Why Is “Hell” A Bad Word?
When it comes to profanity, the word “hell” isn’t that bad. It’s not as profane as “s***” or “f***” or “c***.” In fact, it might be the least offensive of the bad words, but when I was a kid, I still got my mouth washed out with soap if I said it in front of my parents.
A lot of words led to my mouth getting washed out with soap. I got my mouth washed out with soap for saying “Hoover Dam.” I probably shouldn’t have whispered “Hoover” and then shouted “DAM!!!!” I got my mouth washed out with soap for saying “shitzhu.” I probably shouldn’t have shouted “Sh*t” and whispered the “zhu.” Now that I think about it, I probably deserved getting my mouth washed out with soap.
“Hell” is similar to a lot of vulgar words in that it has four letters. Four seems to be the magic number when it comes to vulgarity. Yeah, a lot of profanity has way more than four letters, but most root words in profanity have four letters. In “mother****er,” the root word is four letters long. In “pieceof****,” the root word is four letters. The root word in “****sucker” is four letters. Those are all pretty bad words. The exceptions seem to be “ass” and “b*****,” and neither are THAT bad (though I’d be careful who I’d say “b*****” around because it can cause more of a reaction than the other words, depending on whom you say it to).
“Hell” is four letters, but it’s unique. It’s the only word that references a place. Yeah, a few vulgar words refer to places on the body, but a body part is different than a place. “Hell” is a place (if you believe in it), and it’s considered to be bad (if you believe in it). But should it be profane? The Gulag is a bad place, but if I ever shouted “Holy Gulag!” I wouldn’t have gotten my mouth washed out with soap.
It comes down to context. When I asked my mom if “Hell” was a real place, she said I’d find out if I kept saying the word “hell.” Then she washed my mouth out with soap. When I told my older brother to “Go to Hell!!” after he gave me a wedgie, I got the soap washing with no explanation. I guess saying “hell” is worse than giving somebody a wedgie. When I used the word “hellacious” as an adjective, nobody batted an eye.
That’s how I knew “hell” shouldn’t be a bad word. If I had said “crapola” or “f***tastic,” my breath would have smelled like Irish Spring for a month. But “hellacious,” I could get away with.
Out of all vulgar words, I think “hell” is the most fun to say. Something about the extension of the “L” sound gives it a humorous effect. I always laughed when my dad angrily said “Hell’s bells!” in front of us (but I made sure he didn’t see me laugh). The idea of Hell having bells was ludicrous, and the contrast with my dad’s anger made it tough not to laugh. In school, we students would yell at each other in the hallway “Go to health!” when we were on our way to health class. The teachers couldn’t punish us because we were simply telling our friends to go where they were supposed to go.
I don’t think “hell” should be considered a bad word. It’s a place, and it’s too easy to say for it to be forbidden. But I don’t want my kids to get in trouble at school, so I’ll teach them not to say “hell” in public or in front of adults. You can have a lot of fun with the word “hell,” but you probably don’t want to end up there.
When I was a kid, I was punished for saying the word crap.
It ticked me off so much that I wrote this ebook, Crap Is NOT a Bad Word!
And here is the true story of my one moment of high school glory!