actually®, I wondered if the Word Detective might have addressed this thorny subject. well,
Dear Word Detective: My dad uses a word -- I can't spell it -- but it's something along the lines of "crimeny," with the accent on the first syllable. (That's a long "I," and the "e" is a schwa.) He uses it they same way people say, "Oh, for heaven's sake," or "Sheesh." A variation he uses is "crimenently," with the major accent on the third syllable, minor accent on the first. Does this word exist in anyone's vocabulary besides my dad's? If so, how is it spelled and where did it come from? -- Vicky Jones, Madison, WI.
Well, jeepers, it sure as shootin' is a goldurned real word. "Criminy" (which is how most dictionaries spell it) is simply a euphemism for "Christ." Euphemisms, of course, are words designed to act as linguistic fig leaves, disguising (supposedly) or softening the true meaning of the speaker's words in deference to the listener's (again supposedly) refined sensibilities. In practice, euphemisms rarely really fool anyone, although we all play along with the game and dutifully chuckle at a "goldurn" when we might well be offended by a blunt "goddam."
"Criminy" has been around at least since the 1600's, which makes it a charter member of a sub-class of English euphemisms designed to circumvent prohibitions against swearing oaths or taking holy names in vain. Other euphemisms involving substitutes for "Christ" include "cricky," "for chrissakes," "for Pete's sake," and the ever-popular "gee," which is short for "Jesus," as is my "jeepers" above. While we're at it, "gosh," "golly," "good grief" and "great scott" all arose as attempts to sidestep invoking the name "God." There's even evidence to indicate that "doggone" has nothing to do with dogs and everything to do with a garbled attempt to modify "God damn."
The "sheesh" you mention, incidentally, is a euphemism for an interjection still considered unprintable by most newspapers (but which I am confident my readers will be able to figure out). "Sheesh" is a much more recent arrival than "criminy," having first appeared (in print, anyway) in the early 1970's.
not only that, but furthermoreover and in the second place the Word Detective hisownse'f uses the phrase in a later column whilst giving long shrift to another of our favorite topics:
Jeez Louise, Chris, get with the program. Your co-worker was being "ironic" when he called news of your impending financial doom a "tidbit." This is The Age of Irony, remember? Saying the opposite of what you mean is cool. It also relieves you of taking anything seriously. So let a sly smirk be your umbrella as you walk to work, and if your boss passes you in his new Lincoln, well, that's sort of ironic too, isn't it?