Green’s Dictionary of Slang

hell, the phr.

1. (orig. US) used to intensify a variety of questions, such as how the hell...?; what the hell...? phr.; where the hell...? phr.; who the hell...? phr.; why the hell...?

[US]G.G. Foster N.Y. by Gas-Light (1990) 194: His drowzy bench-fellow [...] inquires why the h-- he can’t lie still, and not be waking up his neighbors.
[US]J. O’Connor Wanderings of a Vagabond 45: Why, how the h—l did you come by so much money?
[UK]J. Greenwood Wilds of London (1881) 241: Why the ’ell can’t yer leave a cove alone?
[US]Yorkville Enquirer (SC) 27 Nov. 1/1: ‘I thot you wanted to lay the hoss out.’ ‘The hell yu did’.
[UK]Binstead & Wells Pink ’Un and Pelican 172: Hullo, Roman! [...] How the h—— are you?
[UK]H.G. Wells Hist. of Mr Polly (1946) 201: Why the hell was I ever born?
[US]E. Pound letter 29 May in Paige (1971) 113: Hang it all, how the hell does one say what I’m trying to get at.
[US]Broadway Brevities Aug. 25: How in the H. E. double scratch was he going to do it?
[UK]Western Dly Press 5 Aug. 9/5: Tommy, why the hell fight for the Japanese capitalisrs in China?
[US]D. Parker ‘Big Blonde’ in Penguin Dorothy Parker (1982) 199: Why the hell don’t you stay home and not go spoiling everybody’s evening?
[US](con. 1917–19) Dos Passos Nineteen Nineteen in USA (1966) 603: If they’re going to have a riot, why the hell can’t they have it in time to make the cables.
[UK]V. Davis Gentlemen of the Broad Arrows 99: How the hell am I to do that?
[US]Mezzrow & Wolfe Really the Blues 8: I kept wondering how the hell I was going to get out of this mess.
[US]I. Shulman Amboy Dukes 32: Frank wondered why the hell he had to be a member of the Amboy Dukes.
[Aus]D. Stivens Jimmy Brockett 199: Why the hell do you think I come to you?
[US]C. Himes Crazy Kill 22: Why the hell didn’t you call the police?
[US]H. Selby Jr Last Exit to Brooklyn 257: Why the hell didnt she dress the kid before she left.
[UK]T. Keyes All Night Stand 20: Wondering how the hell we were going to get rid of these chicks.
[US]D. Goines Street Players 10: How in the hell are you goin’ find out who’s catchin’ what and how?
[UK]A. Payne ‘You Need Hands’ in Minder [TV script] 33: How the hell did you find me here?
[US]J. Wambaugh Glitter Dome (1982) 91: I’ll [...] go to the Himalayas, and worship some Chinese guru in Katmandu or wherever the hell.
[US]T. Wolfe Bonfire of the Vanities 15: Why the hell didn’t the doorman get back in the building where he belonged?
[UK]T. Blacker Fixx 264: Why the hell not?
[US]C. Hiaasen Lucky You 13: I mean, why the hell not?

2. a general intensifier to express anger, annoyance, impatience, also (ironically) disbelief or contempt, used to dismiss another speaker’s assertion; note also the hell with...! under hell n.

