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[hel] /hɛl/
the place or state of punishment of the wicked after death; the abode of evil and condemned spirits; Gehenna or Tartarus.
any place or state of torment or misery:
They made their father's life a hell on earth.
something that causes torment or misery:
Having that cut stitched without anesthesia was hell.
the powers of evil.
the abode of the dead; Sheol or Hades.
extreme disorder or confusion; chaos:
The children let both dogs into the house, and all hell broke loose.
Informal. something remarkable of its kind (usually used in the phrase a hell of a or one hell of a):
That was one hell of a great game.
a receptacle into which a tailor throws scraps.
Also called hellbox. Printing. a box into which a printer throws discarded type.
the utterance of “hell” in swearing or for emphasis.
the hell, Informal.
  1. (used as an intensifier to express surprise, anger, impatience, etc., often in the form of a question beginning with a WH-word): Why the hell can't the trains run on time?
    How the hell am I supposed to finish this by tomorrow?
  2. (used sarcastically or ironically to express the opposite of what is being stated):
    Are you listening to me? The hell you are!
(used to express surprise, irritation, disgust, etc.)
Verb phrases
hell around, Slang. to live or act in a wild or dissolute manner:
All they cared about was drinking and helling around.
be hell on, Slang.
  1. to be unpleasant to or painful for:
    These shoes are hell on my poor feet.
  2. to be harmful to:
    These country roads are hell on tires.
for the hell of it, Informal.
  1. to see what will happen; for adventure, fun, excitement, etc.:
    For the hell of it, let's just get on the next bus and see where it takes us.
  2. with no particular purpose; for no special reason:
    I called him up for the hell of it, and he offered me a job.
get / catch hell, Slang. to suffer a scolding; receive a harsh reprimand:
We'll get hell from our parents if we stay out late again.
give someone hell, Informal. to reprimand or reproach severely.
go to hell in a handbasket, Informal. handbasket (def 2).
hell on wheels, Slang. extremely demanding, fast-paced, aggressive, effective, or the like:
The new job is hell on wheels. Our sales staff is hell on wheels when it comes to getting the most out of every account.
like hell, Informal.
  1. with great speed, effort, intensity, etc.:
    We ran like hell to get home before the storm. She tried like hell to get him to change his mind.
  2. (used sarcastically or ironically to express the opposite of what is being stated):
    He says the motor will never break down? Like hell it won't!
play hell with, Slang. to deal recklessly with; bring injury or harm to:
Snowstorms played hell with the flow of city traffic.
raise hell, Slang.
  1. to indulge in wild celebration.
  2. to create an uproar; object violently to:
    She'll raise hell when she sees what your rabbit has done to her garden.
the / to hell with, Informal. (used to express dismissal, rejection, contempt, disappointment, or the like):
If we have to walk five miles to see the view, the hell with it! He wouldn't even speak to me, so to hell with him!
what the hell, Informal. (used to express lack of concern or worry, indifference, abandonment, surrender, etc.):
As long as you're borrowing $100, what the hell, borrow $200.
Origin of hell
before 900; Middle English, Old English hel(l); cognate with Old High German hell(i)a (German Hölle), Old Norse hel, Gothic halja; akin to Old English helan to cover, hide, and to hull2
Related forms
hell-like, adjective
1. inferno. 2. anguish, agony, torture.
1, 2. heaven, paradise. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for catch hell
Historical Examples
  • "Yes, an' I'll catch hell when I git home," whimpered Shorty.

    Prairie Flowers

    James B. Hendryx
  • They'd catch hell when they got back, for losing a part of their precious cargo.

    The Copper-Clad World Harl Vincent
  • When he gets back home, he's really going to catch hell for lousing up the works.

