31 October, 2015
Now, Words and Their Stories from VOA Learning English.
In an earlier program, we talked a lot about the Devil. In many religions, the Devil is the most powerful spirit of evil. Religious leaders teach that hell is where the Devil lives. They also say hell is the place where bad people go after they die.
You can hear many Americans using the words "Devil" and "hell" in everyday expressions. But the list of expressions is just too long for one show. So, get ready for the sequel -- what we're calling "Part 2: Hell, the Devil's Hangout!"
Many people think of hell as a hot place full of fire. So, a snowball would not have much of a chance there. And that is where this expression comes from: a snowball's chance in hell.
Let's say you applied for a promotion at work. But so did your boss's daughter. You do not have a snowball's chance in hell. Your boss is not going to hire you over his daughter.
It will be a cold day in hell and when hell freezes over also mean the same thing: there is no chance that something will happen.
For example, if you have a fight with a friend and never want to talk to him again, you could say, "It will be a cold day in hell before I ever call him again. Our friendship is over!" Or "Sure, I'll call him ... when hell freezes over!"
But be careful. These expressions are very informal and very strong. You would only use them with your close friends and peers.
So if your boss asks if your work will be done before you go home, you would never say, "It'll be a cold day in hell when that happens..." unless you want to lose your job.
Sometime, we just use the expression "hell" like this: She's a hell of a dancer. He's a hell of a writer. That was a hell of good time. "Hell of a" runs together as if it's one word – hell-of-a. Again, this is very slang and very informal.
Hell is reported to be not only hot, but miserable.
So, if something is going to hell in a hand basket, it is becoming very bad very quickly.
If you have been to hell and back, you have been through a very difficult period and lived to tell about it.
Here is an example:
A: I'm glad to see that Julie is back to her old self.
B: Me, too. She's been through so much this past month. Her mom died, her son got really sick and then she was in that terrible car accident.
A: Wow, she has really been to hell and back.
"Excuse, but how do you get to hell?"
But if you do want to visit hell, there is a road you can take: the road of good intentions.
Let me explain. When we say "The road to hell is paved with good intentions," we mean that positive intentions may have negative outcomes. "Paved" here means to line a street. So, the road to hell is lined with well-intended ideas that went terribly wrong.
You do not have to have good intentions to be hell on wheels. People who are hell on wheels are aggressive, tough, mean or just difficult to deal with. For example, "Watch out for the new woman in sales. She's good. But she is hell on wheels! Stay out of her way!"
Being hell on wheels is different than raising hell. People who are hell on wheels might actually be doing a good job. But if you are raising hell, you are simply behaving badly.
Let's listen to this dialogue.
B: "When she was a teenager, she really raised hell."
A: "Tell me about it. She skipped school, got into trouble every weekend ... what a hell raiser!"
B: "Her poor parents!"
If you raised too much hell in one place, you might find you need to leave that place like a bat out of hell -- in other words -- crazy-fast!
I'm Anna Matteo.
Anna Matteo wrote this story for Learning English. George Grow and Kelly Jean Kelly edited the story.