Not smart inferno – “hell -” “hella” “dumb” “mad” meanings & uses

Today I’m going to explain using the words hell (as in hell yes/no), hella, and dumb and mad as modifying adjectives. As before, I’ll give example dialogues using Charles as our main character. Ready? Here it is.

1. Hell

H-E-double hockey sticks. So here, we’re not talking about that terrible place of punishment underground where the world’s most evil folks go to burn for eternity … though, that is the origin. Hell is such a bad place that it turned into a curse word. Examples of this are “go to hell,” or “what the hell?” These uses are still very common in English, though by most they aren’t seen as curses anymore. Over time, and with uses like “hot as hell,” or “big as hell,” that word became a synonym for “very/really.” So, when we start to use “hell” to negate something or assert something, it has the effect of a big YES or a big NO. Check this out:

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Charles— Hey, bro. You wanna go to Big Berry with me?

Jonah— Huh? What the hell is a “big berry”?

  • A general curse of confusion.

C— You haven’t heard? Big Berry is an amusement park. You want to go with me? I have season tickets.

J— What do you mean, “do I want to go?” Hell yeah! I love roller coasters.

  • An excited assertion, a big YES.

C— Sweet! I do too. They have some really big rides there, I think, the biggest in the country.

J— Right? And their elevator drop ride goes high as hell. And you got season passes? Oh, we’re gonna have some fun.

  • “As hell” meaning very or really.

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2. Hella

Another variation of hell is “hella.” I have no idea where this comes from, but it pretty much has the same meaning as “as hell.” So when you hear it, it’s usually used to say very or really. Some examples from pop culture are “hella good” and “hella cheddar (money).”

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J— What day do you wanna go? Maybe next week is better.

C— I mean, we can go this Saturday if you want.

J— Hell nah! I’m not going to an amusement park on a Saturday.

  • A strong negation, a big NO. “Nah” is another way to pronounce “no” in some accents.

C— Why? Isn’t it more fun on the weekends? That’s when all the people go.

J— Exactly. Trust me, you do not want to sit in some hella long line all day trying to get on one ride. Forget that. Let’s go on the Monday after next.

  • As you can see, “hella” here just means really. “Really long line.”

C— Why then?

J— They’re doing maintenance on the classrooms that day, so we don’t have class.

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3. Dumb, Mad (very)

These two words usually have a negative meaning, as you can imagine. But, we can also use these words to mean “very” or “really” in an exaggerated way, almost like saying “super.”

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C— Well, that makes sense. It’s just so far away. I was looking forward to going this weekend.

J— It’ll be better on the other Monday anyway since fall is coming. If we went this weekend, it’d be mad hot. You don’t wanna wait in a line when it’s 90 degrees out, do you?

  • A strong REALLY. “Really hot.”

C— Nah, you’re right. It’s better to stay inside. Or better yet, we could get a frozen lemonade. You know Chick-fil-A has some good ones.

J— Oh yeah! There’s one right down the street too. Their lemonades are dumb good, and ice cold too. Great idea!

  • In the same way, “dumb” here means really. “Really good.”

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You’ll notice you can use both “dumb” and “mad” in positive or negative situations. Either way, they add big emphasis to the word really, almost like saying “super.”

*Cultural note: “Hell,” “hella,” and other words like it are pretty common in today’s English, although for some religious people it can still be interpreted as a curse (bad) word. “Mad” and “dumb” are usually not offensive, but the tone of voice and context matter. For example, you don’t want to direct these at a specific person or it could sound like you are calling them “dumb.” Also, all of these words are hella informal, so you don’t want to use them in formal settings or with people you should respect, like someone’s parents. Of course, pay attention to social cues. If other people are using them, it’s a good signal that you can in that situation too.

Can you think of your own sentences using today’s words? Do you think it’s offensive to say “hell” or “dumb”? In what situations have you heard these words being used? Tell me in the comments! I can also give you a personal explanation by email! I’m always open to explaining more and hearing what you want to learn. tietewaller@gmail.com

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