Green’s Dictionary of Slang

what the hell! excl.

also what in hell!

1. a statement of resignation, of acceptance.

[US]S. Crane Maggie, a Girl of the Streets (2001) 4: ‘Ah, what deh hell,’ he said.
[Can]R. Service ‘The Volunteer’ in Rhymes of a Red Cross Man 21: The wife and nippers, wot of ’em I say, / If I gets knocked out in this blasted war? / Gets proper busted by a shell, / But – wot the ’ell, Bill? Wot the ’ell?
[US]G. Milburn ‘Our Lil’ in Hobo’s Hornbook 141: But Lil died game boys, that I’ll tell, / So what the hell, Bill, what the hell.
[UK]R. Westerby Wide Boys Never Work (1938) 162: Charing Cross Road was worse – but what the hell?
[US]D. Maurer Big Con 203: What the hell [...] we’re supposed to be out on the road.
[US]L. Hoban ‘Time to Kill’ Crack Detective Jan. [Internet] I didn’t feel right about it — but wotinell, I only work on salary.
[Ire]J.P. Donleavy Ginger Man (1958) 86: I’m thinking of joining the Jews to fight the Arabs or the Arabs to fight the Jews. What the hell. I’m sick of it all.
[US]Murtagh & Harris Who Live In Shadow (1960) 21: Even the junk hogs aren’t too bad off. What the hell, they get cured of their habits, don’t they?
[UK]M. Terry Old Liberty (1962) 180: ‘What the hell,’ Bo mumbles.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Pimp 172: What the hell, Carl, we know she’s a whore.
[US]Cab Calloway Of Minnie the Moocher and Me 71: What the hell, let’s go out and have a ball.
[US]J. Ellroy Brown’s Requiem 55: Strange for a cheapshit little bar like that, but what the hell?
[US]C. Hiaasen Stormy Weather 6: What the hell, let’s check it out.
[UK]Indep. Rev. 22 Jan. 5: What the hell – it’s the packaging I’m in it for.

2. a general excl. indicative of annoyance or surprise.

[US]S. Crane Maggie, a Girl of the Streets (2001) 4: ‘What deh hell, Jimmie?’ he asked of the small champion.
[US]R. Lardner Big Town 110: The general idea was, What the hell!
[UK]G. Greene Gun for Sale (1973) 179: Buddy blustered, ‘What the hell!’.
[US]J. Evans Halo in Blood (1988) 14: I said, ‘What the hell?’ under my breath and finished lighting my cigarette.
[US]H. McCoy Corruption City 114: What the hell, copper, you nuts or something?
[US]A. Hine Unsinkable Molly Brown 62: ‘What the hell!’ Christmas exploded.