Discussions about eggcorns and related topics
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Chris -- 2015-05-30
Oh, man. I searched the database and the forum and I can’t find that anyone else has documented it. You can find it in use at this blog: http://www.bentblog.com/art27821853.htm. It looks to me like an eggcorn of “hellfire and brimstone”. Though, perhaps it is the other way around. Anyone else?
This one’s interesting because good arguments can be mustered in favor of both phrases. “Fire and brimstone” (i.e., sulfur) imagery is of course common in the Bible. Genesis 19:24 says that God rained “brimstone and fire” down upon Sodom and Gomorrah, and the pairing of fire and brimstone occurs roughly a dozen more times in the Bible as a whole. As far as I can tell, the King James Bible doesn’t actually use the word “hellfire” anywhere, but most of the points at which our phrase occurs certainly suggest hellishness. Other materials, objects or meteorological phenomena – salt, snares, rain, pitch, and especially smoke – also get thrown into the mix. Most instances are in the Old Testament, but there’s quite a cluster in Revelations, as well. The variant “hailstones, fire, and brimstone” occurs once at Ezekiel 38:22, and this too is a much-quoted passage. (At the end of this post I’ve included every passage from the King James Bible that includes the word “brimstone.” The searchable King James Bible text at the University of Michigan made this pretty easy: http://www.hti.umich.edu/k/kjv/)
To see if I could solve this one, I went to ProQuest’s “American Periodicals Series Online 1740-1900” database. (Anyone out there who’s a student or staffmember at a college may have free access to this valuable resource without knowing it.) I was surprised to find that the phrase “hellfire and brimstone” didn’t start showing up until the late 19th century – the first occurrence I could find was in the New York periodical Liberty for May 28, 1887. Two more citations occur in 1905 and 1908. All the writers do appear to be referring to preaching styles, though a couple of the passages are pretty vague. The phrase “hellfire and brimstone” was in quotations in the first two instances, but not in the 1908 citation.
Trying “hail, fire, and brimstone,” I found a citation almost three decades older; this is from the New York Evangelist, for December 22, 1859:
The Rev. Dr. Cheever preached a Thanksgiving sermon, in what the Examiner characterizes as the “hail, fire, and brimstone” style [...].
The fact that this is in quotations suggests that the phrase isn’t the writer’s own coinage; it may also imply that he feels it’s still pretty new. I would imagine that writers for a paper called The New York Evangelist were pretty well connected in the preaching scene, and that they had a fairly decent grasp of the Bible. So this guy may have spotted a newish phrase that was making the rounds, and he may very well have considered it an allusion to that particular passage in Ezekiel.
Another point that may be relevant here is that the religious revival called The Third Great Awakening had started sweeping through the US and Canada just a year or two before this article was printed. I’ve noted elsewhere on the Forum the way in which the dotcom boom seems to have popularized puns and eggcorns that had been floating around in the hermetic world of technology for a while, and I wonder whether something similar isn’t happening here: once the Awakening took hold and thousands of people were discussing sermons, words and phrases from the professional jargon of preachers may have entered the mainstream.
I don’t have enough data points to come to any firm conclusions, but my guess is that “hail, fire, and brimstone” was the original form of the phrase. Preachers would recognize the allusion immediately. For the general public, however, that mention of “hail” might have seemed out of place: hailstorms can of course be terribly destructive, but an allusion to moisture in any form might seem to blunt the hellishness of the phrase a bit. So “hellfire and brimstone” eventually won out in the battle for the hearts and minds of the cliche-slinging public.
Is this an eggcorn? I don’t think so. An eggcorn is a complete reanalysis of a phrase that still manages to make sense in context. In this case, by contrast, one phrase has supplanted another that’s very closely related to it in both meaning and origin. I don’t know what you call this – probably just “the evolution of a phrase.” But the process by which that evolution occurred is indeed eggcornish: one odd-sounding and somewhat obscure phrase is replaced by another that’s similar in sound and a little more commonsensical.
Fans of apocalyptic imagery may enjoy this little collection of brimstone-related passages:
Gen.19:24 Then the LORD rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the LORD out of heaven;
Deut.29:23 And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom, and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger, and in his wrath:
Job.18:15 It shall dwell in his tabernacle, because it is none of his: brimstone shall be scattered upon his habitation.
Pss.11:6 Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.
Isa.30:33 For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it.
Isa.34:9 And the streams thereof shall be turned into pitch, and the dust thereof into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch.
Ezek.38:22 And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.
Luke.17:29 But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.
Rev.9:17 And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.
Rev. 9:18 By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.
Rev.14:10 The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb:
Rev.19:20 And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.
Rev. 20:10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Rev. 21:8 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.
Whew! Reading that lot has warmed me up considerably. I think I may take off my scarf and woollens. While my temperature drops I’ll just drop in this variant – likely to be a typo, but works well…
Its supposed to smell like fire and grimstone.. if it icy how would there fire and grimstone…
But the real reason I’m here is because I heard someone say ‘hail or high water’ where hell might be expected.
It really is quite simple – come hail or high water, raging warmth or bitter cold, hats safeguard your mind, and thus, safeguard you.
They were ready to hold down the fort come hail or high water.
The entire family can attend, by the racing is just for Guides and. Princesses. This event takes place rain or shine, come hail or high water!
Or a combination of hail, high water, fire, grim stone, hell and shiny colored glass.
On June 27, 1999, I dream and saw there was fire and rhinestone coming out from the earth, it seems that the whole earth was involved. The earth is cracking up and rolling into fire and rhinestone. Lava was everywhere.
Last edited by burred (2012-02-27 15:41:28)
In some of the U. S. southern accents (The U.S. South is also the location of a good deal of hellfire preaching) “hell” is pronounced like (the way I say) “hail.” Hear it at second 0:52 of this clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFx10hrqwAQ
Good analysis from almost six years ago, Pat. It hadn’t occurred to me that the modern use of “hellfire” might be catalyzed by “hail, fire.”
The OED cites “hellfire” as a cognate of the Old Saxon hellifiur .
you are so gay and because of that you will burn in the lake of fire and burnstone
Blog guest comment
Wether you want to believe it or not we have a HIGHER ARCHY of sin. Murder is big..stealing is bad..lying is ok..cheating on tests no biggie…sexual sins..well men will be men. NO ITS ALL THE SAME IN THE EYES OF GOD. ... Please don’t get me wrong, I am not saying not to love God nor that it’s all hell, fire, and burnstone.
Student ministry blog
Brimstone is sulfur, which does burn with a righteous blue flame while emitting that burning smell, and I suppose that’s where the name comes from. And it collects along the rim of volcanic vents from the ovens below.
Last edited by burred (2012-02-28 21:29:52)