33

I really don't understand this idiom, hell is supposed to be a horrible place. I understand the saying which is present in dictionaries “hot as hell”, but I could not find “funny as hell” in any online reference.

Can anyone explain this to me?

  • 7
    It should be noted that "funny as hell" might be used in the sense of "really, really funny", where "as hell" serves as a reasonably normal intensifier, or it might be used in a (doubly?) ironic sense to mean "not funny at all". The tone of delivery and/or contextual clues will (hopefully) tell you which was intended. – Hot Licks Aug 27 '18 at 20:54
  • 10
    @WeatherVane here are 9080 occurrences of the phrase happy as hell from published books. Note that this is not a simple Google search, each of the results comes from a published book. So yeah, many people would indeed say happy as hell. Myself included, for that matter. – terdon Aug 27 '18 at 21:24
  • 5
    @WeatherVane the colloquial use of "hell" is above all American. I recently re-read Of Mice and Men, 1937, and "hell" is used a hell of a lot. E.g hell of a nice fella "hell" just means "very". – Mari-Lou A Aug 27 '18 at 21:59
  • 5
    @Mari-LouA I agree with you and Robusto, that "hell" is an intensifier. But I don't consider it especially American. It has widespread currency in the UK. – WS2 Aug 27 '18 at 22:58
  • 2
    @WeatherVane - as noted above by native BrE speakers, the expression is known and used in BrE. – user067531 Aug 28 '18 at 19:27
67

When we say something is "funny as hell" or "hot as hell" or "depressing as hell" we are using the word hell as an intensifier. That just means it increases the degree to which we wish to express our feeling about the particular adjective involved.

In other words, "funny as hell" just means the thing is very funny.

Collins gives this definition specifically:

  1. as hell (intensifier): tired as hell.
|improve this answer|||||
  • 84
    @WeatherVane: Sounds like your beef is with the language, not with my answer, which is accurate as hell. – Robusto Aug 27 '18 at 21:17
  • 14
    @WeatherVane: if it's raining really hard, how is "cats and dogs" a good description? If you're in a bus, how is "on a bus" a good description? If you are only one person, how is "you are" a good description? And how did your parents first meet? (Trick question, of course. They first met after you were born.) In short: who told you that everything in language must make perfect sense, and how do they manage to survive a single day without noticing that they are hilariously wrong? – RegDwigнt Aug 28 '18 at 7:49
  • 15
    @WeatherVane: You're pointing at a semantical contradiction that isn't part of the intended usage. It's not "[funny] as [a horrible place]", it's "[funny] [very much]". When "as hell" is used, it's not a comparison, but rather an intensifier (which etymologycally used to be used as a comparison). Similarly, "a Roman vandal" makes sense today (a Roman who defaces public property), whereas in classic times it was considered a contradiction (as the Vandals were a tribe, thus inherently not Roman). – Flater Aug 28 '18 at 8:01
  • 5
    @WeatherVane It's an idiom. That's how idioms work. – user91988 Aug 28 '18 at 15:28
  • 7
    @DavidRicherby Interesting, the "cold as Hell" could be literal as well -- the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (written ~300 years before, and quite popular by the 1700s) describes the innermost, worst circle of hell as completely frozen over, with all but the literal absolute worst 3 sinners, by Dante's standards at least, encased in ice to varying degrees. It wouldn't be surprising to see that referenced literally in "cold as [the worst circle of] Hell." – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Aug 28 '18 at 18:59
22

The idiom uses the expression as hell in the sense of

(slang) To the maximum degree.

  • When I read that passive-aggressive note from my neighbor, I was mad as hell. Oh man, I haven't slept in days—I'm tired as hell.

(The Free Dictionary)

As hell:

used for general emphasis:

  • I’m serious as hell. I’m leaving him. (as) sure as hell: I know what you want, as sure as hell.

(Macmillan Dictionary)

  • So, funny as hell means very, very funny.

Note that, as suggested by An Asperger Dictionary of Everyday Expressions. Second Edition, by Ian Stuart-Hamilton:

Funny as hell, very funny:

  • The phrase is hoverer often used sarcastically (i.e. meaning not funny). The only indication of which meaning is intended are context and (if spoken) the intonation of the voice,
|improve this answer|||||
  • @WeatherVane - see here. It actually depends on context and, when spoken, on intonation, but it does mean “very funny” books.google.it/… – user067531 Aug 27 '18 at 21:13
  • your commented link does say "Funny as hell - Very funny". – Weather Vane Aug 28 '18 at 19:23
19

J.E. Lighter, Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, volume 2 (1997) has a very useful entry tracing the evolving (and expanding) use of "as hell" as an intensifier:

hell n. (used with as, like, and than for emphatic comparison). {Bracketed quots. show its orig. in allusive S[tandard] E[nglish] similes} {1511 in Tilley Prov. in Eng. 306: It is ...derke as hell.} {1563 in Tilley Prov. in Eng.: As blacke as hell.} 1619 in Tilley Prov. in Eng.: As false as hell. {1640 in OED: He sets out sin (most lively) black as hell.} 1676 in D'Urfey Two Comedies 61: And yet she is false as Hell! {1780 W. Cowper, in OED: Delusions strong as Hell shall bind him fast.} 1768–70 in Mead Shanties 619: Got Drunk as all Hell. 1773 H. Kelly School for Wives 112: 'Tis false as hell! 1775 in Whiting Early Amer. Provs. 209: Hungry as hell. 1813 in W. Wheeler Letters 117: He was retiring when one of our men observed to him "That it was Chelsea as dead as H—l." 1813–18 Weems Drunkard's Looking Glass 61: He continues to bawl out that you are a "d—d clever fellow," and swears by his Maker, that he "loves you like H—l." 1829 Marryat Frank Mildmay 234: Stinks like h—! 1837 Strong Diary I 77: Us Democrats licked the Whigs like hell. 1840 Spirit of the Times (Mar. 7) 8: Here's at you for a quarter."..."Good as Hell." ...

