also Hell, Old English hel, helle, "nether world, abode of the dead, infernal regions, place of torment for the wicked after death," from Proto-Germanic *haljō "the underworld" (source also of Old Frisian helle, Old Saxon hellia, Dutch hel, Old Norse hel, German Hölle, Gothic halja "hell"). Literally "concealed place" (compare Old Norse hellir "cave, cavern"), from PIE root *kel- (1) "to cover, conceal, save."
Old Norse Hel (from Proto-Germanic *halija "one who covers up or hides something")was the name of Loki's daughter who ruled over the evil dead in Niflheim, the lowest of all worlds (nifl "mist") It might have reinforced the English word "as a transfer of a pagan concept to Christian theology and its vocabulary" [Barnhart].
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" at least since late 14c. As an expression of disgust, etc., first recorded 1670s.
To have hell break loose is from c. 1600. 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, implying "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 do something for the hell of it "just for fun" is from 1921. To ride hell for leather is from 1889, originally with reference to riding on horseback. Hell on wheels is from 1843 as the name of a steamboat; its general popularity dates from 1869 in reference to the temporary workers' vice-ridden towns along the U.S. transcontinental railroad. Scottish had hell-wain (1580s) "a phantom wagon seen in the sky at night."
"fine, minute, loose, uncompacted particles," c. 1300, poudre, "ash, cinders; dust of the earth;" early 14c. of any pulverized substance; from Old French poudre "dust, powder; ashes; powdered substance" (13c.), earlier pouldre (11c.), from Latin pulverem (nominative pulvis) "dust, powder" (source also of Spanish polvo, Italian polve; see pulverize).
The insertion of the unetymological -d- was common in French (compare meddle, tender (adj.), remainder). German has it as a doublet; Puder via French and Pulver from Latin. From mid-14c. specifically as "medicinal powder;" specialized sense of "gunpowder" is from late 14c. In the sense "powdered cosmetic," it is recorded from 1570s.
Powder keg "small barrel for holding gunpowder" is by 1820; the figurative sense ("something likely to explode easily") is by 1895. Powder room, euphemistic for "women's lavatory," is attested from 1936. Earlier it meant "place where gunpowder is stored on a warship" (1620s). Powder monkey "boy employed on ships to carry powder from the magazines to the guns" is from 1680s. Powder blue (1650s) was smalt used in laundering; as a color name from 1894.
The phrase take a powder "scram, vanish," is from 1920; it was a common phrase as a doctor's instruction, so perhaps the notion is of taking a laxative medicine or a sleeping powder, with the result that one has to leave in a hurry (or, on another guess, from a magician's magical powder, which makes things disappear).
Avis dropped an exhausted little heap onto her aunt's bed. She put her hand over her heart and said piteously, "Oh, Aunt Joyce, I mustn't ever do that again. My heart's going awful fast. I shall have to take a powder. Wasn't it fun though-" Avis' dark eyes flashed. [from "The Evolution of Avis" in The Connecticut School Journal, Jan. 9, 1902]
When the wife of your breast has confessed she has drest
On just triple the sum you allowed her,
And has run up long bills for her frocks and her frills—
Take a powder, my friend, take a powder.
[from "The Panacaea," in Punch, Dec. 14, 1901]
Powder in the wind (c. 1300, meaning powdered spices) was a Middle English image of something highly valued but flawed in some way that renders it impermanent or doomed to loss (of virtues without humility, etc.).
1833, "one who embodies the person or character of another;" 1840 as "one who infuses (something) with a personality;" 1842 as "dramatic actor, one who plays a part on stage," from impersonate with Latinate agent noun suffix. Meaning "one who imitates the manners and speech of another" for entertainment (by 1921) perhaps grew from older theatrical use of female impersonator (1876), male impersonator (1874), both once popular stage acts; the first example of the latter was perhaps Miss Ella Wesner, who had a vogue c. 1870: In Britain, blackface performers were called negro impersonators (1906). As a fem. formation, impersonatrix, as if from Latin, is from 1847; impersonatress, as if from French, is from 1881.
Her [Wesner's] impersonation were a genuine surprise and her success was so pronounced that in a short period a host of imitators made their appearance. Her most successful rivals were Bessie Bonehill, Millie Hilton and Vesta Tilley, all of London. [M.B Leavitt, "Fifty Years in Theatrical Management," New York, 1912]
There is no member of a minstrel company who gets a better salary than a good female impersonator, the line being considered a very delicate one, requiring a high style of art in its way to judge where fun stops and bad taste begins, with decision enough on the part of the performer to stop at the stopping place. ["The Ancestry of Brudder Bones," Harper's New Monthly Magazine, April 1879]
The most fascinating performer I knew in those days was a dame named Metcalfe who was a female female impersonator. To maintain the illusion and keep her job, she had to be a male impersonator when she wasn't on. Onstage she wore a wig, which she would remove at the finish, revealing her mannish haircut. "Fooled you!" she would boom at the audience in her husky baritone. Then she would stride off to her dressing room and change back into men's clothes. She fooled every audience she played to, and most of the managers she worked for, but her secret was hard to keep from the rest of the company. [Harpo Marx, "Harpo Speaks"]