Origin of "What the hell?"

Posted by R. Berg on November 20, 2003

In Reply to: Origin of "What the hell?" posted by N. Delfeld on November 19, 2003

: I would like to know where "what the hell" originally came from. I would also like to know what it actually means.

The earliest use in print recorded by editors of the Oxford English Dictionary comes from the 1920s. From a story handed down in my family (U.S.), I know the phrase was used in the late 19th century, if not earlier.

It might have come from "what IN hell...," similar to "what on earth...." That's speculation, though.

"What the hell?" has the same meaning as "What?" but adds anger and emphasis.