Green’s Dictionary of Slang

hell n.

1. [late 16C+] the vagina [misogyny].

2. used to describe a variety of unpleasant or ‘sinful’ places [note J. Taylor News from Hell, with a short description of the Hell at Westminster (1639), which describes a 17C tavern: ‘Within this Hell is good content and quiet, / Good entertainment, various sorts of diet’ etc.].

(a) [mid-17C] Bridewell prison.

(b) [late 17C–early 18C] a debtor’s prison near Southwark, for the King’s debtors who were never freed.

(c) [mid-18C+] (also inferno) a casino, a gambling house; a billiard-hall; thus hell-keeper, the proprietor of such an establishment.

(d) [1910s] (Aus.) an opium den.

3. [1920s] (US black) anger.

4. [1920s+] (US black) an expert, an admirable or impressive person [hell adj.].

5. see hell, the phr. (3)

In derivatives

hellite (n.)

[mid-19C] a professional gambler.

In compounds

hell-bird (n.)

[mid-19C] a professional gambler.

SE in slang uses

In derivatives

heller (n.)

1. [late 19C+] one who lives an unfettered, undisciplined and adventuresome life.

2. [late 19C+] (US) a very difficult, formidable or exciting thing or person.

3. [1920s+] (US campus) an exciting, dramatic party.

In compounds

hell-all (n.) (also hell-in-all) [var. on damn-all n.]

[1930s+] (US) absolutely none, nothing whatsoever .

hell-around (adj.)

see separate entry.

hell-bender (n.)

1. [19C+] (US, also hell-bending fool) a formidable, outrageous thing or individual [fig. use of US dial. hellbender, the American salamander or alligator (cryptobranchus)].

2. [late 19C] a drinking bout [ext. of bender n.2 ].

hell-bending (adj.)

[late 19C; 1940s+] (US) hellish, arduous.

hellbent (adj.)

see separate entry.

hell-box (n.)

1. [late 19C] (US) a pulpit.

2. see box n.1 (4d)

hell-broth (n.) [SE hell-broth, ‘a decoction of infernal character or prepared for an infernal purpose’ (OED)]

[mid-19C–1910s] liquor, whether actually ‘off’ or seen as morally evil by teetotallers.

hell buster (n.)

1. [1910s–30s] (orig. US, also hell blazer) an amazing, riotous or violent thing or person.

2. [1930s] a preacher.

hell-cart (n.) [? its lack of comfort]

[mid–late 17C] a hackney carriage.

hell-cat (n.) (also hellicat, hell-kite) [as termagant, of a woman and dating to early 17C, is SE, despite its inclusion by Grose]

[late 17C+] a lewd bawdy person; also a mischievous young boy, a lively animal, a spiteful person.

hell-driver (n.)

1. [late 17C] a coachman, presumably one who drives recklessly.

2. [1940s] a similarly inclined car-driver.

hell dust (n.) [dust n. (5a); note James I’s court poet Joshua Sylvester on tobacco in 1615: ‘hell-dust, England’s shame, a madness, a frenzy, that by the Devil's agency has been brought from the savages to England’]

[1920s+] (drugs) heroin.

hellfire club (n.) [presumably inspired by the original 18C Hellfire Club, a coterie of aristocratic debauchees, though not known for S&M]

[1980s] (US gay) a club for devotees of hardcore sado-masochism.

hell-fired (adj.) (also hell-fire)

1. [mid-18C+] (orig. US) a general intensifier.

2. [1950s] as an infix.

hell night (n.) [the initiatory rituals, known as hazing, that accompany such an event]

[1940s+] (US campus) the night of initiation into a fraternity or sorority.

hellpig (n.) [pig n. (1c)]

[1980s+] (US campus) a fat unattractive woman.

hell-raiser (n.)

[1910s+] one who deliberately causes trouble.

hell-raising (adj.) (also hell-ripping)

[20C+] trouble-making.

hell-raising (n.)

[1910s+] causing trouble.

hell-raker (n.)

[19C+] a violent, forceful or exuberant person or thing.

hell-raking (adj.) [backform. f. SE rake-hell]

[17C+] dramatically violent, chaotic.

hell-roarer (n.)

