From darnation, influenced by tarnal (from eternal); see darn.



tarnation (countable and uncountable, plural tarnations)

  1. (archaic) The act or process of damnation or reprobation; hell.
    • 1901, Alien, Another Woman's Territory, page 311:
      I am Offul maazed. Wheer in tarnations es that theer plaguy girl?
    • 1965, Benjamin Albert Botkin, A treasury of New England folklore: stories, ballads, and traditions:
      Them city fellers liked to died when they see me come in the office ! I says to 'em: "Had a tarnation of a time finding this place.
    • 1989, Patrick D. Smith, The River is Home ; And, Angel City, →ISBN, page 45:
      "Now who in tarnation is Uncle Jobe?" asked Pa.
    • 1999, John O'Connor, The Hound of the Baskervilles, →ISBN, page 13:
      Then where in tarnation is it?
    What in tarnation is going on?
  2. (obsolete) Someone or something that causes trouble; troublemaker.
    • 1848, Henry Mayhew, Tom Taylor, Mark Lemon, Punch - Volumes 12-15, page 162:
      I would say more, but RADLEY's come up to tell me I must go and meet that tarnation BANCROFT.
    • 1854, Ann Sophia Stephens, High Life in New York, page 70:
      I felt sort of odd all over, and I hadn't the least notion what could ail me; it warn't a very tedious feeling, though, but it seemed as if I was a dreaming yit, and all about that tarnation little Miss Miles.
    • 1928 September, F. Ray Ritchie, “The Worm Turns”, in Boys' Life, volume 18, number 9, page 39:
      The year before that the young tarnations got up into the tower one night and hooked a rope onto the bell and stretched it across the campus into Professor Robert's barn.



  1. (archaic) Used to express anger, irritation, disappointment, annoyance, contempt, etc.
    • 2002, T. T. Flynn, Prodigal of Death: A Western Quintet, →ISBN, page 41:
      "Tarnation! You all right?" "Hell, no, I ain't all right!"
    • 2008, Marlies Bugmann and Karl May, Winnetou III, page 338:
      “They contain the precise description of the place where the nuggets are hidden.” “Tarnation! Is that true?"
    • 2013, Kady Cross, The Girl With The Iron Touch, →ISBN:
      Tarnation,” Jasper murmured, his attention turning to the thing in the Aether bubble.


tarnation (comparative more tarnation, superlative most tarnation)

  1. Bothersome; devilish.
    • 1876, The Catholic Record - Volume 11, page 78:
      Now you go 'long back to the house, Marm Winthrop, and if riding 'longside of a popish priest don't speerit me into the bottomless pit, I'll be blamed if I don't go some day into his church and find out what all that tarnation lingo means.
    • 1894, Macmillan's Magazine - Volume 70, page 343:
      It started over nothing, and would have come to nothing but for that tarnation liquor.
    • 1921, Gilbert Guest, A Bridal Trip in a Prairie Schooner, page 128:
      Hello stranger, this is a fine fix you got into, getting a tarnation fever out in the Rockies, but my wife is the best hand at sick folks you ever see.
  2. Generic intensifier.
    • 1803, The Castle of the Pyrenees; Or, the Wanderer of the Alps.:
      Some time in the month o' August, I think it wur, I found myself in London wi'out a tarnation cent.
    • 1838, The Old American Comic Almanac:
      My love the strongest, a tarnation sight.
    • 1861, William Edmondstoune Aytoun, Norman Sinclair, page 213:
      I allow now, if I had asked you to loan me a handful of dollars, you might have looked as glum as a beaver in a trap ; but there's a tarnation difference between that and a civil question on the road.


tarnation (comparative more tarnation, superlative most tarnation)

  1. Very; extremely.
    • 1855, John Diprose, Diprose's New Sixpenny Comic Song-Book, page 57:
      He was so tarnation black you couldn't see him except in the middle of the day.
    • 1867, John Cordy Jeaffreson, A Book about Lawyers - Volume 2, page 242:
      Since Britannia ruled the waves, I guess it's a tarnation queer thing that she didn't rule 'em straighter.
    • 1883 -, John Thomas Dicks, Dicks' standard plays, page 48:
      Well, that's tarnation strange !
    • 2009, Dennis M. Larsen -, Slick as a Mitten: Ezra Meeker's Klondike Enterprise, page 29:
      I know it is lonesome for you, but I will be with you again in time and then we can and will have a "tarnation good time."

Usage notesEdit

This New Englandism has fallen out of use in New England, but is remembered for its colorfulness and is still used in the Southeastern United States as a minced oath, where ‘hell’ or ‘damn’ would otherwise be said, especially in the phrase "what in tarnation".