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As far as I know "fire and brimstone" is an idiomatic expression of signs of God's wrath in the Hebrew Bible. Is the phrase commonly used by Americans or it is only used in Bible?

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BTW, "native americans" doesn't mean the same thing as "native speakers of American English". – ShreevatsaR Feb 11 '11 at 0:13
@ShreevatsaR: …nor even the same as “people born in America”. – PLL Feb 11 '11 at 1:14
@both of you: Thanks for mentioning the point. – user4873 Feb 11 '11 at 20:35

I've seen "fire and brimstone" used to describe a certain style of preaching popular in 19th century America. Modernly, if the usage wasn't specifically historical, I would interpret it negatively – preaching (or more broadly, oration) that is loud and high in predictions of doom and gloom, but low in actual content.

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It's good to note that its use isn't limited to religious situations. "The teacher gave a fire-and-brimstone talk to the mischievous boys." – tankadillo Feb 10 '11 at 23:38
@jjackson: I’d tend to think of the religious style as being its main meaning, and other uses as an extension of that. If someone says “the teacher gave a fire-and-brimstone talk…”, this does (for me) conjure up a conscious comparison to a preacher, but doesn’t go on to the next stage and conjure up images of the apocalypse. – PLL Feb 11 '11 at 1:09
more specifically than doom and gloom, I’d think of fire-and-brimstone oratory as full of moral injunctions backed up with invocations (even threats) of danger. If Paul Krugman explains why the economy is inevitably going down the toilet, that’s doom and gloom. If he tells us that we must invest with responsible banks, or else we will all be responsible for the coming famines — that’s fire and brimstone! – PLL Feb 11 '11 at 1:13

I'd say that it is a fairly common expression. The Corpus of Contemporary American English returns 77 hits from the last 20 years, including uses by ABC's Nightline, CNN, USAToday, NPR, Forbes, and many others.

As Martha says, its original context is primarily religious, but it's often used for any sort of alarmist speechmongering.

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+1 for "alarmist speechmongering". – Marthaª Feb 11 '11 at 5:36
what do you mean by saying "alarmist speechmongering"? – Manoochehr Feb 11 '11 at 13:17
Any sort of "If we don't act NOW and change our ways, the world/the country/some institution will be irreparably harmed" harangue designed to inspire fear and provoke an immediate emotional response (especially a donation to the cause). – Hellion Feb 11 '11 at 13:42

Gen 19:24 Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;

This is the passage I think the comment comes from. God sent two angels to check out how wicked the cities where. The citizens of the city tried to gang rape the angels, and it's implied that they attempted this with every traveler who passed through the city. God found this so offensive the only option was to more or less nuke the entire city.

So the idea behind the phrase "fire and brimstone" is that something is so offensive that destroying it is the only alternative.

This phrase also is applied to certain preaching styles that attempt to use God's judgement to scare people into repentance. For a perfect example for a "fire and brimstone" sermon see "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" by Jonathan Edwards (AD 1739). It's probably one of the best known sermons of this type.

The style is also known in some parts (northern mid-west of the US is where I've heard it) as "Hell-fire and brimstone"

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Interesting side note about Jonathan Edwards "fire and brimstone" preaching. While his content matter was exceedingly strong, by all accounts his delivery was monotoned, and he would even admonish worshippers who were having emotional responses to his message - the exact opposite of what one normally pictures in the stereotypical "fire and brimstone" delivery. – Affable Geek Dec 8 '11 at 20:30

It is commonly used by Americans. It generally refers to a style of Christianity, whether by general practice or specifically as a style of sermon. It is generally used as a pejorative.

You might hear it like this:

Kim and I have been trying out a new church, but last week's worship was really full of fire and brimstone.

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I think whether or not it is pejorative is rather subjective. New school "happy-clappy" Christians would use it as a pejorative, but old school fundamentalists would use it approvingly. – Kevin Sep 24 '12 at 17:45
Yeah, prolly so. I guess I'm closer to the "happy-clappy" side of Christianity :). – Chris B. Behrens Sep 24 '12 at 18:54

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