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come hell or high water

Discussion in 'English Only' started by comsci, Jul 22, 2007.

  1. comsci

    comsci Senior Member

    Taiwan, Vancouver(B.C.) and the Rockies
    Mandarin, Taiwan(Yankees 40 Wang)
    << --- come hell or high water --- >>

    Just wondering if the term presented AE, BE, or standard English? And if possible, what's the origin of it? And the frequency of use? I came across this term upon reading a news article.
    Thanks in advance.

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    Last edited: Sep 6, 2013
  2. bibliolept

    bibliolept Senior Member

    Northern California
    AE, Español
    I suspect its origin is AE; I have no idea how common it is in BE. I'd say it's common with older generations, but it is not uncommon in general AE.
     
  3. It is quite common in BrE, especially in more educated speech.
     
  4. comsci

    comsci Senior Member

    Taiwan, Vancouver(B.C.) and the Rockies
    Mandarin, Taiwan(Yankees 40 Wang)
    Thanks you guys, but I was still wondering the "origin" of the expression. Why "come hell" or "high water"? What do they infer? Are they relevant in some way?
     
  5. Lora44 Senior Member

    Birmingham, UK
    England, English
    I found the following on etymonline.com although it doesn't say very much.

    "Hell or high water is apparently a variation of between the devil and the deep blue sea."

    Doesn't really provide much insight as I searched for that phrase and found nothing. However, if you have a look on Google you'll find a couple of interesting explanations, the most common seeming to be a biblical link to flooding.
     
  6. JeffJo Senior Member

    USA
    USA, English
    It's obviously a Biblical reference, in origin. "High water" alludes to the Flood, rather facetiously. I don't know the history of the expression. I'd guess it's a take-off from the fire-and-brimstone preaching style of some Christian denominations, particularly revivalist ones.
     
  7. comsci

    comsci Senior Member

    Taiwan, Vancouver(B.C.) and the Rockies
    Mandarin, Taiwan(Yankees 40 Wang)
    Thanks Lora44 for your extra piece of info. I realise it means "no matter what" or "it doesn't matter either way." It also reminds me of "the Flood(Genesis 6:14)..thou shalt build an ark out of gopherwood and cover it with pitch...blah blah" when God cleansed the world with "high waters." :) "No matter what something is going to happen" or "No matter what I'm going to do it."
     
  8. nichec

    nichec Senior Member

    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    This is exactly how I've always thought about this expression.

    --Come what may (however bad it can be)
    = Come hell or high water (punishment from high above)
     
  9. Lora44 Senior Member

    Birmingham, UK
    England, English
    I don't agree that they mean exactly the same thing. I think there's a nuance and come hell or high water is much stronger in meaning, I can imagine a very stubborn, determined person using it, whereas I imagine a tolerant, yet perhaps equally determined person saying come what may.

    Come what may seems more based on fate, repercussions, consequences, aftermath whilst come hell or high water means regardless of any consequences.

    I'm going into town this afternoon, come what may - ie. I'm going into town, regardless of what might happen to me whilst I'm in town. The fact that it might rain once I've left the house will not stop me.

    I'm going into town this afternoon, come hell or high water - ie. nothing will stop me going into town. The fact that it's raining before I've left the house will not stop me.
     
  10. comsci

    comsci Senior Member

    Taiwan, Vancouver(B.C.) and the Rockies
    Mandarin, Taiwan(Yankees 40 Wang)
    So in a sense it's like "rain or shine"?
     
  11. nichec

    nichec Senior Member

    Chinese(Taiwan)/English(AE)
    Okay, point taken.

    I was actually thinking about the movie "Moulin Rouge" while posting.
    There is a song in the movie called "Come What May", and it is clear from the lyrics that the couple are determined to be together whatever happens, even if they have to lose their lives, that is. (she eventually died in the end)

    By the way, I've meant to say welcome to the forum for some time now, I love your posts, a lot. :)
     
  12. liliput

    liliput Senior Member

    Spain
    U.K. English
    I think it's clearly biblical/ecclesiastical in origin. It means "whatever happens", "whatever obstacles stand in the way", etc.

    I find the connection between this expression and "between the devil and the deep blue sea" a little tenuous. "Between the devil and the deep blue sea" is more like being caught "between a rock and hard place" - i.e. a situation with no escape. The meaning of "come hell or high water" is very different, the only connection being that the expressions refer to more or less the same obstacles devil/hell and deep blue sea/high water.
     
  13. Lora44 Senior Member

    Birmingham, UK
    England, English
    I'd say come rain or shine is somewhere in between the two, perhaps closer to come what may. In my example, about going into town, it's got more of the nuance that come hell or high water carries, but in my specific example that's because it's literal - whether it rains or not, I'm going into town.

    If you take the example of a friend who has been accused of doing something and you believe they are innocent you might say:

    I'll stick by him/her come hell or high water. (I'll stick by him/her no matter what, nothing will stop me sticking by them).

    I'll stick by him/her come what may. (I'll stick by him/her regardless of the consequences of this might be).

    I'll stick by him/her come rain or shine.

    The last two are like saying that you're not a fair-weather friend, you'll stick with them through good and bad.

    They all say pretty much the same thing, but come hell or high water sounds like something that someone who was very very stubborn would say to me.
     
  14. Lora44 Senior Member

    Birmingham, UK
    England, English
    I agree, I couldn't see the link between the two at all...which is why I searched for it hoping to find something, but there was no information at all. Normally etymonline is a really good website for origins of words/phrases, but in this instance it would seem not.
     
  15. comsci

    comsci Senior Member

    Taiwan, Vancouver(B.C.) and the Rockies
    Mandarin, Taiwan(Yankees 40 Wang)
    Thanks again Lora44 for your thoughtful explanations. I've had a better picture now. :)
     
  16. sky753 Senior Member

    Chinese
    <<This question has been appended to the existing thread of the same name - which could have been found by searching:D>>

    Hello Everyone,

    It is known that "come hell or high water" is an idiom meaning no matter what happens. I would like to know here if the idiom is commonly used in daily spoken English.

    Thanks and regards.

    Sky
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2013
  17. SwissPete

    SwissPete Senior Member

    94044 USA
    Français (CH), AE (California)
    <Thank you for the link - threads merged>>
     
    Last edited: Sep 6, 2013
  18. Parla Senior Member

    New York City
    English - US
    According to the authoritative website and newsletter World Wide Words, which discusses English etymology and usage worldwide, the expression—referring to great difficulties and obstacles—is of US origin; it first appeared in print in 1901 and within the next few years was in common use, as it still is today. It had nothing to do with the devil or the deep blue sea; it was first used in talking about ranchers in the American West.
     
  19. Cagey post mod

    California
    English - US
    I was about to say that it might sound a little old-fashioned to people, but then I checked with Google news and found out that it has been used 101 times in news stories within the past month. I would say that shows that it is still fairly current. :)

    Notes on the Google results.
    1) The first page will say that there are 598 results, but when you click through to the last page, you will find that there are actually far fewer.
    2) When you click the link, Google will redo the search, so the actual numbers you get may be different from the ones I report here. However, they are likely to be close.

     

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