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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.
contraction of he will.
Contemporary Examples

The interval between possession and hell was short,” he says, “though I admit it was wonderful.
Owning Up to Possession’s Downside Samantha Harvey December 13, 2014

You need philosophy, not the modern bull session kind but the Socratic method of “What the hell am I thinking?”
My Commencement Speech to Rutgers’ Geniuses: Go Forth and Fail P. J. O’Rourke May 17, 2014

hell, the show used dramatic pop songs to telegraph emotion, and it worked.
Batman Deserves Better Than ‘Gotham’ Sujay Kumar September 22, 2014

So, the big question in all this is – what the hell were the security guys doing?
Former Royal Protection Officer Speaks on Harry Naked Photo Scandal Tom Sykes August 21, 2012

When it comes to ‘The Bourne Legacy,’ Ramin Setoodeh says hell yes.
‘The Bourne Legacy’ Starring Jeremy Renner: 7 Reasons to See It! Ramin Setoodeh August 9, 2012

Historical Examples

They did not believe in God, nor heaven, nor hell, other than that in which they lived.
The Battle with the Slum Jacob A. Riis.

I do allow him, sir,” replied Johnson, “just enough to light him to hell.
Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson, LL.D. Hesther Lynch Piozzi

Sophie made his life a hell, but he had become dependent upon her.
She Stands Accused Victor MacClure

May the devil reward you in hell for your obstinacy, and my dying agonies!
The Continental Monthly, Vol. 6, No. 6, December 1864 Various

Then,” said the dying man, in amazement, “what the hell did you come here for?
Higgins Norman Duncan

(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 dead See also Hel, Hades, Sheol
pain, extreme difficulty, etc
(informal) a cause of such difficulty or suffering: war is hell
(US & Canadian) high spirits or mischievousness: there’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
(informal) for the hell of it, for the fun of it
(informal) from hell, denoting a person or thing that is particularly bad or alarming: neighbour from hell, hangover from hell
(informal) give someone hell

to give someone a severe reprimand or punishment
to be a source of annoyance or torment to someone

(informal) hell of a, helluva, (intensifier): a hell of a good performance
hell for leather, at great speed
(informal) hell or high water, come hell or high water, whatever difficulties may arise
(informal) hell to pay, serious consequences, as of a foolish action
(informal) like hell

(adverb) (intensifier): he works like hell
an expression of strong disagreement with a previous statement, request, order, etc

(informal) play hell with, play merry hell with, to throw into confusion and disorder; disrupt
raise hell

to create a noisy disturbance, as in fun
to react strongly and unfavourably

(informal) the hell

(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)
he will or he shall

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.

The dwelling place of Satan, devils, and wicked souls condemned to eternal punishment after death; a place of pain and torment. (Compare heaven.)


An exclamation of disgust, regret, emphasis, etc: Oh hell, they’re back/ Hell, darling, I didn’t mean it (1678+)
An exclamation of strong denial, disbelief, defiance, etc; in a pig’s ass, my eye: ”Retreat hell!” said the general (1893+)


Strong rebuke or punishment; merry hell: Your old man’ll give you hell/ I caught hell from the tax people (1851+)
A bad experience: Dinner with my in-laws is usually pure hell (1374+)


hell around (1897+)
To speed; barrel: An ambulance, helling out the state road (1929+)

Related Terms

all hell broke loose, blazes, blue hell, catch hell, come hell or high water, easy as pie, excuse me all to hell, for the hell of it, from hell to breakfast, give someone hell, go to hell in a handbasket, hot as hell, like a bat out of hell, like hell, play hell with something, raise hell, a snowball’s chance in hell, take off like a bigass bird, to hell

derived from the Saxon helan, to cover; hence the covered or the invisible place. In Scripture there are three words so rendered: (1.) Sheol, occurring in the Old Testament sixty-five times. This word sheol is derived from a root-word meaning “to ask,” “demand;” hence insatiableness (Prov. 30:15, 16). It is rendered “grave” thirty-one times (Gen. 37:35; 42:38; 44:29, 31; 1 Sam. 2:6, etc.). The Revisers have retained this rendering in the historical books with the original word in the margin, while in the poetical books they have reversed this rule. In thirty-one cases in the Authorized Version this word is rendered “hell,” the place of disembodied spirits. The inhabitants of sheol are “the congregation of the dead” (Prov. 21:16). It is (a) the abode of the wicked (Num. 16:33; Job 24:19; Ps. 9:17; 31:17, etc.); (b) of the good (Ps. 16:10; 30:3; 49:15; 86:13, etc.). Sheol is described as deep (Job 11:8), dark (10:21, 22), with bars (17:16). The dead “go down” to it (Num. 16:30, 33; Ezek. 31:15, 16, 17). (2.) The Greek word hades of the New Testament has the same scope of signification as sheol of the Old Testament. It is a prison (1 Pet. 3:19), with gates and bars and locks (Matt. 16:18; Rev. 1:18), and it is downward (Matt. 11:23; Luke 10:15). The righteous and the wicked are separated. The blessed dead are in that part of hades called paradise (Luke 23:43). They are also said to be in Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22). (3.) Gehenna, in most of its occurrences in the Greek New Testament, designates the place of the lost (Matt. 23:33). The fearful nature of their condition there is described in various figurative expressions (Matt. 8:12; 13:42; 22:13; 25:30; Luke 16:24, etc.). (See HINNOM.)

hell has no fury like a woman scorned
hell of a
hell on wheels
hell or high water, come
hell to pay


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