I found the phrase “make for the hills” in the following sentence of the article titled “The Hex on Paul Ryan” in New York Times Sept 3 issue:

“The best morsel of political advice I can offer? If you catch even the faintest whisper that you might be nominated for the vice presidency, ‘make for the hills.’ Run as fast as Paul Ryan pretends to. Your reputation depends on it. Maybe your sanity, too."

I first thought “make for the hills” is a popular, everyday-use idiom meaning ‘to head (challenge) for the high hills (goals),’ but when I checked online English Dictionaries to make sure of it, I found none of Cambridge, Oxford, and Merriam-Webster English dictionary registers either of ‘make for hills’ or ‘head for the hills”

On the other hand, Google Ngram registers both “make for the hills’” and “head for the hills,” showing the trend of the usage of the former almost extinct being replaced around 1950 by “head for the hills,” which emerged as an synonym for “make for the hills’” around 1920.

I wonder whether “Make for the hills” is still a current English idiom that I can tell young people “You should ‘make for the hills’ in order to achieve your dream,” or it is better for me to use other straightforward expressions.

My first impression of ‘the hills’ here was ‘the goals for you to achieve, the obstacles that you have to conquer.’ Am I wrong?

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    I think this song clears things up. (sorry if it's not available in your country) Sep 5, 2012 at 13:23
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    It means 'run away'. It's still used, is very obvious in context, does not sound at all archaic, but is slightly metaphorical (so not something you'd want to replace for 'run away' or 'escape' always.
    – Mitch
    Sep 5, 2012 at 13:31

6 Answers 6


There are many phrases in the Bible which are used, knowingly or not, in everyday speech. The Bible colors English to a great degree, at least as great as the innovations of Shakespeare. This particular phrase is one of these, well known to many Christians because it appears in an important passage which purports to describe signs of the return of the Christ and to tell the faithful what to do when these signs appear.

But when ye shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not, (let him that readeth understand,) then let them that be in Judaea flee to the mountains
Mark 13:14, KJV

And this is not the only place where it appears:

And the vale of Siddim was full of slimepits; and the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah fled, and fell there; and they that remained fled to the mountain.
Genesis 14:10, KJV

And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed. —Genesis 19:17, KJV

And she said unto them, Get you to the mountain, lest the pursuers meet you; and hide yourselves there three days, until the pursuers be returned
Joshua 2:16, KJV

Some modern translations have the exact phrase “head for the hills”.

Notice that in all these passages the point is to escape some danger by fleeing to the hills. Hills and mountains are wilderness: desolate areas where one would prefer not to live but where one can hide and take refuge in an emergency. In Bible stories, too, mountains are often holy ground, the abode of God, where one might expect to be more secure from one’s enemies.

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    I basically think the answer is wrong - head for the hills - means; "Let's get the hell out of here!" It fits the context of the passage. Don't be an idiot like Paul Ryan and do something that will only damage your reputation and your sanity. Sep 5, 2012 at 4:37
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    We're both right. "Head for the hills" has the meaning you describe, and we use that particular imagery/idiom because of the influence of the Bible on our idioms. In all the quoted passages above, the notion of heading for the hills has the same sense of getting the hell out of whatever dangerous situation one was in.
    – MetaEd
    Sep 5, 2012 at 4:42
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    @MetaEd Often the most bitter arguments are when both people are right in different ways. Peace be with you. Sep 5, 2012 at 6:57
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    Very good on the Biblical reference to show this idiom's age, +1 Sep 5, 2012 at 11:41

It is a current idiom, but means almost the opposite of what you infer. Head for the hills or alternatively make for the hills means to “run away”, to “scram”, to “skedaddle”, to “get lost”. That is, its meaning focuses on the act of running away, and not on the height of the hills.

  • It’s really interesting to learn that ‘make for the hills’ mean run away, skedaddle from the problem, object contrary to what my dictionary at hand defines ‘make for’ as an idiom meaning ‘advance / go ahead to, march to.’ May I ask how did it come to mean other way round of 'heading'? Sep 5, 2012 at 4:18
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    I don't think there's a contradiction, it's just that both "head for" and "hills" are used non-metaphorically. Since hills are easily-defended places, heading for the hills = marching to the hills = going to hide somewhere where you can defend yourself when a threat comes. Sep 5, 2012 at 4:35
  • Possibly it the expression comes from when the British in India retreated to the hills to escape from the oppressive heat in the summer. "The hill stations are high-altitude towns, used especially by European colonialists, as a place of refuge from the summer heat." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hill_stations_in_India Sep 5, 2012 at 4:40
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    @RobinMichael As ΜετάEd notes in his answer, this idiom is much older than that, even. Sep 5, 2012 at 12:17
  • It's worth noting that "make for" is much less common than "head for," in this idiom and elsewhere Mar 7, 2015 at 0:36

You are incorrect about the fundamental meaning of the idiom. "Head for the hills" does not mean working toward lofty goals, but escaping and taking refuge from danger.

"Head for the hills" and "make for the hills" almost have the sense of "flee from danger", but there is a little more nuance. Fleeing from danger can imply cowardice. When one heads for the hills, there is not an implication of cowardice, but of tactical judgement. One heads to the hills to regroup and continue a fight, perhaps by engaging in insurgency, guerilla tactics, or simply waiting for conditions to be more favorable.

When an army makes for the hills, it is avoiding a showdown that it can't win. The army avoids a hopeless battle and lives to fight another day.

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    I think I agree with you, but would you be able to provide some citations that support your last statements?
    – JLG
    Sep 5, 2012 at 12:16

"Head for the hills" means "Make your escape!"

All I seem to be able to find when I Google 'Head for the hills' are cycling clubs in Dorking.


Surely Shimla would be so much nicer at this time of year.


What does 'Head for the hills' mean as a modern day idiom?

"The role of running mate is a curse masquerading as a compliment."


New York Times‎ - 1 day ago There are few killers of reputation or recipes for discontent as surefire as the vice presidential nomination.

If you catch even the faintest whisper that you might be nominated for the vice presidency, make for the hills.

Don't do it! It is not a good idea!

  • This doesn't answer the question.
    – user10893
    Sep 5, 2012 at 4:48

I believe that the phrase head for the hills has been used in Old West themed films referring to an escape of outlaws, who flee into the hill country where it is much harder for the townfolk to find them than on the open plains.

I have a vivid memory of the cry "Let's head for the hills!" and absolutely no reference to support it.

P.S. Logically, the term could be used to the same effect in describing valley dwellers who are fleeing a rising river. Again, no support.


Head for the hills means the dam has broke, the flood waters are coming, you will die if you don't get to high ground. Now you can stay in low ground and fight the flood if you want, but it is an impossible battle to win.

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