"Sure and hell"

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From A.G.:

I think I may have found a new eggcorn this weekend. I forget how I came across it but apparently there are a lot of people on the Internet who are writing "sure and hell" instead of "sure as hell" (which is what I believe the saying to be).

Have you encountered this before? It could perhaps be an autocorrect issue so it would be nice to see this in a spoken corpus. I checked the buckeye but didn't find any instances of it.

There certainly are plenty of examples of "sure and hell" as a substitute for "sure as hell", including some in books where autocorrect seems less likely than in short web-forum comments that might have been entered on a smartphone.

Similarly, there are some examples of "plain and day". Like A.G., I'm not sure whether these are typos, autocorrections gone wrong, or wrongly lexicalized idioms, though I suspect that some of them do represent what the writers think is correct rather than what some helpful program does. Commenters may be able to provide relevant arguments or even evidence.

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25 Comments »

  1. GeorgeW said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 7:08 am

    Although it is true that some idioms have lost their transparency, I have a hard time understanding how "sure as hell" could be reanalyzed as "sure and hell." Maybe enough autocorrections could lead to a restructured idiom.

    [(myl) This does seem to be the opposite of the usual eggcorn, since the original expressions ("sure as hell", "plain as day") are more or less compositional, while the restructured versions need to be treated as unanalyzed or at least quirky idioms. But I think that people do sometimes learn what we might call "false idioms", i.e. non-compositional word sequences that originate as a mis-hearing of something more straightforward.]

  2. MattF said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 7:36 am

    For what it's worth, Microsoft Word doesn't seem to mind either 'sure as hell' or 'sure and hell'.

  3. Faldone said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 8:34 am

    I haven't used it in some time, but Microsoft grammar checker never seemed worth very much. I once fed it one of those spell check things that used mostly homophones and it found remarkably few grammatical errors. Try it out on Ladle Rat Rotten Hut some time.

  4. mike said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 9:03 am

    > Microsoft grammar checker never seemed worth very much. I once fed it one of those spell check things that used mostly homophones

    One doesn't want to confuse the grammar checker (which does seem weak at understanding idioms in idiomatic English, since they're idiotmatic) and the spelling checker, for which most homophones are ok, since it's checking spelling, not semantics.

    >I haven't used it in some time

    Always a good idea to gauge the value of software based on its current version.

  5. Faldone said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 9:29 am

    OK. I just fed it Ladle Rat Rotten Hut and, other than numerous suggestions that I use a for an in cases where the an preceded a word that started with a consonant sound, it found a few sentence fragments and suggested that in the Mural it should be Neither yonder nor sorghum stenches rather than Yonder nor sorghum stenches. There were a couple of other "corrections" but that was about it.

  6. rootlesscosmo said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 10:05 am

    I used to hear (what I took to be) "surer 'n hell" (i.e. "surer than hell") on the railroad in the 70's, which could easily become "sure and hell" if the comparative sense were misunderstood.

  7. SlideSF said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 10:57 am

    I have never encountered "sure and hell" in written form, but I have "sure'n'hell" heard it spoken colloquially since as long as I can remember. Perhaps rootlesscosmo has it right, but I always thought it slipped off the tongue more smoothly than "sure as hell" or even "sure's hell".

    [(myl) Supporting this theory, "sure in hell" is also quite common; and Jonathan Green lists "sure in hell" as an alternative to "sure as hell".]

  8. Judy Wyatt said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 11:24 am

    Tossing out a wild speculation, but if a spell checker is at fault, it's possible that folks are accidently typing "ad" (where the d is right next to the s on the keyboard), the spell checker may just automatically change it to "and". Or, folks may just automatically type a word that is more familiar and not notice that it's the wrong word.

  9. Rachael said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

    In spoken language, I'd think the speaker had changed direction in between "sure enough" and "sure as hell". If this happens often enough, people could hear and reanalyse it as "sure and hell", and go on to use it in written language.

  10. M Lee said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

    It looks like "sure and hella" would make sense in a lot of cases.

  11. Ellen K. said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 5:13 pm

    @Judy Wyatt. "Ad" is a word (short of advertisement), so that seems unlikely.

  12. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 5:34 pm

    Could there be a false analogy from "X and Y" compound imprecations like "Thunder and Tarnation"? Except that's also Out There as "Thunderin' Tarnation," and I haven't done enough data-sifting to be sure which is the eggcorn for which . . .

  13. David Morris said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 5:40 pm

    Linguistically or theologically, why is hell 'sure', or at least any surer than heaven? Maybe because there is an entrance requirement for heaven, but not for hell. One can always be sure of getting into hell; indeed (in some strands of theology) one doesn't have to do anything at all to get into hell.
    Some people used to say 'as sure as God is my witness', which could easily be altered to 'as sure as heaven is my witness', which could easily be shortened to 'as sure as heaven'.

  14. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 5:42 pm

    There is also the Irishism (or possibly Stage-Irishism) "sure and begorrah" which the internet seems to have failed to achieve consensus on the etymology and seemingly-peculiar internal syntactic structure of. (One facially-plausible theory is that it might be a calque or eggcornish misconstrual of a Gaelic expression, but the first few pages I found advocating this theory did not propose a specific underlying Gaelic expression that one could then check to see if it made any sort of contextual sense in Gaelic.)

  15. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 5:51 pm

    David Morris: I think it's "hell" as a semantically-bleached general-purpose expletive with no theological content. In other words, it's synonymous with "sure as shit" (or the minced "sure as shootin'") and various other "sure as EXPLETIVE" strings you can easily find in-the-wild instances of (such as the not-quite-Tolkienesque https://soundcloud.com/hexadecimentalist/hexadecimentalst-well-is-sure.

