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Bat out of hell

Posted by Smokey Stover on March 10, 2004

In Reply to: Bat out of hell posted by SR on March 09, 2004

: : The phrase 'he ran like a bat out of hell' is it correct or am I missing a few words in it. For some reason I keep thinking that I need to add something like 'he shot out a bat out of hell'

: : Can someone please tell me what the phrase actually is, its meaning and origin(if possible)

: : from the archives...
: : : Alternatively, and truthfully - the expression 'like a bat out of hell' has been in common UK-English usage for decades meaning to fly, usually figuratively. Since Jacobean times at least, bats have been associated with witches and the occult - and therefore thought to originate in the bowels of hell - as they fly and fly quickly as if in panic - to make the comparison with a bat flying out of hell for anything going recklessly fast would seem quite natural and likely to be a country idiom prior to being recorded in print. The problem with origins of this sort is that country expressions would often be ignored as those who had education and could write would often prefer to use 'educated' words of l@tinate or classic origin as opposed to seeming country bumpkins.

: Bat out of Hell was a common rural expression in the southeast US a half century ago. I often notice that rural expression in the southeast US at that time had been used in England for centuries. I often think what perpetuates a phrase is as interesting as it origin. Here we read that bat out of hell was perpetuated by an album in '76.

One still hears, and often, phrases like "he went like a bat out of hell." Alas, it's the bats themselves that don't go like a bat out of hell. They don't speed, they flit. Their anatomy is not designed for speed, nor is their lifestyle. They listen for insects, then head that way. Their flight looks erratic for that reason. Since they live in caves or other places that are dark by day, and are usually seen only at night, it's easy for people only dimly aware of them to imagine that they go like a bat out of hell. Of course, if you are standing at the cave mouth when hundreds or even thousands come out at or after dusk, it might give you a hellish scare. SS