Why Do We Say For Pete's Sake?

Whether you've stubbed your toe or just had an especially frustrating day, chances are there's a particular expletive to express your displeasure. You may even have your very own go-to phrase or word to blow off steam when times are tough. Some of those words and phrases can be said around your grandma, while others are not suitable for mixed company. One common phrase for frustrating moments that can be used under most circumstances is "for Pete's sake!" But have you ever stopped to think about what those words mean, and what on earth some guy named Pete has to do with it?

Notably, "for Pete's sake," is very similar to another salty string of words we frequently exclaim: "For Christ's sake!" Could it be that Pete is simply a stand-in for Christ himself — all the relief with none of the blasphemy? According to Mental Floss, the origins of "for Pete's sake" could have something to do with St. Peter himself (pictured below). Another hot-headed idiom, and possibly part of the "for Pete's sake" origin story, is "for the love of Mike" which is said to invoke St. Michael. 

Have pity on Peter

"For Pete's sake" didn't arrive in print before the 1920s, but "for the love of Mike" is recorded some 40 years prior to that, according to World Wide Words — a reputable blog about the English language from esteemed scholar and BBC broadcaster Michael Quinion. According to Michigan Radio — an NPR affiliate — "for pity's sake," is also a much older phrase that could have helped the formation of the more modern "for Pete's sake." In addition, as Mental Floss records, the now lesser-known "for Peace sakes," which arrived sometime in the 19th century, also sounds a lot like "for Pete's Sake," and is another possible explanation for the popular idiom.

However, given the ever-shifting nature of the English language, no one can say for sure exactly where the phrase comes from. Some believe it refers to the Renaissance artist, Michelangelo, soliciting funds for the St. Peter's Basilica project. But, that theory is largely rejected due to the artist's localized dialect having been translated a multitude of times before reaching the English language, as Quinion writes. The most likely explanation of where "for Pete's sake" comes from is a mash-up of all the above-mentioned colloquialisms, blended together with the speaker's attempt to avoid blasphemy. And there you have it, for Pete's sake!