What in tarnation? also referred to as Wot in Tarnation online, is a popular minced oath, especially associated with those living in the southern territories of the United States.
The word tarnation first appeared in Geoffrey Hughes’ “An Encyclopedia of Swearing” published in 1784, along with many minced oaths, popular at that period.
Tarnation served as a euphemism for both damnation and eternal, the latter of which often being referred to as tarnal in the era.
“What in tarnation?” as well as many other minced oaths gained widespread prominence in the 19th century United States, which is widely attributed to the puritan roots of the country.
The expression started emerging in print and in written sources in the early 20th century.
“What in tarnation?” was first defined on Urban Dictionary on May 13th, 2003, marking the beginning of its online use.
Memes that feature the phrase started popping up on the internet in 2016, with one of the first instances being uploaded to Tumblr by TheOneOddGirl on December 11th.
Following this, image macro memes, featuring the trope of cowboy hats emerged on the web, predominantly on sites like Reddit’s r/dankmemes sub, as well as Twitter and Tumblr.
Starting in early 2017, exploitable photoshop memes would see a rise in popularity on Reddit, with people editing cowboy hats to objects, animals and people, with captions rhyming to the word tarnation, leading to image macros that are All Hat, No Cattle.