As Lighter's examples illustrate, the similes start with predictable descriptive terms ("dark as hell," "black as hell"), then branch out into predictable figurative uses ("false as hell," "strong as hell"), and finally begin to appear in counterintuitive settings (hungry as hell," "dead as hell," "good as hell")—all this by 1840.

Once the "as hell" intensifying comparative becomes a default option, it becomes available for use in such odd settings as "hard as hell," "sure as hell," "rich as hell," and "happy as hell."

An Elephind search finds some rather odd usages in U.S. newspapers from a fairly early date. From "Enquire at Amos Giles Distillery" in the [Madison, Indiana] Standard (March 27, 1835):

Some lifted the hogsheads as easily its you would raise a tea-cup, and turned their contents into the proper receptacles; some scummed the boiling liquids; some with huge ladles dipped the smoking fluid from the different vats, and raising it high in the air, seemed to take great delight in watching the fiery stream; as they spouted it back again: some drafted the distilled liquor into empty casks and hogsheads; some stirred the fires; all were boisterous and horridly profane, and seemed to engage in their work with such familiar and malignant satisfaction, that I concluded the business of distilling was as natural as hell, and must have originated there.

From "Courtship," in the Rutland [Vermont] Herald (November 22, 1836):

Do not marry a miser. ... They would see entombed the entire race, from want, and land and ocean hung with the drapery of mourning; and yet with hearts obdurate as hell, shut their eyes to the solemn spectacle, and turn away to pay their devotions to Mammon.

From "The Dead Boxer," in the [Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania] Daily Morning Post (December 29, 1842):

Ha! damnation! true as hell! he exclaimed, she's with him! Ha!—the Obeah woman was right—the Obeah woman was right. Guilt, guilt, guilt! Ha!

And from "Hell and the Devil," in the [Brookville] Indiana American (June 2, 1848):

Twelve months ago, I was unfortunate in my company on a stage rout. Finding it had to be endured, I put myself to noticing the applicableness of these Hell and Devil comparisons. Said one as he grunted at a sore bump—"These roads are devilish bad." Pretty good thinks I to myself; the devil carries you and all his over a rough road; for it is written, "The way of transgressors is hard." Said another "Why don't they drive along! I want to get to M——, for I am thirsty as hell." Poor Dives came into my mind. A pet spaniel hurt another who was playing with his sharp teeth—"Go to the devil," said he with a cuff. That is correct, thinks I to myself—for "Without (that is, where the devil is, I suppose) are dogs and sorcerers, &c.," and doubtless such persons as the profane speaker. ... The driver announced "the stage." One of my travelling companions put out his head and exclaimed, as the stage was descending with fearful rapidity a long steep hill which we were slowly climbing, "Yes, yonder she comes like hell." Then, thinks I to myself, that is a capital hit; the man must have reference to Isaiah when he describes hell as moved to meet the sinner at his coming.

The pious author of this last article may amuse himself by drawing instances out of the Bible that justify the literal sense of expressions that the profane speakers on the stage route use, but it seems highly unlikely that the coarse swearer who uses the simile "thirsty as hell" has the example of Dives in mind. He is simply using "as hell" to emphasize how thirsty he is.

|improve this answer|||||
-2

It can refer to dark humour, which according to Wikipedia is:

a comic style that makes light of subject matter that is generally considered taboo, particularly subjects that are normally considered serious or painful to discuss. Comedians often use it as a tool for exploring vulgar issues, thus provoking discomfort and serious thought as well as amusement in their audience. Popular themes of the genre include death and violence (murder, suicide, abuse, domestic violence, graphic violence, rape, torture, war, genocide, terrorism, corruption), discrimination (chauvinism, racism, sexism, homophobia, classism), disease (anxiety, depression, nightmares, drug abuse, mutilation, disability, terminal illness, insanity), sexuality (sodomy, homosexuality, incest, infidelity, fornication), religion, and barbarism.

According to this article in the Huffington Post, dark humour is one of nine types of humour.


Indeed, there is a comedy series title Funny as Hell, which has the following summary on IMDB:

Featuring bold, uncensored comedy from some of today's fastest rising comedy stars, FUNNY AS HELL is what you've come to expect from Just For Laughs only it's brand new, a lot cooler and has dirty words. Hosted by TV's Jon Dore and brought to you by your mom. Veering from the mainstream, Funny as Hell introduces audiences to some of the funniest and most fearless comics working today. Each show features an impressive line-up of edgy, politically incorrect, alternative and musical comedy acts. In addition to the live show, each episode features an original digital sketch created especially for the series featuring Jon Dore and various performers from the series. Shot in an intimate space with a modern speakeasy vibe, each episode of the series recreates the feeling of being at a unique and self contained live event.

That summary seems to fit quite well with the description of dark humour. As such, one might use funny as hell to refer to dark humour. By our previous assertion, that could be considered a qualifier of the type of humour, in addition to or instead of how funny one think it is.

|improve this answer|||||

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.