Hellfire and brimstone

Discuss word origins and meanings.
Post Reply

Hellfire and brimstone

Post by PauladePlume » Sun Jul 10, 2016 10:13 pm

Howdy all-

I have not made an appearance on this site in over 10 years and, in fact, I had to re-register. :/ I found my screen name by searching and saw that I had been much maligned in a posting about the phrase "bum steer" which is archived and to which I apparently can not respond nor defend my honor (but thank you, Erik, for doing so admirably).

I have returned for my imagined and alleged trip out of the Galaxy and have landed with a new question: I started thinking today about the phrase "hellfire and brimstone" and wondered about its origin.

I searched the etymology of brimstone and found a reference to an 1382 Wycliffe version of the Bible. I don't know if this is its first usage or not, and it certainly does not directly answer the question about its use in the phrase, although the Wycliff phrase was "bernstoon and fier." http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=brimstone

I imagine someone morphed the Wycliff Bible phrase into the current version at some point, but who and when?

As an aside and additional commentary about the Dime Box, TX reference that meandered its way into in the "bum steer" thread...I don't know the exact origin but, growing up in Texas, I recall Dime Box was always used euphemistically in lieu of Podunk. I heard that use from my father, also a native Texan. I think it's because the town was very dinky (although not the smallest town in Texas at the time population-wise, at around 300), but I believe the combination of its size and the uniqueness of its name made it a popular local joke reference. It certainly was more polite than the other alternative we use: Bumf*ck,TX. To whoever mentioned Dime Box, Bumf*ck certainly would have been more apropos of the discussion thread. ;)

Ever galaxfully grateful,
PauladePlume
Post actions:

Re: Hellfire and brimstone

Post by Phil White » Mon Jul 11, 2016 3:14 pm

Hi Paula,
The reference is to Revelations 21:8, which reads thus in the Wycliffe Bible:
But to fearedful men, and unbelieveful, and cursed, and man-quellers, and fornicators, and to witches, and to worshippers of idols, and to all liars, the part of them shall be in the pool burning with fire and brimstone, that is the second death.
The Wycliffe Bible dates to around 1395.

Looking at the Google Ngram for "hellfire and brimstone", it appears that this form only became popular at the beginning of the 20th century, far later than the height of the nonconformist movement associated with "fire and brimstone" preaching, and certainly far later than the appearance of "fire and brimstone" in the various bible translations, in particular the King James.

I have no explanation for the mutation of the phrase at the beginning of the 20th century, and none of the hits on Google Books of that period seem to be likely candidates for a sudden upsurge in popularity.
Post actions:
Signature: Phil White
Non sum felix lepus

Re: Hellfire and brimstone

Post by Bobinwales » Mon Jul 11, 2016 9:37 pm

I suppose someone has to say the obvious in case this is being read by someone that doesn't know, but brimstone is the old word for sulphur (or sulfur, with an American spelling).

And, in Revelations 21:8, King James Version (KJV):

"But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death".
Post actions:
Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

End of topic.
Post Reply