake of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" on TV and Grandpa Bucket used the expression.

Previous Post:
« Wedding Poetry

Next Post:
Nellie's "Hot" Dress »

Post to the Host Archive

Complete Post to the Host Archive

American Public Media © |   Terms and Conditions   |   Privacy Policy