[late 19C+] (US) a wild, uncontrolled individual or situation.

hell-roaring (adj.) (also hell-kicking, hell-tearing)

[late 19C+] (US) wild, out of control.

hell’s bottom (n.) (also hell’s hollow, hell’s point)

[20C+] (US) any disreputable or out-of-the-way area.

hell’s delight(s) (n.)

[early 19C+] pandemonium, chaos; often in phr. play hell’s delight (with), to cause chaos (cf. kick up hell’s delight ).

hell’s front porch (n.) (also devil’s front porch)

[1990s+] (US prison) prison.

hell’s half acre (n.)

[mid-19C+] (orig. US) any disreputable area or place, esp. the slum area of a town or a low-class dancehall or bar; thus all around/over hell’s half-acre, all over the place, everywhere.

hell’s kitchen (n.) [proper name Hell’s Kitchen, the Irish-black slum area that covered part of the West Side of New York City from c.1850 to 1910, bounded by the Hudson River and Eighth Avenue, it ran from 39th Street to 59th Street. The name may have applied initially only to a single tenement or it may have been picked up from the name of a saloon in the red-light area of Corlear’s Hook. The toughest part of Hell’s Kitchen was known, at least to the writer O. Henry, as the stovepipe, a narrow enclave running along Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues] (orig. US)

1. [mid-19C+] any very unpleasant or dangerous place.

2. [late 19C+] a generic term for any urban slum area, esp. one that serves also as a lower class entertainment centre, or any dangerous or seedy place; also attrib.

hell’s mint (n.)

[late 19C–1910s] (US) a large quantity.

hell’s own (adj.)

[late 19C+] (orig. US) used as a general intensifier.

hell-stick (n.)

[20C+] (US) a sulphur match.

hell week (n.)

1. [1920s+] (US campus) the period of initiation for pledges to a college fraternity.

2. [1990s+] (US campus) examination week.

As an intensifier

In phrases

as hell (adv.) (also as all hell, as hell’s kitchen, as sin)

[late 18C+] a general intensifier: very, extremely.

like fucking hell (adv.)

[late 19C+] in no way whatsoever, absolutely not.

like hell (adv.) (also hell-as-like, like hell for Texas, like god-dam, like merry hell, like sin)

1. [mid-19C+] a general intensifier: recklessly, intensely, very much, very quickly.

2. [20C+] an ironic excl. of negation and denial; usu. as like hell I will.

shot to hell (adj.)

[1910s+] lit. or fig., destroyed.

to beat hell (adv.)

[late 19C+] to the utmost, very much.

to hell (adv.)

[late 19C+] a general intensifier; esp. as hope to hell, wish to hell to desire intensely; occas. as negating excl.

Pertaining to hopelessness

hoot in hell (n.) [ext. of hoot n.2 (1)]

[late 19C+] (US) a very small amount, the least bit.

no more chance than a cat in hell (without claws)

[late 18C–mid-19C; 1930s] absolutely no chance at all.

no more chance than a snowball in hell (also as much chance as..., ice-cream cornet in hell, ...a snowball in a red-hot oven, last as long as a snowball in hell)

[late 19C+] absolutely no chance at all (cf. not have a snowball’s chance (in hell) ).

not a hope in hell (also not a hope in the hot place, Hades)

[1910s+] no chance whatsoever.

not have a cat in hell’s chance

[1930s+] to have no chance at all.

not have a snowball’s chance (in hell) (also not have a baldy, ...a snowflake’s chance in hell, ...a supply sergeant’s..., not stand a snowball’s chance in hell)
snowball in hell (n.)

1. (also snowflake in hell) someone or something unwelcome or unpleasant.

2. nothing.

useless as an egg in Hell

[1910s] (Aus.) utterly useless.

Pertaining to time

In phrases

until hell freezes (over) (also until Hades freezes over, until there’s a hoar frost in Sheol)

[mid-19C+] for a very long or indefinite time, for ever; thus (W.I.) from hell freeze.

Pertaining to an unpleasant or distant place

hell and gone (US)

1. [mid-19C+] far away, godforsaken; usu. as to hell and gone

2. [1920s] a long time ago.

hell and half of Georgia

[1950s+] (US) an extremely large area; the second half of the phr. varies according to the speaker’s locality, e.g. hell and part of Groton, hell and half of New York state.

hell west and crooked

[late 19C+] (orig. US) in all directions, disarray, confusion.

to hell and go

[20C+] (W.I., Guyn.) a general intensifier.

to hell and gone (also from here to hell and gone, to hellangone)(US)

1. [mid-19C+] very far away, a very long time.