[US]W.T. Thompson Chronicles of Pineville 32: ‘I’s another chick to Bill Sweeny!’ ‘The h-ll you is!’.
[US]G. Devol Forty Years a Gambler 202: ‘I got off and walked back.’ ‘The h—l you did!’ says I.
[US]S. Crane Maggie, a Girl of the Streets (2001) 20: ‘Deh hell,’ I says. Like dat! ‘Deh hell.’.
[US]‘Hugh McHugh’ You Can Search Me 65: ‘The hell I will!’ spluttered Bunch. Then he got red in the face.
[US]A. Irvine My Lady of the Chimney Corner 135: T’ h--l wi’ Hughie!
[US]Dos Passos Three Soldiers 213: ‘They’re going to move me out o’ here to a t.b. ward tomorrow.’ ‘The hell they are!’.
[US](con. 1900s–10s) Dos Passos 42nd Parallel in USA (1966) 100: The hell I was, Fred, I had a couple of drinks, but Jesus...
[Can]M. de la Roche Whiteoak Heritage (1949) 96: ‘I can’t imagine you swearing in this outfit.’ ‘The hell you cant!’ she exclaimed, incredulously.
[US]A. Kober Parm Me 144: Let’s blackball him the hell outta —.
[US]H. McCoy Corruption City 38: ‘The hell it is,’ Harrigan said.
[US]J. Thompson Alcoholics (1993) 6: ‘I don’t like to mention it, Doctor, but —’ ‘The hell you don’t!’.
[US]C. Himes Imabelle 57: The hell it wasn’t you.
[US]M. Shulman Rally Round the Flag, Boys! (1959) 16: The hell you say!
[US]C. Himes Rage in Harlem (1969) 58: [as 1957].
[UK]Nova Apr. 92: ‘The hell,’ Rabbit says. ‘You stick right with us and suffer for once.’.
[US]C. Hiaasen Skin Tight 23: Metro calls the Bureau and says you made a mistake and they say the hell we did.
[US]C. Hiaasen Lucky You 7: The hell you say!
[US]D. Hecht Skull Session 454: ‘It’s my job. I get paid for it.’ ‘The hell it is. You’ve been basically told hands off by your supervisor.’.

3. (also hell) a general intensifer implying quantity, intensity.

[US]Nat. Police Gaz. (NY) 14 Jan. 2/1: Lo Loo, of West 79th street, is under arrest for threatening to ‘blowee hellee’ out of a mob of teasing boys.
[US]S. Crane Maggie, a Girl of the Streets (2001) 12: I’ll club hell outa yeh when I ketch yeh.
[UK](con. 1916) F. Manning Her Privates We (1986) 85: I am in the hell of a bloody funk, sometime.
[US]O. Strange Sudden 61: If yu don’t watch yore steps I’ll shake shinin’ hell outa yu.
[US]C. Odets Awake and Sing! Act III: When they grew up they beat it the hell away like rabbits.
[US]J.H. O’Hara Pal Joey 13: She [...] would personally spit in my eye and knock me the hell off the stand.
[US]Z.N. Hurston Dust Tracks On a Road (1995) 587: Lam hell out of ’em with the first lick and keep on lamming.
[US]‘Hal Ellson’ Duke 135: I slapped the fight out of her and then slapped hell out of her.
[Aus](con. 1936–46) K.S. Prichard Winged Seeds (1984) 285: They’re fine lads [...] Reckon they’re rarin’ to blast the hell out of the Japs.
[US](con. 1948) G. Mandel Flee the Angry Strangers 409: Shut the hell up!
[US]J. Thompson Criminal (1993) 93: I’m slapping hell out of a client.
[US]F. Brown Madball (2019) 36: Jesse had bawled the holy hell out of him.
[US]J.D. Macdonald Slam the Big Door (1961) 85: I’d sent Birdy the hell away.
[US]S. Ace Stand On It (1979) 235: I brought the wheel around again and then really zapped the hell out of it.
[US]P. Hamill Flesh and Blood (1978) 89: ‘I missed you,’ she says. ‘I missed hell out of you.’.
[US]C. Hiaasen Skin Tight 138: I’ll see that Mr Stranahan sues the living hell out of both of you.
[US]Tarantino & Avery Pulp Fiction [film script] 58: Get her the hell outta here!
Ghost posting at 21 Nov. 🌐 Hehe I did that one day hunting in CT, pre-PoP, 45 secs later we were up to our elbows in lizards. Wiped the hell out of us.
[US]W. Ellis Crooked Little Vein 4: It was time to leave the office [...] and give the hell up.
[US]L. Berney Whiplash River [ebook] ‘Shut the hell up. You’ve got exactly one minute to get out of here and never come back’.

