Middle English, from Old English; akin to Old English helan to conceal, Old High German helan, Latin celare, Greek kalyptein
An alternative derivation < the Germanic base of Old Icelandic hella flat stone, hallr stone, boulder, hill, Gothic hallus rock (of uncertain origin, perhaps ultimately < the same Indo-European base as HILL n.), suggesting that the underworld was imagined as covered by a stone, is not generally accepted.
- Before the 12th Century
- 1a (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>
- 2a : 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 : flak, grief <gave me hell for coming in late>
- d : unrestrained fun or sportiveness <the kids were full of hell> —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>
- 3 archaic : a tailor's receptacle
- 4 —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?>
In many religious traditions, Hell is a place of suffering and punishment in the afterlife. Religions with a linear divine history often depict Hell as endless. Religions with a cyclic history often depict Hell as an intermediary period between incarnations. Typically these traditions located Hell under the external core of the Earth's surface and often included entrances to Hell from the land of the living. Other afterlife destinations included Heaven, Purgatory, Paradise, Nirvana, and Limbo.
Other traditions, which did not conceive of the afterlife as a place of punishment or reward, merely described it as an abode of the dead — a neutral place located under the surface of Earth (for example, see sheol and Hades).
Modern understandings of Hell often depict it abstractly, as a state of loss rather than as fiery torture literally underground, but this view of hell can, in fact, be traced back into the ancient and medieval periods as well.
Hell is often portrayed as populated with demons, who torment the damned. Many are ruled by a death god, such as Nergal, Hades, Yama or the Christian/Islamic Devil, called Satan or Lucifer.