Is Hellish A Bad Word? Meaning, Origin And Alternatives 

Is Hellish A Bad Word? Meaning, Origin And Alternatives 

When you look at a list of words considered profanities, you will find that hellish does not receive the same kind of disapproval other known bad words receive. It’s not as bad as using the F-word.

Unlike other words considered vulgar or curse words, you can say hellish on the radio or TV, and it will not be censored. Yet, as many people will not raise an eyebrow when you use hellish in a sentence, the word is also not one of the best choices of words either. 

The question is: is hellish a bad word?

The word hellish can either be a good or bad word depending on how one uses it. Most people are often conflicted on whether hellish when used in a sentence is a swear or curse word or simply an idiom of expression. 

As we have noticed with most English words, meanings evolve, and words that originally had negative connotations can now be used as other forms of expression. So yeah, while the word ‘hellish’ is mostly used negatively, it is not always a bad word. 

Continue reading to find out more about the word hellish.

Meaning Of Hellish

Merriam Webster online dictionary defines hellish as:”of, or resembling hell.” Oxford Learners’ Dictionary broadly defines something extremely unpleasant, cruel, evil, or expressive of befitting hell. 

To put it simply, hellish means something terrible, rough, or challenging. People often use hellish to describe being treated cruelly or experiences relating to any form of cruelty, having a bad day at work, or events from old school days. The word is often used as an exaggeration of a circumstance.

Origin Of Hellish

Hellish is an adjective derived from the word”hell.” The first use of the word can be dated back to the1520s where the hell was an old English word gotten from hel, or helle referring to a place of torment for the wicked after death. 

The old English form is derivative from Proto-Germanic *haljō, “the underworld” literally translated into ‘a concealed place’ or ‘to cover.’ It has often been cited that People also used the name ‘hel’ to refer to the queen of the underworld in Old Norse culture. 

The German (-isch) cognates well with the Greek (-iskos)and in its oldest forms with altered stem vowels (French, Welsh). The-ish in verbs is a mere terminal relic from the Old French present participle. 

In religious etymology, hell is the opposite of heaven. It is believed in religious circles that good people go to heaven and bad people go to hell. It is a place beneath the earth’s surface where evil souls and bad spirits go in the afterlife. For religious folks, it is a place of torment.

Likewise, in folklore, hell is a place of reward for bad behavior as it represents torment and torture. Hell is a word or concept in almost all religions practiced on earth, although each circle has its own story about the word.

Because the world has greatly been influenced by religion, hellish, derived from hell, is generally ascribed to a bad meaning. So when a person hears the word, the first perception is usually negative. 

The same can also be said of ancient traditions that cannot necessarily be called religious but traditional. The Mesopotamian civilization had a vast literature dedicated to ‘death’ and ‘hell.’ They used their views and teachings about hell to portray the huge difference between the dead and the living. According to them, hell depicts ‘darkness,’ a place of no return. 

But unlike the religious people, the Mesopotamians view hell as simply a place of void and nothingness. It does not connote the same idea of torture and torment as religious people believe. Hence, whatever origin or idea it comes from, it has not always been a good one. 

Other Words You Can Use In Place Of Hellish

Again, like most English words, you can use many other words to describe hellish. Such words include;terrible, demonic, evil, woeful, diabolic, unholy, inhuman, accursed, abominable, frightful, abysmal, nasty, apocalyptic, atrocious, etc. 

The fact that hellish comes from the word hell has made it difficult to find a positive synonym. Most of the choices are negative. Notwithstanding, it is not always a reflection of the true intention of the user. 

Is Hellish A Real Word?

Of course, hellish is a real word. It is not surprising,however, that most people don’t know this. Some think it is slang that does not exist in the dictionary, but it is a word as real as ‘hellacious,’ and both exist in the dictionary. However, most dictionaries include that the word is informal or old English. It is important to bear this in mind when speaking within formal settings. 

Again, different word variations may have also contributed to it being considered informal. For instance, people ask “what the heck?” when they are baffled or find something ridiculous. The word ‘heck.’ is used in place of hell. Therefore, the availability of other alternative words has caused a reduction in the usage of the word. 

Using Hellish In A Sentence

Hellish can be used in so many ways to make a sentence. The “-ish” in the word makes it an adjective. Thus, the word is used in describing the magnitude of a situation or used as a quantifier.For instance, when describing a situation, the sentence ‘The boy’s high school days was hellish’ shows how bad or tough the boy experienced his school days. 

Note that there are times when hellish can be used to describe something positive. For example, “we rode for the hell of it” is another way of saying that one did something for the fun of it. More directly, people say, “We had such hellish fun at the party!”. Again, one could say, “girl, you gave such hellish people everyone was in awe,” and it translates to an amazing performance. 

Other examples of using hellish in a sentence are: the traffic was hellish on my way; the hellish instrument nearly crushed the workmen; the Seattle Seahawks had a hellish season; it looks like the weather is about to become hellishly cold; she endured those hellish days so that her family could survive etc. 

Is Hellish A Bad Word?

I think context matters a lot when it comes to the use of words. Hellish may or may not be described as a bad word because it can be used in describing an awful experience or to explain the extent of an event. It shows extremity. 

It’s interesting how English works. When you say, “oh I’ve had such a hellish day!” or “the weather outside is hellishly cold,” people interpret this for what it means – the extremity of the weather and the stressful day you just had. They tend to agree with you. 

But when you say something like “that hellish child” or “the woman has a hellish behavior,” it is interpreted in the negative. In fact, for some religious people, it is as offensive as condemning the child to hell. So, it is important to be careful of the context in which you use the word.

Another reason why hellish is no longer perceived as such a bad word is that society has toned down on its religious stance. Some people do not believe in hell or things relating to the afterlife. So, when you use the word, they are bothered by it. 

Although people still uphold the old values, many people have gone secular and relaxed a bit. Thus even though they biblically still believe in hell, they no longer hold such a tight and rigid stance on it. Or, they believe that one is referring to other meanings and not the place.

These days, the words considered bad, derogatory, or offensive are the words that refer to human anatomy. It is also interesting to note that the word “hellacious,” which is also derived from hell, has expressly been given both negative and positive meanings.

The most interesting part is that it is used in its positive connotation more. For example, the word means ‘exceptionally powerful or violent’ or ‘remarkably good.’ So, this means that it’s not all bad. 


There is a saying that ‘there is no bad word, but only bad intentions.’ While this is not generally true, the saying does apply to the word hellish. Sometimes people use certain words to elicit a response from others.

So, people’s reaction to the use of the word may depend on the context, place, or situation in which it is used. These days, for most adults and liberal thinkers, hellish does not evoke a response even when it is intended to offend. 

Like certain English words have changed meaning over time or expanded to mean other things, so has hellish expanded its meaning. For instance, when a young person says “this is insane” concerning good music or new technology, it means incredible stuff. It is the same way a person could respond ‘like hell,’ which will mean different things. ‘Like hell’ could be interpreted as a dare or an expression of disbelief. 

The word hellish may have become too mainstream and lost its usual effect on people, but it is not advisable to use it constantly in a sentence. Using the word a lot may make you seem a little less educated or rough in personality.

In some academic quarters, it no longer sounds grammatically correct. Whatever you do, be sure you don’t overuse the word in a place where it will not be acceptable. 

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