Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Episode 235: All Hell Breaks Loose

 This week Shauna and Dan explore what happens when all hell breaks loose. Bonus: Sharks, Commutes, and Paradise Lost.

 Click to read more


Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast
Episode 235: All Hell Broke Loose
Record Date: May 13, 2024
Air Date: May 15, 2024


Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase.

I’m Dan Pugh

And I’m Shauna Harrison

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

Opening Hook
When I was little, I remember being at the beach to go swimming. I was just building a sandcastle - being a kid - when someone further down the  beach yelled, “Shark”... suddenly, all hell broke loose.


The phrase "All hell breaks loose” is used when a situation suddenly gets way out of hand. Sometimes, this is referring to violence and destruction. But it is also used to describe general mayhem, confusion, and any situation that is simply out of control.

According to Oxford English Dictionary, when all hell breaks loose means when:

events are chaotic, confusion reigns.
End quote


An early precursor to the phrase is found in Richard Warwick Bond’s Early plays from the Italian, published around 1577.

To be revelinge and bousinge after such a lewde fashion I thinke hell breake louse.
End quote

Another early use is found in Samuel Nicholson’s 1600 work Acolastus, His After-Witte.

Before my hell of foule mishap breake loose.
End quote

The meaning in that excerpt seems a little more obvious to me and I actually love it… my hell of foul mishap…

This concept had limited usage during the early and mid 1600s until it found its way into a still-popular work - Paradise Lost by John Milton

1667, 1674, 1688, 1711

Starting sometime in the 1650s, John Milton began working on his epic poem, Paradise Lost. He was blind, so his story was transcribed by others as he dictated the lines of verse. The original poem was published in 1667. In 1674, a revised edition was published as Paradise Lost A Poem in Twelve Books.

The excerpt I’ll be reading comes from the work Paradise Lost A Poem in Twelve Books (4th Edition) by John Milton published in 1688.

The warlike Angel mov'd,
Disdainfully half smiling thus reply'd.
O loss of one in Heav'n to judge of wise,
Since Satan fell, whom folly overthrew,

And now returns him from his prison scap'd,
Gravely in doubt whether to hold them wise
Or not, who ask what boldness brought him hither
Unlicenc'd from his bounds in Hell prescrib'd ;
So wise he judges it to fly from pain

However, and to scape his punishment.
So judge thou still, presumptuous, till the wrauth,
Which thou incur'st by flying, meet thy flight
Sevenfold, and scourge that wisdom back to Hell,
Which taught thee yet no better, that no pain
Can equal anger infinite provok'd.

But wherefore thou alone? wherefore with thee
Came not all Hell broke loose? is pain to them
Less pain, less to be fled, or thou than they
Less hardy to endure? courageous Chief,

The fist in flight from pain, hadst thou alledg'd
To thy deserted host this cause of fight,
Thou surely hadst not come sole fugitive.
End quote

The warlike angel is essentially accusing Satan of lying about his reason for leaving Hell. If the torture and torment Satan was experiencing was truly as terrible as he claimed, then all of hell would have broken loose with his escape and the evidence of it would be clear in the chaos that would ensue.

Many sources online credit Milton’s work with the origin of the phrase All Hell Broke Loose. And while the concept was around, he seems to deserve credit at least for his role in popularizing the phrase.

Despite the fact that Milton himself was not very popular, Paradise Lost did not suffer from it. The work was an almost immediate best-seller at the first publishing and remains a well-known and popular work today.

The 1700s see mention of the phrase, nearly all of it referencing Milton’s work or using the phrase in a similar manner. So we’re going to move to the early 1800s.


In the Portland gazette and Maine advertiser, April 03, 1815, out of Portland, Maine, we find a letter discussing the French Revolution.

Persevere, citizen Jacobions, and you will ere long undermine the social fabrick. A few more efforts, and then, huzza! down comes the whole pile of laws, and checks, and restraints together. But let me remind you of a saying of the celebrated Cardinal Monk.
“Hell broke loose is far more mischievous than the Devil himself."
End quote


The phrase shows up in the July 8, 1839 edition of the Morning Herald out of New York. This is in a section titled, More of the Glorious Fourth:

The scene at the Chatham Street Chapel was as curious as any throughout the city on this extraordinary day.

After this, prayers were said, and then Eli Moore rose and in a loud and unpleasant tone of voice, read the Declaration of Independence; when he came to the part where it says, "All men are created free and equal," we had a good imitation of Hell let loose.
End quote

In this case, the phrase still refers to disorder and even chaos, but there doesn’t seem to have been any destruction or violence. Here is a little more from the article,

He continued on for a time and then fainted amid deafening cheers.
Then the Orator of the day, in the place of John C. Calhoun, Mr. Wm B. Maclay, came forward, and in a feeble voice, delivered the oration.

At the end of the oration he alluded to the presence of his Democratic Majesty; then every soul in the house, men, women, and children, rose, and cheers upon cheers reverberated through the old building, as his Excellency rose and returned the compliment;
End quote

The article ends with a description of how all of the people in attendance ended up going through an impromptu procession line to shake hands and celebrate the day.