2. [1920s+] (also to hell and back) irretrievably, thoroughly, enormously.

Pertaining to speed or diversity

from hell to breakfast (also from blazes to breakfast) [mid-19C+] (US)

1. in all directions, everywhere.

2. (also from boots to breakfast, from here to Christmas) decisively, violently.

3. for a long time, for a long distance.

4. to a very great extent.

from hell to Hackney

[early 19C] extensively, to a great degree.

hell for breakfast (adv.)

[20C+] rushed, hurriedly, at top speed.

hell for leather (adj.) (also hell and leather) [hell for leather ]

[20C+] rip-roaring, a general intensifier.

hellity-blip (adv.)

extremely fast.

hell for leather (adv.) (also hellbent for leather) [the leather is due to the phr.’s origin in riding and refers to the harness]

1. [late 19C+] very fast, at top speed, rip-roaringly.

2. [20C+] vehemently.

Pertaining to movement

get the hell out (of) (v.) (also get the hell off)

[20C+] (orig. US campus) to leave, to depart, e.g. if you don’t want to stay here, then get the hell..., usu. with a place-name.

get the hell out of Dodge (v.)

see under Dodge n.

go like a bat out of hell (v.) (also go like a bat through hell)

[1910s+] (orig. US) to move exceptionally fast.

go like hell (v.) (also go like the devil, ... hell’s bells)

[18C+] to go very fast, to be very busy.

go like the hammers of hell (v.) (also go like hammers, go like the hammers of fuck)

[1920s+] to go very fast.

Pertaining to activity or disturbance

In phrases

[orig. Cumberland dial.] kick up hell’s delight (v.)

[mid-19C+] (Aus.) to cause a great deal of trouble or disturbance.

kick up merry hell (v.) (also kick up holy hell, curse all holy hell)

[1920s+] to cause a great deal of fuss.

play hell and tommy (v.) (also play tommy, raise hell and tommy, raise thunder and tommy) [? proper names Henry VIII (‘Hal’) (r.1509–47) and Thomas Cromwell (‘Tommy’) (c.1485–1540), the chief engineers of the English Reformation, or SE hell and torment]

[mid-19C+] to cause absolute chaos (cf. hell and (little) tommy ; hell and tommy! ).

play (merry) hell with (v.) (also give someone merry hell, play hell on, play holy hell)

1. [20C+] to damage (an object, a plan etc).

2. [1910s+] to give someone a hard time.

3. [1930s] to act aggressively.

raise hell (v.) (also raise blazes, hell, ...Hades, ...heck, ...hell’s delight, ...holy hell, ...merry hell) [ext. of SE; earlier citations invalidate the popular ety. crediting the phr. to a slogan, Kansas should raise less corn and more hell, attributed c.1896 to Mrs Mary Ellen Lease (1853–1933)]

1. [late 18C+] (orig. US) to cause a good deal of trouble deliberately; to make a fuss.

2. [1920s+] to celebrate rowdily.

3. [1920s+] to castigate; sometimes intensified as raise merry hell and put a shingle under it; raise hell and stick a prop under it.

Pertaining to suffering

catch hell (v.) [mid-19C+]

1. (orig. US) to get into trouble, to suffer a telling-off.

2. to suffer.

3. (W.I./US) to find it hard to make enough money to live, to subsist, to suffer great hardship.

get hell (v.) [1920s+] (also cop hell)

1. to suffer.

2. to be severely told off or scolded.

give someone hell (v.)

1. [mid-19C+] (orig. US, also give someone fuck) to hurt, to inflict punishment on.

2. [mid-19C+] (orig. US) to give someone a ‘hard time’, to scold severely.

3. [1960s+] to cause pain.

4. [1960s+] of an inanimate object, to prove difficult.

scare (the) hell out of (v.)

[20C+] to terrify.

see hell (v.)

[1950s] (UK/W.I.) to suffer, to have a hard time, to find it hard to make enough money to live.

smell hell (v.)

[mid-19C+] (US) to face danger, punishment.

General uses

In phrases

all to hell (also gone to hell)

1. utterly destroyed.


2. financially ruined.

3. wasted.

4. in chaos.

5. worn out.

6. completely.

7. (N.Z.) mistaken, in error.

billy hell (n.)

