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Impearls: Heck!

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Earthdate 2004-06-19

Heck!

Lynn Sislo, in her eclectic blog Reflections in d minor, writes:

When I was a kid — back when “hell” was one of the really bad cuss words — we would always say “heck” when we really meant “hell,” but just look at the word “heck.”  It's actually a combination of “hell” and “f**k” which should make it one of the nastiest cuss words of all.

A couple of points with regard to Lynn's comment:

First, checking a couple dictionaries shows that in their view “heck” is simply a euphemism for hell, nothing about the f-word being incorporated into the mix.  Thus, I think the allegation that it is, is apocryphal not real, much like the popular supposition that the f-word itself is an acronym.

Second, though the dictionaries don't show this derivation, there's another possible source for the word “heck” meaning “hell.”  It turns out there's a highly active volcano in Iceland east of Reykjavik named “Heckla,” which during the Middle Ages was also known as the “Mountain of Hell,” with a deep crater at its core that was popularly supposed to be the entrance to the passageway to hell for souls.  This newspaper article also makes that connection.  It's not clear whether this was the real source for the word in question (except maybe for Icelanders, though Iceland and England did have formidable links during the medieval period), but it is nonetheless quite interesting.  Unfortunately for this theory, the earliest reference that the Oxford English Dictionary provides to the word “heck” dates from 1865.



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