Etymology
Advertisement
hell (n.)

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."

Related entries & more 
Advertisement
hell-hole (n.)
also hellhole, late 14c., "the pit of Hell," from hell + hole (n.). Meaning "very unpleasant place" is from 1866.
Related entries & more 
hell-bent (adj.)
also hellbent, "recklessly determined," 1824, U.S., originally slang, from hell + bent (adj.).
Related entries & more 
hell-raiser (n.)
1906 (to raise hell "create a ruckus" is from 1847, American English), from hell + agent noun from raise (v.). Related: Hell-raising. Probably not from the U.S. political cry "Kansas should raise less corn and more hell" (1900).
Related entries & more 
hell-hound (n.)
also hellhound, "wicked person, agent of Hell" (c. 1400), from Old English hellehund "Cerberus;" see hell + hound (n.). Similar formation in Dutch helhond, German Höllenhund.
Related entries & more 
Advertisement
heck (interj.)

euphemistic alteration of hell, by 1865.

Related entries & more 
hellgate (n.)
also Hell-gate, "the entrance to Hell," Old English hellegat; see hell + gate (n.).
Related entries & more 
hellacious (adj.)
1930s, college slang, from hell + fanciful ending (see bodacious).
Related entries & more 
helluva (adj.)
"very bad, infernal; tremendous," 1910, attempt to represent the casual pronunciation of expression hell of a _____, which is attested from 1776 (see hell).
Related entries & more 
hellfire (n.)
also hell-fire, "the fire of Hell, eternal torment," from Old English hellefyr, in which helle is the genitive case of hell. It translates Greek gehenna tou pyros, literally "hell of fire." Also used in Middle English for "erysipelas" (mid-15c.).
Related entries & more