- the place or state of punishment of the wicked after death; the abode of evil and condemned spirits; Gehenna or Tartarus.
- any place or state of torment or misery: They made their father’s life a hell on earth.
- something that causes torment or misery: Having that cut stitched without anesthesia was hell.
- the powers of evil.
- the abode of the dead; Sheol or Hades.
- extreme disorder or confusion; chaos: The children let both dogs into the house, and all hell broke loose.
- Informal. something remarkable of its kind (usually used in the phrase a hell of a or one hell of a): That was one hell of a great game.
- a receptacle into which a tailor throws scraps.
- Also called hellbox. Printing. a box into which a printer throws discarded type.
- the utterance of “hell” in swearing or for emphasis.
- the hell, Informal.
- (used as an intensifier to express surprise, anger, impatience, etc., often in the form of a question beginning with a WH-word): Why the hell can’t the trains run on time? How the hell am I supposed to finish this by tomorrow?
- (used sarcastically or ironically to express the opposite of what is being stated): Are you listening to me? The hell you are!
- (used to express surprise, irritation, disgust, etc.)
- hell around, Slang. to live or act in a wild or dissolute manner: All they cared about was drinking and helling around.
- be hell on, Slang.
- to be unpleasant to or painful for: These shoes are hell on my poor feet.
- to be harmful to: These country roads are hell on tires.
- for the hell of it, Informal.
- to see what will happen; for adventure, fun, excitement, etc.: For the hell of it, let’s just get on the next bus and see where it takes us.
- with no particular purpose; for no special reason: I called him up for the hell of it, and he offered me a job.
- get/catch hell, Slang. to suffer a scolding; receive a harsh reprimand: We’ll get hell from our parents if we stay out late again.
- give someone hell, Informal. to reprimand or reproach severely.
- go to hell in a handbasket, Informal. handbasket(def 2).
- hell on wheels, Slang. extremely demanding, fast-paced, aggressive, effective, or the like: The new job is hell on wheels. Our sales staff is hell on wheels when it comes to getting the most out of every account.
- like hell, Informal.
- with great speed, effort, intensity, etc.: We ran like hell to get home before the storm. She tried like hell to get him to change his mind.
- (used sarcastically or ironically to express the opposite of what is being stated): He says the motor will never break down? Like hell it won’t!
- play hell with, Slang. to deal recklessly with; bring injury or harm to: Snowstorms played hell with the flow of city traffic.
- raise hell, Slang.
- to indulge in wild celebration.
- to create an uproar; object violently to: She’ll raise hell when she sees what your rabbit has done to her garden.
- the/to hell with, Informal. (used to express dismissal, rejection, contempt, disappointment, or the like): If we have to walk five miles to see the view, the hell with it! He wouldn’t even speak to me, so to hell with him!
- what the hell, Informal. (used to express lack of concern or worry, indifference, abandonment, surrender, etc.): As long as you’re borrowing $100, what the hell, borrow $200.
- Christianity (sometimes capital)
- the place or state of eternal punishment of the wicked after death, with Satan as its ruler
- forces of evil regarded as residing there
- (sometimes capital) (in various religions and cultures) the abode of the spirits of the deadSee also Hel, Hades, Sheol
- pain, extreme difficulty, etc
- informal a cause of such difficulty or sufferingwar is hell
- US and Canadian high spirits or mischievousnessthere’s hell in that boy
- a box used by a tailor for discarded material
- rare a gambling house, booth, etc
- as hell (intensifier)tired as hell
- for the hell of it informal for the fun of it
- from hell informal denoting a person or thing that is particularly bad or alarmingneighbour from hell; hangover from hell
- give someone hell informal
- to give someone a severe reprimand or punishment
- to be a source of annoyance or torment to someone
- hell of a or helluva informal (intensifier)a hell of a good performance
- hell for leather at great speed
- hell or high water or come hell or high water informal whatever difficulties may arise
- hell to pay informal serious consequences, as of a foolish action
- like hell informal
- (adverb)(intensifier)he works like hell
- an expression of strong disagreement with a previous statement, request, order, etc
- play hell with or play merry hell with informal to throw into confusion and disorder; disrupt
- raise hell
- to create a noisy disturbance, as in fun
- to react strongly and unfavourably
- the hell informal
- (intensifier) used in such phrases as what the hell, who the hell, etc
- an expression of strong disagreement or disfavour
the hell I will
- informal an exclamation of anger, annoyance, surprise, etc (Also in exclamations such as hell’s bells, hell’s teeth, etc)
Old English hel, helle, “nether world, abode of the dead, infernal regions,” from Proto-Germanic *haljo “the underworld” (cf. Old Frisian helle, Dutch hel, Old Norse hel, German Hölle, Gothic halja “hell”) “the underworld,” literally “concealed place” (cf. Old Norse hellir “cave, cavern”), from PIE *kel- “to cover, conceal, save” (see cell).
The English word may be in part from Old Norse Hel (from Proto-Germanic *halija “one who covers up or hides something”), in Norse mythology the name of Loki’s daughter, who rules over the evil dead in Niflheim, the lowest of all worlds (nifl “mist”). Transfer of a pagan concept and word to a Christian idiom. In Middle English, also of the Limbus Patrum, place where the Patriarchs, Prophets, etc. awaited the Atonement. Used in the KJV for Old Testament Hebrew Sheol and New Testament Greek Hades, Gehenna. Used figuratively for “state of misery, any bad experience” since at least late 14c. As an expression of disgust, etc., first recorded 1670s.
Expression Hell in a handbasket is attested by 1867, in a context implying use from a few years before, and the notion of going to Heaven in a handbasket is from 1853, with a sense of “easy passage” to the destination. Hell or high water (1874) apparently is a variation of between the devil and the deep blue sea. To wish someone would go to hell is in Shakespeare (“Merchant of Venice”). Snowball’s chance in hell “no chance” is from 1931; till hell freezes over “never” is from 1832. To ride hell for leather is from 1889, originally with reference to riding on horseback. Hell on wheels is said to be from 1843 in DAS; popularity dates from 1869 in reference to the temporary workers’ towns along the U.S. transcontinental railroad and their vices.
Tough, aggressive, wild, or mean, as in Watch out for the boss—he’s hell on wheels this week. This expression originated with the building of the Union Pacific Railroad in the 1860s, when it denoted the last town on the line, which was carried on freight cars as the track was extended. The town consisted mainly of tents occupied by construction gangs, liquor dealers, gamblers, and other camp followers known for their rough and often vicious ways.
In addition to the idioms beginning with hell
- hell has no fury like a woman scorned
- hell of a
- hell on wheels
- hell or high water, come
- hell to pay
- (all hell) break loose
- devil (hell) of a
- for the hell of it
- give someone hell
- go to hell
- hot as hell
- like a bat out of hell
- like hell
- mad as a hornet (hell)
- not a hope in hell
- raise Cain (hell)
- road to hell is paved with good intentions
- shot to hell
- snowball’s chance in hell
- till hell freezes over
- to hell and gone
- to hell with
- what the hell