Witness Post: Hell or High Water
The derivation of this phrase isn’t well known and sometime is caught in obscurity. Was there a major flood at a time in history? Was there an ominous time in some part of the world? Does it allude to any time or place in particular? It doesn’t appear so. It seems that the impressive alliteration refers to some difficult times, when a person has to dig down deep to overcome them.
One of the earliest American references to Hell or High Water appears in the Iowa newspaper, The Burlington Weekly Hawk Eye, from 1882. And the quotation below is from The Little Rock Gazette in the same era. It is a piece that comedian and playwright, Mel Brooks, might call ‘authentic frontier gibberish:’ “We’ve had unrevised hell and high water – and ‘a mighty heap of high-water, I tell yer.”
Today the expression is often preceded by the word Come, as in Come Hell or High Water. A street smart kid might emphasize:”Nothin’! Not nobody, not no obstacle, nothing is gonna stop me. Come hell or high water, I’ll be there.” With the number of books, movies, songs, and expressions that use the term, it will be around for a lot time to come. See these examples, and a few jokes, below: