The word hell is curious in its origin because of its now nonchalant relatives. This word for "fiery place of damnation" came from Proto-Indo-European, where it was the word kel, meaning "to cover or conceal". This also gave us our word for cell (both types), hollow, and hole, which all kind of make sense in retrospect. In the Proto-Germanic language, this became halja, or "one who hides something", which later became haljo, with the definition "the underworld", since the gods hid hell from mortals, ergo hell had both definitions for a while until it became exclusive to "damnation". If you studied Norse mythology, you would already be anticipating this next step, Hel. This simultaneously was the name of the goddess who controlled the bad underworld as well as the underworld itself. This passed from those Nordic languages into Old English, where hell underwent a series of mutations, from helle back to hel and then to hell; those old English monks liked to play around with spelling a lot. Hell went through a stretch of time where it was considered a curse word in the nineteen hundreds (it still is by some now) because of the connection to Catholocism those eager English Christians made.
Adam Aleksic is a 220-month-old, 2800-ounce high school senior with disturbing interests in etymology, vexillology, geography, board games, limericks, and law. Adam will be studying linguistics at Harvard University in the fall.
The Etymology Nerd