Up next is a piece that I have yet to determine whether it is reality or fiction. It comes to us from The Lambertville Press, June 2, 1859, out of Lambertville, New Jersey. The piece is titled Destruction Railroad and is signed WM. Wholesaler, President and Robert Retail, Vice President… which only supports my theory that this was in fact a work of satire. Found in the Miscellaneous section, it begins,

The directors take pleasure in re-assuring their numerous friends and patrons, that the road to ruin is now in good order.
Within the last three months it has carried more than three hundred thousand passengers clear through from the town of Temperance to the city of Destruction, while the number of way passengers is encouraging.
End quote

Further into the article, it reads,

Our experienced engineer, Mr. Belial, and our polite and gentlemanly conductor, Mr. Mix, have been too long known to the traveling publie to need any recommendation. Indeed, so swift and sparkling are our trains through all our towns and villages, that some have called it "The flying artillery of hell let loose on earth.
End quote

The rest of the article was a lot of fun and includes a clever poem as well. Join us on Patreon on Friday for the behind the scenes to hear more in the Bonus.

Okay, The Nome Nugget, June 7, 1934, out of Nome, Alaska, is next. This excerpt comes from an article titled, Threat of Strike in Steel Industry.

Threat “All Hell Break Loose” Issued by Steel Industry Striking
(By The Associated Press)
The steel fight, involving the threat of a federal strike that might hamstring the recovery drive, moved straight toward the president's desk, pressed closely by union leaders, some of whom gave out the warning "that, all Hell will break loose June 16th unless some settlement is reached." 

End quote

There is one topic that I chose not to make the focus of this phrase because it is not the predominant usage, despite what might be gleaned from newspapers around wartime. Here is one article, however, that I will read a snippet of from the Evening star, March 9, 1943, out of Washington, D.C.

Toured Battle Front.
I made a tour of the battle front in the company of Capt. Steve Gordon of British public relations and we avoided the main road north of Medenine, but the crump of air-bursts showering shrapnel on the ground followed us up the road and suddenly all hell broke loose
We were so engrossed in watching an air battle between Messer-schmitts and Kittyhawks we had not noticed that we were in a battery of medium guns. They opened up over our car and their ugly snouts seemed to be pointing straight toward us.
We got out in a hurry.
End quote

It’s easy to understand why this phrase would be popular when discussing battle but I liked this example because it highlights the difference between a more understandable circumstance vs. an unstable and chaotic situation after things go wild. It was already bad because it was the battle front… it is the confusion and overwhelming nature of the situation after things shifted that warranted the phrase being used.

Okay, we have several modern uses to cover and we’ll get to those, right after we say thank you to our sponsors.

A Quick Thank You
This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon. And the cool thing about Patreon is it is 100% free to join the Bunny Trails community!

We have new things every weekday on the feeds. On Monday’s we have a conversation about what movies, shows, books, podcasts and whatever else everyone is enjoying, Tuesday see early access to the weeks podcast, Wednesdays have all the links, books, songs, and other content mentioned in the weeks episode, Thursday has patron’s only polls, and Friday’s are our lightly-edited behind the scenes video featuring all the cut content, goofs, and bonus facts you could imagine.

We’ve got some other pretty cool stuff, too, like Original Digital Artwork once a month, made by ME, and direct access to talk with us. No algorithm’s getting in the way of what we see or don’t see. Plus, you can get awesome name recognition like Pat Rowe does every episode. And our top spot is currently occupied by the amazing Mary Halsig Lopez.

You can join the Bunny Trails community for free at bunny trails pod on Patreon.


Modern Uses

1982, 1988, … repeat releases

The song All Hell Breaks Loose was originally released in 1982 on the album Walk Among Us by The Misfits. It was released by Ruby Records under its parent label Slash Records. It’s since been re-released by the band and by a member of the group after they separated under a different title, and recorded with a different group. There have been remastered versions released since then as well as a massive host of covers and tributes to the original band The Misfits. The group sort of defined an era in music. They are typically categorized as Punk Rock, Hardcore Punk and Horror Punk.

When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes is a book by Cody Lundin (Author), Russell L. Miller (Illustrator), and Christopher Marchetti (Photographer)

Survival expert Cody Lundin's new book, When All Hell Breaks Loose: Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes is what every family needs to prepare and educate themselves about survival psychology and the skills necessary to negotiate a disaster whether you are at home, in the office, or in your car.
End quote

The Hungry 5: All Hell Breaks Loose is a book in The Sheriff Penny Miller Series, by Steven W. Booth and Harry Shannon, published in 2014. Here is the synopsis,

Sheriff Penny Miller of Flat Rock, Nevada, has always done her duty. On the first night of the zombie apocalypse, she swore an oath to protect her friends from the ravenous hordes. However, now that the virus is rapidly spreading to the rest of the country it has become clear that Miller and her friends, Scratch, Sheppard, and Rat, are winning battles but losing the war. And that’s just not good enough for Penny. Too many people have already died.

