Saturday, November 19, 2011

Funny as Hell? Sexy as Hell?

I'm often using phrases, as do we all, that I don't stop & think, "what is it I am saying?" For example, I often use the phrases "sexy as hell" and "funny as hell". Obviously if taken literally, nothing is LESS sexy or funny than HELL. So how did these idioms get into common usage?

After spending hours researching the origins of these phrases, the most I could come up with was a reference to gallows humor. What really seems odd is that as large as the internet is, there's not ONE web site that lists this phrase with its actual origins! Isn't this supposed to be the digital age of finding any answer online within seconds? Apparently not when it comes to the English language. I feel for the English as Second Language folks trying to understand half of what we say when we use cliches, idioms & phrases without thought for their meanings or origins.

The phrase "funny as hell", when hell is often considered a serious term, comes from what is commonly called gallows humor.  While many consider hell to be a serious subject, the phrase "gallows humor" refers to police, firemen & other such personnel using humor in morbid situations, such as morgue workers & police around dead bodies for example, to release some of the tensions of their job, to keep from becoming burnt out, depressed or crazy over what they must see & deal with on a daily basis. 

The closest I could get to a real definition, which as you can see isn't very close to "funny as hell" at all, was this:

gallows humor: Definition from

n. Humorous treatment of a grave or dire situation: "conveying with gallows humor the utter insanity of the nuclear-arms race" (New York).

Interestingly, in a somewhat related thread of thought, the phrase "going to hell in a hand basket" is traced back to the actual gallows when decapitation via guillotine was common, with movies often showing the heads falling into a basket. Wallah, going to hell in a hand basket. [You try finding anything more definitive!].  

I probably won't be using these phrases again now that I've found myself noticing how often I've used them and questioning their meaning. Often the things I've described as "funny as hell" or "sexy as hell" are in no way related to the gallows humor of the idiom's foundation. For those interested in words & language--a dictionary geek like me (I used to read the dictionary & reference books for FUN) perhaps?--I will include the actual definitions of hell from the most used dictionary (and the one I own, go to & READ most often), pasted in below. Now, isn't this just as interesting as hell?

Gina Jordan AKA awolgina

Merriam Webster defines Hell as:

Definition of HELL

(1) : a nether world in which the dead continue to exist :hades (2) : the nether realm of the devil and the demons in which the damned suffer everlasting punishment —often used in curses <go to hell> or as a generalized term of abuse<the hell with it>b Christian Science : error 2b, sin
a : a place or state of misery, torment, or wickedness <war is hell — W. T. Sherman>b : a place or state of turmoil or destruction <all hell broke loose>c : a severe scolding; also : flakgrief <gave me hell for coming in late>d : unrestrained fun or sportiveness <the kids were full ofhell> —often used in the phrase for the hell of it especially to suggest action on impulse or without a serious motive<decided to go for the hell of it>e : an extremely unpleasant and often inescapable situation<rush-hour hell>
archaic : a tailor's receptacle
—used as an interjection <hell, I don't know!> or as an intensive <hurts like hell> <funny as hell> ; often used in the phrase hell of a <it was one hell of a good fight> or hell out of <scared the hell out of him> or with the or in <moved way the hell up north> <what in hell is wrong, now?>
— from hell
: being the worst or most dreadful of its kind
— hell on
: very hard on or destructive to <the constant traveling ishell on your digestive system>
— hell or high water
: difficulties of whatever kind or size <will stand by her convictions come hell or high water>
— hell to pay
: dire consequences <if he's late there'll be hell to pay>
— what the hell
—used interjectionally to express a lack of concern about consequences or risks <it might cost him half his estate … but what the hell — N. W. Aldrich b1935>

Examples of HELL

  1. Getting the loan approved was pure hell.
  2. He went through hell during his divorce.
  3. She had to go through hell to get where she is today.
  4. Living with the disease can be a hell on earth.
  5. The pain has made her life a living hell.

Origin of HELL

Middle English, from Old English; akin to Old English helan to conceal, Old High German helan, Latin celare, Greekkalyptein
First Known Use: before 12th century

Looking for more funny as hell? Here's a FB page I found via Google search. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. See this is why I forgo "hell" just stick with "fuck" when I need to make a point. ;)

    Actually I don't even have to be making a point.