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Hell for leather

Posted by ESC on February 10, 2005

In Reply to: Hell for leather posted by Carole Allen on February 10, 2005

: Does anyone know the origins of the phrase "Hell for Leather"?

Hell bent -- I Hear America Talking: An Illustrated History of American Words and Phrases by Stuart Berg Flexner (1976, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company) says "hell bent, 1835; hell bent for leather, late 1920s; hell bent for breakfast, 1931" are American terms for moving fast or doing something quickly, the earliest ones coined during the period of growth called the Industrial Revolution.

However, Charles Earle Funk, in A Hog on Ice (1948, Harper & Row) says that "hell for a British expression, apparently originating in the British army in India. Possibly (Rudyard) Kipling coined it, for he was the first to record it, though he may have been actually quoting army speech. His first usage is in 'The Story of the Gadsbys,'. Though the term must originally have referred to the terrific beating inflicted upon leather saddles by heavy troopers at full speed, even by Kipling's time it had acquired a figurative sense indicating great speed, on foot, by vehicle, or by horse." Kipling was born in 1865 and died in 1936.

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