In phrases

beat hell (v.) (also beat all to hell, beat the hell out of)

to surpass, to exceed in expectation, to surprise; often as if this don’t beat hell, don’t that beat hell.

Pete Wetstone Letters’ in Cavorting on Devil’s Fork (1979) 74: Well now, the lawyer beats hell amazingly. All that stuff about the banks is lies .
[US] ‘How Sally Hooter Got Snake-Bit’ in T.A. Burke Polly Peablossom’s Wedding 68: Cracky! it’s worse nor er young earthquake – beats h-ll!
[US]F. Francis Jr Saddle and Mocassin 123: The Apaches were out to beat hell.
[US]F. Remington Sel. Letters Jan–Feb. (1988) 206: Apaches charged gallantly – infantry got a Foot – shot em up to beat hell.
[UK]Mirror of Life 10 Feb. 14/4: [He] gazed on the couple and muttered: ‘Well, that does beat hell!’.
[US]C.E. Mulford Bar-20 131: Well, don’t that beat hell?
[UK]C. Holme Lonely Plough (1931) 107: ‘It’ll beat hell!’ he said.
[UK](con. WW1) P. MacDonald Patrol 39: ‘It beats hell! [...] How in the name o’ — ’.
[US]O. Strange Law O’ The Lariat 81: Well, if that don’t beat hell.
[UK]L. Short Raiders of the Rimrock 66: Well, don’t that beat hell.
[US]‘F. Bonnamy’ Blood and Thirsty (1952) 103: ‘Run to beat hell,’ I commanded.
[US]H.S. Thompson letter 18 Nov. Proud Highway (1997) 414: I think road-running beats hell out of regular hunting.
[US]S. Ace Stand On It (1979) 148: The rest of them came howling up, fishtailing to beat hell.
[US](con. 1969) C.R. Anderson Grunts 160: She’s got these bitches around here beat all to hell.
[US] ‘The Open Book’ in G. Logsdon Whorehouse Bells Were Ringing (1995) 111: It surely beats hell, but it’s easy to tell where each learned to tighten his reins.
(con. 1776) K. Roberts Rabble in Arms 246: It certainly beats hell the way these fellers blame everything in the world on Arnold.
L. Polevoi Moon in Deep Winter 12: Sure beats hell outa hauling cherry tomatoes up and down the goddamn state.
beat (the) hell out of (v.)

1. (orig. US, also beat the holy hell.., ...the living hell... ) to beat severely; note also individual vars. in cits. at sense 3

[US]Dos Passos Manhattan Transfer 96: We’ll beat hell outa both of ye.
[US](con. 1905–25) E.H. Sutherland Professional Thief (1956) 129: You can get any case fixed in court, but first you get hell beat out of you in the basement.
[UK]News of the World 11 June 5: We beat the hell out of the best German troops they could throw in to stop us.
[US]J.D. Salinger Catcher in the Rye (1958) 16: He put my goddam paper down then and looked at me like he’d just beaten hell out of me in ping-pong.
[US]J. Steinbeck Sweet Thursday (1955) 76: I’m going to beat the holy hell out of you.
[US]J.D. Macdonald Slam the Big Door (1961) 103: Most people come here act a little trembly, like I’d bite hell out of them. [Ibid.] 182: I wanted to pick him up [...] and beat the living hell out of him.
[UK](con. 1920s) J. Sparks Burglar to the Nobility 89: There was a screw called Sampson who was a bully. He [...] delighted in beating hell out of lags who were too [...] scared to give him a bit for himself.
[US]G.V. Higgins Digger’s Game (1981) 62: Beat the hell out of the car.
[US]C. Hiaasen Skin Tight 265: He must’ve beat the hell out of her for something.
[US]R. Ro Have Gun 6: If the Bloods [...] decided they didn’t want to beat the hell out of you.
[US]J. Collison No-How Coaching 54: And that means I don't want a guy that beats the holy hell out of somebody.

