Heavens to Murgatroyd: Meaning, Origin & Correct Usage

Have you ever heard someone say heavens to Murgatroyd and wondered what it means? Follow our guide and discover the meaning of a phrase probably older than you.

Among all of the expressions in the English language that we use to signal surprise, heavens to Murgatroyd is perhaps one of the most original. It is meant to signal shock or disbelief, no matter whether the reason behind it is good or bad. 

Introduced in the everyday vocabulary by the 1961 Hanna-Barbera cartoon Yogi Bear, the idiom is a modified version of another saying expressing disbelief, namely “Heavens to Betsy!

While younger people may shrug their shoulders when asked what “Heavens to Murgatroyd” means exactly, your parents and grandparents may smile knowingly. 

The idiom is, essentially, a catchphrase said by Snagglepuss, a character on the popular cartoon show Yogi Bear. An amateur wordsmith by all accounts, Snagglepuss also gave us the catchphrase “exit, stage left!” according to the Free Dictionary

Heavens to Murgatroyd! His shooting has improved, immensitively!

Snagglepuss, The Yogi Bear Show

Surprise does not always need to be expressed through a lengthy-phrase. Read our list of interjection words and discover interjections to express surprise or disbelief.

The Meaning of “Heavens to Murgatroyd”

The character of Snagglepuss, the origin of the phrase “heavens to Murgatroyd,” would use it as a variation of “Heavens to Betsy!” Both idioms are meant to express shock or disbelief. 

There is no clear indication of who either Murgatroyd or Betsy were or how their names became so intertwined with the feeling of shock. The various ways of spelling the former—Murgatroid, Mergatroyd—suggest that the name was chosen because it sounded unusual and amusing.

The Origin and Etymology of “Heavens to Murgatroyd”

While etymologists have a hard time clarifying the exact source of the 20th-century idiom, certain clues can help point the way. 

An Aristocratic and Hilarious Name

Despite the fact that the saying was probably coined within an American context, the name Murgatroyd is by no means common in the United States. In England, however, the surname is tied to English aristocracy. One of the first mentions of the name appeared in the 1370s, when a certain Johanus de Morgateroyde, or John of Moor Gate Royde, indicating the district leading to the moor, became a Yorkshire constable. 

The name is also connected to the opera Ruddigore, authored by theatrical partners W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan and first performed in the late 19th century in the United Kingdom. The play centers around the Murgatroyd family, the Baronets of Ruddigore. The opera details how members of the family are cursed to commit a crime every day, in pain of death. 

Snagglepuss, the Originator of the Idiom


Nevertheless, it is Snagglepuss, a pinkish feline character on the 1960s Yogi Bear show, who coined the modern-day idiomatic construct. An inspiration for the Pink Panther character, Snagglepuss is sometimes referred to as one of the first gay characters on TV. Advocates of this view say that his melodic pitch and overly articulate speech, on display in his “Heavens to Murgatroyd” catchphrase, serve as proof of that.

It should not seem odd that a cartoon character could singlehandedly coin and popularize a catchphrase. Before Netflix or even cable TV, children in the US would dedicate their Saturday mornings to cartoons, many of which were created by the Hanna-Barbera duo

The Flintstones, Scooby-Doo, Jonny Quest, Super Friends, and The Smurfs are some of the shows created by the production house created in 1957 by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. The duo had previously created Tom and Jerry shorts at MGM. Eventually absorbed into Cartoon Network and Warner Bros, the imprint was behind numerous hit shows, and their beloved characters are still fondly remembered. 

“Heavens to Murgatroyd” can also be traced back to the Akron Beacon Journal around the same time, in 1961, according to Phrases.org.uk. The newspaper used the idiom in an ad for the sale of a ranch. 

Explaining the Role of Idioms

We have said that “heavens to Murgatroyd” is an idiomatic construct that expresses amazement or disbelief. Idioms, to put it more clearly, are phrases that carry a culturally-ascribed meaning. Often involving the use of humor, they are a condensed way of communicating, transmitting much in a few words. 

Another defining feature of idioms is that the words composing them cannot transmit the meaning of the entire construct if taken separately. There is nothing in the noun “heavens” or the proper noun “Murgatroyd” that we would take, individually, to mean shock, disbelief, or surprise. Taken together, however, they express just that.

It is also noteworthy to mention that idioms are used figuratively. While this may be obvious in the case of “Heavens to Murgatroyd,” you should know that no one wishing you to “break a leg” actually wants you to injure yourself. 

“Heavens to Murgatroyd” is just one of the many idioms used in the English language, albeit an increasingly bygone one. Nevertheless, the word “heaven” seems particularly preferred in the construction of idioms. Some examples include:

  • “Good heavens!” which also expresses shock, according to Merriam-Webster
  • “A match made in heaven” which describes a well-suited pairing of partners
  • “A bundle from heaven,” which simply means a baby, also described as a “bundle of joy”
  • “For heaven’s sake,” signaling frustration or exasperation in the speaker
  • “Heavens above” similarly used to express anger or annoyance
  • “Knocking on heaven’s door,” which means to be dying

Idioms, much like words, are constantly changing, with new constructs and new meanings appearing every year. Many of them have a rich history behind them or have a local or regional meaning given to them. Discovering idioms in foreign languages may help you understand the local culture and blend in with the locals. 

Using “Heavens to Murgatroyd” in a Sentence

Use the idiomatic expression to show that you are surprised, whether the reason behind your shock is a good or a bad one. Some examples of the idiom used in a sentence would be: 

  • Did you see the line to get tickets? Heavens to Murgatroyd! 
  • The singer just appeared on the stage in a bolt of lightning and started the show. Heavens to Murgatroyd, what an artist!
  • Heavens to Murgatroyd! You didn’t know they were related?
  • She came in and shouted, “Heavens to Murgatroyd!” She was really startled by the dog. 

Other Idioms Used to Express Shock

While “Heavens to Murgatroyd” is not as popular as it used to be, and its meaning is more familiar to older generations, there are other idioms to express shock and disbelief. Some examples are: 

  • Drop a bombshell
  • Knock your socks off
  • Throw a curveball
  • Leave someone gobsmacked
  • A bolt from the blue
  • Hell’s bells
  • Good heavens

Check out our explainer of pay the piper.