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I was watching Rocky last night and one of the lines got me thinking.

I was wondering why we use Hell in sentences like "A Hell of a lot better than…," "Hell, that's the best thing that's ever happened to me" and "Hell, I don't know."

The first example was what got me thinking the most: "A Hell of a lot better than something." The contradiction between Hell and better was what seemed a bit confusing to me.

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This question is best answered by another question: Why the hell not? –  jbelacqua Mar 25 '11 at 16:52
    
While "hell" certainly seems odd on its own, there are plenty of other words used with the same purpose. "We had a damn good time." "Why the fuck would you do that?" Shit and fuck, in particular, seem to have an amazing number of viable uses that far surpasses the abilities of hell. –  MrHen Mar 25 '11 at 17:51
    
@jgbelacqua: Ya beat me to it. –  Robusto Mar 25 '11 at 17:57
    
@MrHen ... For many audiences, 'hell' is quite a bit more polite. Pretty close to 'damn,' though. –  jbelacqua Mar 25 '11 at 18:00
    
@jgb: Yeah, I omitted obvious euphemisms for brevity. –  MrHen Mar 25 '11 at 18:07

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Hell as an interjection is most likely short for bloody hell. The use of bloody to add emphasis to an expression is of uncertain origin. Recent research suggests that is is thought to have a connection with the 'bloods'—aristocratic rowdies who were the late 17th and early 18th century equivalents of 21st century 'Chavs' and 'Pikies.'

After the mid 18th century, bloody used as a swear word was regarded as unprintable, probably from the erroneous belief that it implied a blasphemous reference to the blood of Christ, or that the word was an alteration of 'by Our Lady.'

A widespread caution to using the term bloody arose, particularly in the US, and this is most likely where the use of simply hell came about.

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I wouldn't mind some sources on this one. The US doesn't currently have a problem with bloody and almost no one says bloody hell unless they are mimicking a Brit. –  MrHen Mar 25 '11 at 17:49
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Etymology Online provides a short history. World Wide Words goes a bit further in depth. Wikipedia suggests that "nowadays it is considered to be a very mild expletive, and unlikely to cause offence in most circles, with the exception of the most severe critics." I do agree that, to Americans, it is probably the most acute caricature of a British accent. –  HaL Mar 25 '11 at 18:17
    
Awesome, thanks! +1 –  MrHen Mar 25 '11 at 18:21
    
Brits pronounce it: "Bliddy Hill!" –  muntoo Mar 25 '11 at 22:43

A hell of (or one hell of) is used as emphasis for something very bad or great. The expression is used both in American and British English.

It cost us a hell of a lot of money.

Some expressions containing hell don't have a bad meaning. For example, for the hell of it means "just for fun," and hell for leather means "as fast as possible."

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Bizarrely, Hell was probably used to avoid using a less acceptable expletive which might have offended the film raters and reduced the number of children who watched the film.

Expletives are used in such circumstances purely for emphasis. Originally there was a shock value, but that is now much weaker, largely due to overuse.

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I wasnt meaning just in the movie though, more why is something "A hell of a lot better" in this case i've not heard any other expletive replacing hell, yet for the other examples you could freely replace hell with something else. –  Purplegoldfish Mar 25 '11 at 16:54

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