Determined to stop the maniacs who have been funding the research that created the undead, and with the key to stopping the virus in hand, Miller and crew embark on a long and dangerous journey north. Their route cuts through the very heart of zombie occupied territory, but this time they are out to end the apocalypse once and for all. Unfortunately, the elite committee of government officials who control the Super Soldier program knows exactly where Miller and her friends are headed, and they are determined to capture or kill them at any cost.

Sheriff Miller doesn’t stand a chance. Of course, lousy odds never stopped her before. She gives the order to move out.

And that’s when all hell breaks loose.
End quote

Song by Greya - All Hell Breaks Loose

Why do you wake sleeping bears
All the signs say to beware
Are you even kind of scared
Oh (x2)
Crouching tiger hides its claws
Patience is a camouflage
Setup for a sabotage
Oh (x2)
What will you do
What will you do
When all breaks loose
All hell breaks loose
End quote

All hell´s been let loose is an acrylic on canvas painting originally created in 2020 by Mara Grubert of Spain. This piece is available on SaatchiArt and is described,

This painting was originally inspired by the numerous Fiestas celebrated in Mallorca/Spain, celebrations before and after a crisis or legends with devils involved. I feel it is now applicable to the difficult times we are all going through.
End quote

This is an interesting painting to me. It is labeled as expressionism and fantasy and I think that’s fitting. The colors are primary pastel - there is quite a bit of pink. There are three devil-type creatures, one holding what appears to be a sort of pitchfork, near the bottom of canvas. It has an other-worldly feel and the creatures are somewhat eerie despite the light colors.

Hell Let Loose | The Eastern Front is a 2021 video game. Here is an overview from STEAM:

Join the ever expanding experience of Hell Let Loose - a hardcore World War Two first person shooter with epic battles of 100 players with infantry, tanks, artillery, a dynamically shifting front line and a unique resource based RTS-inspired meta-game.
End quote

All Hell Breaks Loose is a common name for tv show episodes - it’s been the title of an episode in popular shows like Survivor, Charmed, and Supernatural… and likely others. There have also been a couple of movies with the title and I’m sure we’ll continue to see the phrase used in this way.

The phrase was also used for a video released by the American football team, the Raiders.


‘All Hell Broke Loose’: How a Last-Second Heave Led to One of the NFL’s Biggest Controversies was shared on the Raiders official YouTube page in 2022. He’s a description,

A smashmouth defensive battle. Confused refs. Five decades ago in Three Rivers Stadium, one of the NFL's most controversial plays took place during the AFC Divisional Playoff between the Raiders and the Steelers — The Immaculate Reception. Here is the Silver and Black perspective.
End quote

Wrap up:
This expression is amazing. I feel it has a more obvious meaning than some other phrases. It’s easy to draw the conclusion that is all hell breaks loose… it means that things have gone horribly wrong. I personally, enjoy this occurrence in movies and books… not so much in my own life. But it makes for a lot of fun in stories, so I encourage storytellers to keep this idea going. If you aren’t sure where your plot is headed next… just let all hell break loose.

That’s about all we have for today. If you have any thoughts on the show, or pop culture references we should have included, reach out to us on Patreon,, or comment on our website,


It’s patron poll time!

Recently we asked our Patrons,

How do you feel about your commute? For comparison, we cited the average US commute according to the US Census bureau as 27.6 minutes one-way, and according, the average Brit travels 27 minutes one-way.

It turns out, most of us (70%), don’t have strong opinions of our commute. And the rest of us actually like it.


Heather said
I've kind-of purposely always taken jobs near where I live, so I've never had a very long commute. You have to weigh fuel cost and time cost against your paycheck, and for me I've not yet found a high enough paycheck to make a commute worth it.
End quote

That’s very practical and wise, Heather.

My current commute is about 4 minutes if I don’t get caught by any lights or school drop-off traffic. The longest it takes is 10 minutes but that’s rare. It means I don’t have time for music or podcasts or audiobooks on the commute but I do rather enjoy the low gas spending and having more time at home each day.  


Jan shared
I work from home most of the time so the commute isn't so bad. I do travel around the state a lot. It's fun to visit new towns, and I get mileage reimbursement, so not so bad unless it's the winter.
End Quote

Like Jan, I work from home, so my commute is about 30 seconds. Maybe 3 minutes if I make coffee first. But I also travel a lot for work. I'm on the road 4 to 5 weeks out of every 3 months. Usually I'm flying, and I really don’t care for flying. I have no fear of it, but dealing with the security measures, being in physical crowds, and then physically being crammed into an airplane are all not fun. And almost everyone involved in air travel is grumpy. Not to mention how often I'm just sitting in one place.

But when I did have a commute, it wasn’t too bad. It was usually 20 minutes and even though drivers in Wichita like to complain about Wichita drivers, I’ve been all over this Country and beyond and Wichita drivers are perfectly normal and rarely an issue. I always saw my commute as an opportunity to get in the right mindset for work, and an opportunity to switch mindsets to put work away for another day on the way back home. That served to be pretty healthy for me in keeping work at work, especially towards the end of my time in government service.

As a reminder, our silly polls mean absolutely nothing and are not scientifically valid. But they are fun. Head over to to take this week’s poll!


Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. Until then remember,

Words belong to their users.

No comments:

Post a Comment