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Heavens no vs Hell no

Posted: Thu Apr 28, 2005 5:15 pm
by cazzal
I was just wondering if anybody had any thoughts as to why (or indeed if) "Heavens no" is rather a English phrase, which appears to have been replaced in the American by "Hell no". thanks

Heavens no vs Hell no

Posted: Fri Apr 29, 2005 8:27 am
by Bobinwales
I blame John Wayne.

Heavens no vs Hell no

Posted: Fri Apr 29, 2005 10:36 am
by Erik_Kowal
Maybe what phrase falls most readily from your lips depends on which part of Britain you're from. If I invoked any kind of hypothetical hangout of the gods to express disbelief or disagreement, it would probably be "Good Heavens no!" in preference to "Heavens no!" (I'm from the Thames Valley region, which may or may not be relevant).

But my speculation aside, there's no substitute for checking such sources as the OED and the Dictionary of American Regional English for instances of first usage to get some idea of the accuracy of your surmise. (Ken..?)

Heavens no vs Hell no

Posted: Fri Apr 29, 2005 3:44 pm
by Bobinwales
It tends to be "Good Heavens" here in South Wales as well.

Heavens no vs Hell no

Posted: Fri Apr 29, 2005 6:45 pm
by russcable
Here in the US, IMHO I don't see these two phrases as replacements for each other. "Hell no!" is either merely an intensified NO (My answer is not just no, but hell no!) and/or a NO expressing anger (Hell no! I didn't do it - I should beat you up for just asking!). "(Good) heavens no" implies disbelief or a "wishful negation" (Heavens no! Why would you ever think that? or Heavens no! I wouldn't wish that on a dog!)

Or perhaps the difference here is just that only angry men say hell no and only polite women say heavens no. ;-)

Heavens no vs Hell no

Posted: Fri Apr 29, 2005 9:12 pm
by Ken Greenwald
Caroline, HEAVENS, NO is probably just a short form of FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, NO, where HEAVENS is a substitute or euphemism for the word GOD (as in such expressions as ‘good gracious,’ ‘good grief,’ and ‘for Pete’s sake).
<1816 “‘FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE, NO’, said his companion.”—‘The Black Dwarf’ by Sir Walter Scott, iii>

<1850 “GOOD HEAVENS! NO. Wooden brains might know better.”— “Perforations in the Latter-day Pamphlets,’ ‘Universal Suffrage. Capital Punishment.--Slavery’ edited. by Elizur Wright, No. 1>

<circa 1851 “‘Mr. Manlius! GOOD HEAVENS! NO! I can testify, upon oath, that he was as solemn as a judge. . . .’”—‘Off-hand Sketches, a Little dashed with Humour’ by T. S. Arthur. page 87>

<1854 “‘You would not—oh, HEAVENS, NO!’ gasped the wretched woman.”–‘fashion and Famine’ by Ann S. Stephens, page 255>

<1869 “‘HEAVENS! NO.’ You would sacrifice everything to your relentless pride.”—‘Sydnie Adriance; or, Trying the World’ by Amanda M. Douglas, page 337>
Interestingly, the Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins tells us that the expression FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE ‘dates at least from the 19th century.’ Well, they’re right and the weasel word ‘at least’ did them proud in this case because the OED contains the following example from the 17th century:
<1622 “Clap this woman under hatches . . . For HEAVEN’S SAKE stoaw this woman.”–‘The Sea-Voyage’ by Fletcher. I. i.>
And as for the purported present preference for HELL, NO over HEAVENS, NO, in the U.S., it probably also has a lot to do with one’s age, upbringing, and sensibilities. For example, I have never heard ‘hell no’ cross my mother’s lips or that of my mother-in-law, although there have been plenty of ‘heavens no.’ That is just something women of a certain age and variety (and some men – but to a much lesser degree) wouldn’t say. On the other hand, my father probably didn’t let too many day’s pass without letting fly a ‘hell no’ or two – but‘ heavens no’ just wasn’t part of his vocabulary. And on the third hand, my stepmother, who is from Arkansas and is into the more rough and tumble language of that area, would use ‘hell, no’ mostly, but she might also use a ‘heavens, no’ too, depending on the company she was in. On the fourth hand, one probably never heard a Vietnam protester (for those of us who lived through those times) chanting ‘Heavens, no We wont go!’

The use of HEAVENS in exclamations expressing surprise, horror, etc. often with qualifications, as good, gracious, great, and in such expressions as ‘Heavens above, alive!’ and Heavens to Betsy! (1892, U.S.) has a long history of usage as evidenced by the following:
<1588 “O HEAVENS! O Earth! O never-dying Fame!”—‘Progress of Queen Elizabeth’ (1823) by Nichols, II. page 559>

<1709 “HEAVENS! Is it possible you can live without Remorse?”—‘The Tatler’ by Steele, No, 23, §7>

<1752 “GOOD HEAVENS! cried Mr. Glanville . . . quite out of patience, I shall go distracted!”—‘The Female Quixote’ by Charlotte Lennox, VII. ii. II. page 187, Ibid. Oh, HEAVENS! . . . this must . . . be a very notable adventure.” IX. i. page 209>
In contrast, HELL NO seems to be a product of the 20th century and the earliest examples I could find were from the 1930s:
<1931 “‘Work? Hell no, me broad’s a catholic.’”–in ‘American Journal of Police Service,’ ‘The Argot of Racketeers’ by Burke, Vol. 2, No. 5 , September, page

<1931 “Finally, the adverbs ‘yes’ and ‘no’ are intensified by the proximity of a bald bawling ‘hell.’ ‘Hell, yes! HELL NO!” Ibid. “Some of the phrases already mentioned are often used in an interjectional sense, as HELL, NO!”—in ‘American Speech,’ ‘Hell in American Speech’ by L. W. Merryweather, Vol. 6. No. 6, August, pages 433-434>
(American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, Oxford English Dictionary)

Ken G – April 29, 2005

Heavens no vs Hell no

Posted: Tue May 03, 2005 4:35 pm
by cazzal
Fantastic, thank you Ken. I have to say I'm not sure I use either phrase much, and as the above, hear 'Good Heavens' rather more than either, but was a little curious as to origin, but certainly no longer - thank you all.

Heavens no vs Hell no

Posted: Mon May 16, 2005 11:16 pm
by chavagrace
Kids like shocking their parents! Simple as that.