What the heck? is a popular euphemism used in place of “what the hell”.
The term “heck” is a minced oath, or a euphemism based on the deliberate misspelling and mispronunciation of words considered to be taboo or blasphemous.
Most profanities in English have their minced variants, like gosh, darn, dang, shoot or gee.
“What the heck?” is mostly used as an exclamation to express intense emotions such as surprise, shock or wrath.
The word “heck” is said to have originated from northern English dialects, this, however is unconfirmed.
It started appearing as a minced oath for hell in the 1860’s.
The phrase “what the heck?” would subsequently appear not long after, by the 1920’s, it had emerged both in the United States as well as the UK.
“What the heck?” remains one of the most popular euphemism of surprise today, used extensively in movies, TV shows and parents trying to show a good example for their kids.
The exact origin of the term “heck” remains to be a matter of debate online, with many speculating upon the conception of the word.