Is it correct to say “Hard as hail” or “Hard as hell?” This question sparked a heated Internet debate several years ago, and people are still arguing about it to this day.
The answer is both expressions “hard as hail” and “hard as hell” are used in English, but they convey different meanings and are used in different contexts.
“Hard as hell” is more common that “hard as hail”. Their difference is that “hard as hail” is used to describe the physical hardness of an object like the hail, while “hard as hell” is a more commonly used idiomatic expression to emphasize the extreme difficulty, intensity, or severity of something.
Let’s see the details.
The Source of Confusion
People were always confused whether it was “hard as hail” or “hard as hell.” Then, a few years ago, someone posted a tweet in which they said something along the lines of “It took me X years to realize it was “hard as hail,” not “hard as hell.”
This tweet soon “broke” the Internet. Thousands of people were mind-blown, while thousands of others claimed that the tweet author was incorrect. Soon, this discussion spread from Twitter to other social networks and platforms.
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Additionally, there is another thing that only adds fuel to the argument – the Southern accent. People living in the South (for example Texas) have a distinct accent, and even when they say “hard as hell,” it sounds a bit like “hard as hail” because of the way they pronounce the word “hell.” That further blurred the line between the two phrases.
Hard as Hail
If you live in places with cold climates, you probably know what hail is and how nasty it can be. Hail is basically frozen rain, and it requires some specific weather conditions to occur.
When it comes to their size, hail droplets can range from pea-sized to baseball-sized. However, regardless of the droplet size, hail is really hard, and it can cause significant damage.
That’s why, for many people, “hard as hail” makes sense because of the physical hardness of hail. So, comparing something with hail means that it is really hard. For example, “The ground was as hard as hail after the freeze.”
And, if you grew up in the South where “hell” sounds a lot like “hail” anyway, you probably think it should be “hard as hail” anyway.
Some people consider “hell” to be a curse word, and they don’t feel comfortable using it. That’s why they prefer to say “hard as hail,” and they consider it to be the correct version.
In short, “hard as hail” makes sense when you look at things literally: hail is hard, and if something is really hard, it is similar to hail in that aspect. Additionally, hell is many things: hot, scary, and eternal, but it’s not literally hard.
Hard as Hell
However, some idioms and phrases don’t need a literal meaning. When you say something is “hard as hell” or “funny as hell,” you don’t compare it literally to hell. Such literal comparisons wouldn’t even make any sense.
As you may know, in many stories and religions, hell is described as a very bad place, opposite to heaven. Heaven is usually thought of as a good place where good people go after they die. Hell, on the other hand, is often seen as a place for bad people, and it’s imagined as being very tough and painful.
Because of this, when people say “hard as hell,” they are kind of comparing how tough something is to how tough and bad they think hell is. It’s a way of saying that something is super hard or challenging.
In “hard as hell”, “as hell” serves as an all-purpose intensifier, in other words, it signifies that a certain attribute is intense. For example, “That exam was hard as hell,” means the exam was extremely difficult.
So when you hear someone say “hard as hell,” they are really just trying to say that something is extremely hard. They’re using the word “hell” to make their point stronger and to show that they think something is very, very difficult.
In essence, hell doesn’t have to literally mean “hell” in “hard as hell” to make sense. It is a commonly used phrase because it perfectly describes when something is really hard. As for the Southern accent, there is no difference in pronunciation between them and they both sound the same.
“Hard as hell” makes more sense as an English idiom, even though “hard as hail” is more literal and refers to physical hardness.
“Hard as hail” is less common and is used more in a literal sense to describe the hardness of something.
“Hard as hell” is not used to describe physical hardness, but rather the level of challenge or intensity.