1. [19C] (US) a fantasy place that epitomizes the ultimate in bleakness and desolation; usu. in comparative phrs. for intensification, e.g. meaner than..., hot as..., but also as a substitute for other phrs. using hell.

2. [late 19C+] (US) used in phrs. as a synon. for stuffing n.1 etc, e.g. knock the billy hell out of.

for the (sheer) hell of it (also just for...)

[1920s+] (orig. US) with no other justification than a (momentary) whim or self-indulgence.

from hell (also out of hell)

[20C+] (orig. US) appalling, very unpleasant, usu. with a n., e.g. the professor from hell, a game from hell.

hell-a-mile (adj.)

1. [late 19C–1930s] (US) terrible, hellish.

2. [1930s] (US) as a general excl., the meaning varies according to context.

hell beating tanbark (also devil beating tanbark)

[mid-19C–1900s] (US) a general intensive, usu. meaning very fast; in phrs. such as quicker than hell beating tanbark.

hell for (US)

1. [mid-19C+] intent on, insistent upon.

2. [1940s+] as a general intensifier, exceedingly.

hell of a, a (also one hell of a, the hell of a)

1. [late 18C+] hellish, awful; often abbr. to helluva adj.

2. [mid-19C+] (orig. US) extraordinary, surprising (as often positive as negative).

3. [mid-19C+] to a very great extent.

hell of a note (n.)

[late 19C+] (US) very bad news.

hell on

1. [mid-19C–1960s] (US) very fond of.

2. [1920s+] difficult or problematic for.

3. [1940s+] (US) very hard on, opposed to.

hell on wheels (n.) (also Hades on wheels, hell on roller-skates)

[mid-19C+] (orig. US) anyone or anything regarded as the equivalent of hell, usu. referring to character, speed or enthusiasm; also attrib.

hell or high water

see separate entry.

hell’s a popping (also hell a-popping, hell is popping, hell pops (loose), hellzapoppin’)

[late 19C+] (orig. US) a general phr. of intensification, implying aggression, chaos, forcefulness; also attrib.

hell to pay (also holy heck to pay, sulphur smoke to pay) [the myth of the ‘Faustian bargain’]

[19C+] serious consequences will follow; usu. as there’ll be hell to pay.

hell to split (adv.) (also hell-a-tootin’, hellety split)

[19C+] (US) at breakneck speed.

hell with the lid off (n.)

[late 19C+] (US) something extremely difficult or hard to bear.

I’ll go hopping to hell (also I’ll go to hell, I’ll go hopping, I’ll go hopping to hell backwards)

[20C+] a phr. implying the speaker’s amazement, approval or admiration.

look like hell (v.)

[1930s+] of a person, to appear extremely unwell, whether through actual illness or through the effects of drink or drugs.

seven kinds of hell

[1910s+] intense unpleasantness; usu. with knock/kick/beat/thump..., to beat severely.

what in hell...?

see separate entry.

what the hell

see separate entries.

where the hell...?

see separate entry.

who in hell...?

see separate entry.

who the hell...?

see separate entry.

In exclamations

get to hell (out of...)! (also get to the devil (out of...)! ...Jesus (out of...)!)

[1920s+] a harsh demand that one go away.

go to hell!

1. [mid-18C+] a general excl. of dismissal.

2. attrib. use of sense 1.

go to hell across lots!

[mid-19C–1940s] (US, also go to the devil across lots!) a general excl. of dismissal; the implication is that they should go with speed.

go to hell and pump thunder!

[late 19C] an excl. of derision and dismissal.

go to hell or Connaught! [a law, passed in 1654, forcing Irish landowners out of Ulster, Munster and Leinster]

[mid-17C–19C] an excl. of aggressive dismissal, go where you want but don’t expect me to be bothered!

hell and tommy! (also hell and maria!)

[mid-19C+] a general excl.

hell’s bells! (also hell’s boots! ...britches!! ...flames! ...fury! ...jerry bells! ...smoke! ...teeth!)

[mid-19C+] a general mild. excl., usu. implying irritation or disappointment.

hell’s delight!

[1900s] an all-purpose excl.

the hell with...! (also the heck with...!)

[20C+] a mild oath of annoyance or dismissal.

to hell with...!

[early 19C+] a dismissive excl., go away! be done with!

to hell with it!

[mid-19C+] a mild dismissive excl., I’m done with it!