Quite frequently, to accentuate my relentless and gritty ways, I use the resolute phrase;  come hell or high water.  Its implied meaning says; no matter how hard the process is I will prevail, victory will be had, completion will be met despite the hardness of the journey.  Now both hell and high water are precarious places to be.  But why are they connected together in one English phrase?

I wonder if English as a second language is a bit overwhelming for a foreigner to learn.  Not only are there so many exceptions to English rules along with double meaninged words, but there are implied meanings, idioms, euphemisms and cultural phrases.  I don't even know where some of our common sayings stem from and I was born and raised in the U.S.!

What I found out was that the phrase we so commonly usecome hell or high water, is a phrase attributed most likely to the late 1800's.  It was coined during that time to describe the trail drives bringing cattle to the railroad.  Even if rivers were flooded they had to be crossed.  And, the open prairies between Kansas and Texas made the summer sun unbearably hot.  Thus, one would go through hell and high water to get to the destination. 

That is exactly the meaning we are trying to utilize when we use the phrase in modern days. Though, we are far away from the Kansas to Texas trail and are probably not driving cattle during the hellishly hot summer months.  Now you know how hell and high water converged.

Who too hasn't said, for Pete's sake or for the love of Pete!  Why do we say it and what are we trying to say by using it?  I wondered that as it flowed out of my mouth several days ago.  Language is intriguing.  It has literal meanings, and many times, back stories, euphemisms, or cultural attitudes mixed in the backdrop of the actual words.  What I found surprised me. 

It is surmised that for Pete's sake, or phrases similar, are euphemisms for the phrases, for Christ's sake or for the love of Christ.  Using Christ's name in such a statement would have been blasphemous during much earlier periods in history so word substitutions were used.  Obviously nowadays the actual phrases are used regularly, but the euphemisms have long been implanted in regular language.  As for Pete, some believe it was a reference to the catholic Saint Peter. 

That idiom, and others like it; for crying out loud, etc. are used for emphatic purposes.  They are also very abstract in their definitions.  Though not taught in English, they are intrinsically known and caught culturally.  Our idiomatic expressions are not the sum of the definitions of the words that make them up, they are more like cultural word riddles. 


  1. A group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g., raining cats and...
  2. A form of expression natural to a language, person, or group of people: "he had a feeling for phrase and idiom".
Do you speak the language? :)

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