    The Great Gray Plague Raymond F. Jones
British Dictionary definitions for catch hell


(Christianity) (sometimes capital)
  1. the place or state of eternal punishment of the wicked after death, with Satan as its ruler
  2. forces of evil regarded as residing there
(sometimes capital) (in various religions and cultures) the abode of the spirits of the dead See also Hel, Hades, Sheol
pain, extreme difficulty, etc
(informal) a cause of such difficulty or suffering: war is hell
(US & Canadian) high spirits or mischievousness: there's hell in that boy
a box used by a tailor for discarded material
(rare) a gambling house, booth, etc
as hell, (intensifier): tired as hell
(informal) for the hell of it, for the fun of it
(informal) from hell, denoting a person or thing that is particularly bad or alarming: neighbour from hell, hangover from hell
(informal) give someone hell
  1. to give someone a severe reprimand or punishment
  2. to be a source of annoyance or torment to someone
(informal) hell of a, helluva, (intensifier): a hell of a good performance
hell for leather, at great speed
(informal) hell or high water, come hell or high water, whatever difficulties may arise
(informal) hell to pay, serious consequences, as of a foolish action
(informal) like hell
  1. (adverb) (intensifier): he works like hell
  2. an expression of strong disagreement with a previous statement, request, order, etc
(informal) play hell with, play merry hell with, to throw into confusion and disorder; disrupt
raise hell
  1. to create a noisy disturbance, as in fun
  2. to react strongly and unfavourably
(informal) the hell
  1. (intensifier) used in such phrases as what the hell, who the hell, etc
  2. an expression of strong disagreement or disfavour
the hell I will
(informal) an exclamation of anger, annoyance, surprise, etc (Also in exclamations such as hell's bells, hell's teeth, etc)
Word Origin
Old English hell; related to helan to cover, Old Norse hel, Gothic halja hell, Old High German hella
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for catch hell



Old English hel, helle, "nether world, abode of the dead, infernal regions," from Proto-Germanic *haljo "the underworld" (cf. Old Frisian helle, Dutch hel, Old Norse hel, German Hölle, Gothic halja "hell") "the underworld," literally "concealed place" (cf. Old Norse hellir "cave, cavern"), from PIE *kel- "to cover, conceal, save" (see cell).

The English word may be in part from Old Norse Hel (from Proto-Germanic *halija "one who covers up or hides something"), in Norse mythology the name of Loki's daughter, who rules over the evil dead in Niflheim, the lowest of all worlds (nifl "mist"). Transfer of a pagan concept and word to a Christian idiom. 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" since at least late 14c. As an expression of disgust, etc., first recorded 1670s.

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, with a sense of "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 ride hell for leather is from 1889, originally with reference to riding on horseback. Hell on wheels is said to be from 1843 in DAS; popularity dates from 1869 in reference to the temporary workers' towns along the U.S. transcontinental railroad and their vices.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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catch hell in Culture

hell definition

The dwelling place of Satan, devils, and wicked souls condemned to eternal punishment after death; a place of pain and torment. (Compare heaven.)

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Slang definitions & phrases for catch hell

catch hell

verb phrase

  1. To be severely rebuked or punished
  2. To be severely damaged or injured: The dock caught holy hell in that last approach (1920s+)



  1. An exclamation of disgust, regret, emphasis, etc: Oh hell, they're back/ Hell, darling, I didn't mean it (1678+)
  2. An exclamation of strong denial, disbelief, defiance, etc; in a pig's ass, my eye: ''Retreat hell!'' said the general (1893+)


  1. Strong rebuke or punishment; merry hell: Your old man'll give you hell/ I caught hell from the tax people (1851+)
  2. A bad experience: Dinner with my in-laws is usually pure hell (1374+)


  1. hell around (1897+)
  2. To speed; barrel: An ambulance, helling out the state road (1929+)

Related Terms

all hell broke loose, blazes, blue hell, catch hell, come hell or high water, easy as pie, excuse me all to hell, for the hell of it, from hell to breakfast, give someone hell, go to hell in a handbasket, hot as hell, like a bat out of hell, like hell, play hell with something, raise hell, a snowball's chance in hell, take off like a bigass bird, to hell

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with catch hell
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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