H is for Hell’s Bells

H is for Hell's Bells—Write RightLet me tell you a story. Once upon a time, I worked as an activities assistant at an assisted living center. I led exercise; called bingo; sang songs from the 1920s; chit-chatted with the residents; served food and drinks; and, most important of all, upheld peace, law, and order.

No, Julia, you’ve already had two glasses of wine.
Sorry, Effie, but we’re out of Cheetos.
Hilka, if you can’t play nice, you can go to your room.

I also accompanied residents on outings, helping them traverse grocery stores, local restaurants, the bowling lane, et cetera. One of these residents, Beverly, typically dreamed her days away, awakening to make the occasional, lucid pronouncement:

Hi, Erin, the girl who isn’t Irish.

One of her pronouncements proved particularly lucid and memorable; it took place at, of all places, an IHOP. Beverly was awake and alert and having a grand time until she spilled a cupful of ice into her lap. She burst out, ”Damnation!” A moment later, “Hell’s bells!” My co-workers and I stared at each other and collapsed into laughter.

“Hell’s bells” claims no dictionary entry, but here are some other “h” words for contemplation and daily use.


Noun. (1620) One that hacks. A person who is inexperienced or unskilled at a particular activity <a tennis ~>.

Noun. [Hack, skillful repair of a computer program, + -er.] (1976) An expert at programming and solving problems with a computer.

(No one could figure out if Ethan was a true hacker or a charlatan, but he seemed to get the job done; the computers operated as expected after his troubleshooting.)

Half Nelson

Noun. (1889) A wrestling hold in which one arm is thrust under the corresponding arm of an opponent and the hand placed on the back of the opponent’s neck—compare FULL NELSON.

(In Japanese jujitsu, we practiced different methods to get out of half nelsons, including basic escapes and throws.)


Noun. Sometimes spelled “halva.” [Yiddish halva. From Romanian. From Turkish, helva. From Arabic, halwä, sweetmeat.] (1846) A flack confection of crushed sesame seeds in a base of syrup (as of honey).

(When Jane returned to the U.S. for a furlough, she brought homemade halvah with her.)


Noun. (1952) A tag attached to an article of merchandise giving information about its material and proper care.

(Emily regretted her habit of cutting hangtags after her favorite sweater shrunk in the wash.)

Hare and Hounds

Noun. (1300s) A game in which some of the players scatter bits of paper for a trail and others try to follow the trail to find and catch them.

(After days spent indoors due to never-ending rain, the frazzled mother introduced her sons to the ancient game of hare and hounds.)


Adjective. (1526) Very despondent: DEPRESSED.

(Her friend’s words made her heartsick, but she couldn’t find a way to express how she felt.)


Verb. [From the Latin, hebetatus, plural of hebetare, from hebet-, hebes, dull.] (1574) To make dull or obtuse.

(Students avoided Professor Finley’s geology class if they could; his monotone voice could hebetate the most marvelous of rock formations and volcanic eruptions.)


Interjection. (1553) Used typically to express boredom, weariness, or sadness or sometimes as a cry of encouragement.

(No one wanted to return to the office after Labor Day, but John was the only one to mutter, “Heigh-ho, off to work we go.”)


Adverb. [Origin unknown.] (1598) In confusion: TOPSY-TURVY, RANDOMLY <tiny hovels piled ~ against each other>.

(It remained a mystery as to how his home office could go higgledy-piggledy in less than twenty-four hours of it being cleaned and organized by his housekeeper.)


Noun. Also spelled “holloware.” (1703) Vessels (as bowls, cups, or vases) usually of pottery, glass, or metal that have a significant depth and volume—compare FLATWARE.

(Although her collection of hollowware and flatware had been handed down for generations, she continued to use it during the holidays and for special occasions.)

Hornet’s Nest

Noun. (1590) A troublesome or hazardous situation. An angry reaction <must have known that his frank comments would stir up a ~>.

(To find a hornet’s nest, one needs only to visit Twitter or Facebook.)


Noun. [Reduplication of bubble.] (1634) WATER PIPE. A flurry of sound or activity: COMMOTION.

(The hubble-bubble of the cauldron was so loud that the three witches could hardly hear each other’s cues.)


Noun. [Probably an alteration of hummer (humdinger).] (1904) A striking or extraordinary person or thing.

(“Well, humdinger,” Scott breathed as he watched the World War II Spitfire take flight.)


Noun. [From the Latin. From the Greek, hyperbole, excess, hyperbole, hyperbola. From hyperballein, to exceed. From hyper- + ballein, to throw—more at DEVIL.] (1400s) Extravagant exaggeration <”mile-high ice-cream cones” is an example of ~>.

(No one believed Peter’s claims about wolves anymore, thanks to his fondness for hyperbole.)

What are your favorite “h” words? Share them in the comments.

Image: Ashley MacKinnon (Creative Commons)