2. to do something to excess.

[US]G.V. Higgins Cogan’s Trade (1975) 8: You’re in, you’re on pills. [...] You were beating the hell out of them yellowjackets.

3. (orig. US) to amaze, to confound.

[US]E. Torres After Hours 52: Beats the hell out of me.
[US]C. Hiaasen Tourist Season (1987) 36: ‘Why all the trouble?’ Garcia said, ‘Beats the hell out of me.’.
[US]L. Miller Morning Star 46: Beats hell outta me [...] I mean, I’m drivin' along, and all of a sudden, bingo! Everything just shuts down, like magic.
hell of it, the (n.)

the fundamental problem.

[US]N. Putnam West Broadway 107: ‘The hellovit is we haven't time to lay off until the world dries up’.
[US]C. Himes If He Hollers 139: And the hell of it was he could make a weak-minded chump fall for ’em [i.e. specious arguments].
[US]‘Sheldon Lord’ Kept 118: Right then [...] I could be sleeping with a better-looking woman than the one I was staring at [...] And the hell of it was, the first woman who came to mind was Elaine Rice.
kick (the) hell out of (v.) (also kick the heck out of)

(orig. US) to beat up thoroughly, to defeat or destroy.

[US]W.R. Burnett Little Caesar (1932) 77: If we miss him I’ll kick hell out of Blackie.
[US]L. Uris Battle Cry (1964) 56: He swears he’s going to kick the hell out of Beller.
[Ire](con. 1940s) B. Behan Borstal Boy 177: ’E’d kick hell out of us too.
[US]C. Cooper Jr Scene (1996) 52: You call me somethin like that again and I’m gonna kick the hell out of you.
[US]Larner & Tefferteller Addict in the Street (1966) 213: We went back and we got the heck kicked out of us.
[UK]N. Smith Gumshoe (1998) 60: Nothing to do but watch the television and let their kids kick hell out of the telephone boxes and bus shelters.
[UK]F. Norman Too Many Crooks Spoil the Caper 99: A group of black youths [...] were kicking the hell out of a turbanned Pakki.
[US]in S. Ruddick Young & Homeless in Hollywood 111: Where we would kick the hell out of somebody because they gave us shit, they would just kick the hell out of somebody to kick the hell out of somebody.
[US]T. Schaeffer World of Sharks 34: He would still come around, kick the hell out of her, and dare her to call the cops.
[US]E. Iversen Jacky 255: She could kick the hell out of a half a dozen guys like Jim and Bob. I've seen her in action before.
knock (the) hell of out (v.) (also knock blazes out of, ...hell’s blazes/delight out of, ...the heck out, ...the living hell out of)

(orig. US) to beat severely, to destroy comprehensively.