  16. Martin J. Ball said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 6:39 pm

    @J.W.Brewer the accepted name for the Celtic language of Ireland is 'Irish'. The name 'Gaelic' (in the form 'Scottish Gaelic') refers to the Celtic language of Scotland, or is a generic term for Irish, Scottish Gaelic, and Manx.

  17. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 7:18 pm

    Martin J. Bull: I think you may be using the word "the" idiosyncratically. COCA has 7 hits for "Gaelic language" of which 6 appear at first blush to refer to what you call Irish and only one to Scottish Gaelic. That's contemporary American English usage, which may not be universal. (Wikipedia asserts that "In Europe the language is usually referred to as Irish, with Gaelic or 'Irish Gaelic' often used elsewhere.") Since I speak and write American English (an "elsewhere" variety), that's sufficient to convince me I haven't gotten my own native language wrong unless you have some other relevant usage evidence you'd like to bring to my attention.

    The wikipedia article on "Hiberno-English" (if you don't mind them calling it that) says that there are various common uses of "sure" and "to be sure" but that constructions of the form "sure and …" are a false stereotype (i.e. found in Stage Irish dialect but not in actual Hiberno-English usage). That may well be true, but would not undermine the hypothesis that Stage-Irishisms might (I stress might, because I'm trying to account for what strikes me as weird data) be a source of prior exposure for some Americans to "sure and X" idioms that defy easy syntactic analysis, thus making that construction sound vaguely familiar and helping to pave the way for the structurally-mysterious "sure and hell" to slip past their defenses.

  18. GeorgeW said,

    September 3, 2013 @ 7:39 pm

    @David Morris I would guess that the certainty of hell in the expression relates to its existence, not one's fate.

    Why not heaven? I would go along with J.W. Brewer, this kind of expression calls for an expletive.

  19. RP said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 11:34 am

    Is "heaven" not an expletive, too, GeorgeW and J.W.? What about its use in "for heaven's sake", "good heavens!", "what in heaven's name…?", "heavens above!"?

  20. BZ said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

    @J.W. Brewer,
    But why is hell sure, but not other things? Why doesn't "clear as hell" work for "clear as day"? Does "sure as hell" only ever denote a bad thing? My intuition says no.

    Also, "sure as EXPLETIVE" seems to be the most common with "EXPLETIVE" being hell. Why is that?

    I ran the phrases through the ngram viewer, though that is surely skewed by what's "fit to print" at any given time. "Sure as Shootin" has actually been around in books the longest, appearing in 1843, but "hell" first appears in 1847. Or does it? There is a suspicious 4 books published between 1800 and 1803. Also, Google book search turns up one from 1756. In any case, hell overtakes shootin permanently in 1925 and is the dominant form after that (Sure as shit, the second most popular one today, first shows up in 1951 and overtakes shootin in 1972; sure as fuck is still trailing sure as shootin even today). This all seems to suggest that the hell version was probably the first and continually the most dominant, but that shit (and shootin) has been around for a while as well.

    @GeorgeW,
    Why are we so sure that hell exists?

  21. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 1:06 pm

    "Heaven" in those uses seems more of a euphemism/mincing, like saying "oh my goodness" or "oh my gosh" instead of "oh my God." Whether those uses of "God" and/or its substitues are expletives versus, say vocatives, is an interesting question. But for whatever reason "sure as God" doesn't sound idiomatic to me outside a longer idiom like "as sure as God made little green apples." ("Sure as damn," likewise doesn't sound idiomatic. More Research Needed.)

    "Clear as hell" seems perfectly idiomatic to me and is certainly attested on the internet. It presumably relates to "clear as day" the way "dry as hell" relates to "dry as a bone." In both instances the notions conveyed are roughly synonymous ("extremely ADJ") but the modes of expression are somehow distinct in nuance. It seems like there ought already to be a scholarly/technical discussion of this subtle distinction Out There somewhere.

  22. BZ said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

    Clear as hell only gets 312 results once you get to the last page.

  23. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

    I suppose my thesis is that "ADJ as hell" is a reasonably productive pattern, so it can have a relatively low number of instances for a given ADJ (COCA has two hits for "clear as hell" FWIW) for a particular ADJ and still sound natural and be semantically transparent/comprehensible. Here are the first 20 other adjectives that fit the "ADJ as hell" template I found from running down the first page of COCA hits: smart, pissed, happy, funny, bored, tired, sexy, cute, intimidating, reckless, glad, moody, ballsy, lucky, sore, hot, comfortable, guilty, scared, handsome. But I had to skip over multiple instances of "sure" to compile that list, so it (based on a possibly inadequate sample . . .) seems notably common. But do any of those others sound odd or unidiomatic when combined with "as hell"? Not to my ear. Note that it works for opposites, smart as hell does not block dumb as hell, nor does hot block cold, or lucky block unlucky, etc. What do we call a pattern like this? It's quite like a snowclone, but this particular pattern is so ancient and well-established (and certainly not the result of a modern internet meme-generation etc.) that it seems rather demeaning to call it that.

    [(myl) One thing to call it would be a "construction".]

  24. Ethan said,

    September 4, 2013 @ 6:53 pm

    "ADJ as hell" seems to have emerged in parallel to "ADJ as all get out", although the "hell" version is more common. I suppose the expletive gives it more force, if less obvious sense, than the alternative.

  25. Jim said,

    September 9, 2013 @ 3:59 pm

    I work for a digital music company and we got an entertaining new eggcorn from one of our user comments over the weekend:

    "PEARL JAM IS NOT GRUDGE! Love pearl jam to death but they are not a grudge band anymore haha!"

    "grudge music" — says quite a lot, no?

    (Interestingly, if I read my Google results right, there are apparently bands called Grudge, Grudge Band, and Grudge Music. No idea if they are "grunge" genre, though.)

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