[US]N.Y. Clipper 30 July 2/7: [S]inging out, ‘here, you, hurry with my supper, or I'll knock h—l out o’ you’.
[US]C. Abbey diary 21 Oct. in Gosnell Before the Mast (1989) 272: He’d knock h-ll out of any g-d d-n-d man in the ship if they did so.
[US] ‘Mulvaney & O’Flanagan’ Donnybrook-Fair Comic Songster 54: Wouldn’t I make a football of his cranium? / Out of his black skin I’d knock blazes.
[US]Cases in N.Y. State Supreme Court 9 480: He told her he would knock the brains out of her damned head— would knock her head off; and he struck her with his fist on the side of the head. The justice ordered him to desist. The plaintiff said he would knock hell out of her;.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 9 May 5/3: I wint before the Boord, and the Boord said to me, ‘Brasser, we’ll let ye aff this time, but the next time ye come here agin, we’ll knock hell’s blazes out of ye’ .
Inland Printer 9 318: Jack said he bet that feller would knock hell out of the page, if he locked it up.
[US]F.P. Dunne in Schaaf Mr Dooley’s Chicago (1977) 49: All th’ good I ever knew thim for was to make janitors an’ knock blazes out iv Danny O’Brien and Philly Furlong.
[UK]A. Binstead Pitcher in Paradise 39: Frank Patrick Slavin knocked [...] seventeen distinct and different kinds of Hell out of ex-champion Jem Smith.
[US]A.G. Field Watch Yourself Go By 23: Ef ye had my spunk, ye’d hev knocked hell’s delight out of some of ’em.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 5 Dec. 16/3: I’d got the bleedin’ John against the bar, and was knockin’ ’ell outer ’im, and when I got ’im down – when I got ’im down, mind yer! – not one of ’em had the bleedin’ pluck ter put the boot inter ’im!
[US]W. Edge Main Stem 14: I thought they were going to knock hell out of us. [Ibid.] 95: Let’s see if we can find the stiff who had the hell knocked out of him.
[US]E.C. Segar ‘Popeye’ Thimble Theatre series No. 2 n.p.: You’d get the heck knocked outta you.
[US]V.F. Nelson Prison Days and Nights 30: I’ll have to knock hell out of that record.
[UK]J. Curtis There Ain’t No Justice 250: Feed her well, take her along and show her a couple of real men knocking the hell out of each other and then, oh boy, was she good when you tumbled her?
[Ire](con. 1890s) S. O’Casey Pictures in the Hallway 80: What’r you doin’ here [...] me oul’-fashioned, cocky little kidger, with your ears open to catch any language that’ll help to knock hell outa all decency in later life?
[UK]Derby Dly Teleg. 24 July 5/4: We were making Lancasters and other heavy bombers to knock hell out of Germany.
[Aus]D. Stivens Jimmy Brockett 234: It’s tough, driving a car at a funeral. I was glad I hadn’t decided to go. It would have knocked hell out of the Daimler.
[US]W. Brown Monkey On My Back (1954) 78: If they don’t find one, maybe they pick up some other kid and knock the hell out of him.
[US]B. Jackson Get Your Ass in the Water (1974) 215: When you staggle out the door you wobble in your knees, / and you wanna knock hell out a everybody you sees: / boy, you high.
[US]R.D. Pharr Giveadamn Brown (1997) 96: ‘You make with apologies and I’ll knock the livin’ hell outa you!’.
[UK]P. Barker Union Street 191: He was a right bugger with his wife and bairns, knocked hell out of ’em.
[UK]M. Frayn Now You Know 58: She’s breaking them up into little pieces. Really knocking hell out of them.
R. Gibson Trouble with Valentine’s Day 126: He can’t wait to knock the hell out of the trout population this summer.
pound (the) hell out of (v.) (also paste...)

(orig. US) to beat up thoroughly, to defeat or destroy.

(con. 1861) Kansas Misc. 38: Blunt said this would be done as soon as the fight was on, and then they both agreed, and repeated it several times, in a reassuring way, that we would ‘pound hell out of ’em this time’.
[US](con. 1910s) J.T. Farrell Young Lonigan in Studs Lonigan (1936) 71: Sometimes he will get the livin’ hell pounded out of him.
[US]J. Weidman I Can Get It For You Wholesale 48: They still had the scabs on the ground and were pasting hell out of them.
[NZ]G. Slatter Gun in My Hand 157: After five hundred heavies had finished pounding hell out of it.
rip (the) hell out of (v.) (orig. Aus.)

1. to defeat comprehensively; to beat.

[US](con. c.1910s) J. Stevens Big Jim Turner 50: It rips hell out of my nerves, Jim.
C. Harrison I Have What You Want 104: Let them rip the hell out of each other for all I cared.

2. to tell off, to reprimand.

[Aus]D. Stivens Jimmy Brockett 232: Bob had persuaded me up to now to go easy, but I wasn’t holding off much longer, by hang! I was going to get stuck into the lot of them and rip hell out of them.

3. to tease unmercifully.

[UK]K. Sampson Powder 148: We’ll all get absolutely blasted and rip the hell out of every other group in Liverpool.