Hell for leather and hell-bent

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The terms hell for leather and hell-bent are similar but have different meanings. We will look at the meaning of hell for leather and hell-bent, where the terms come from and examine some examples of their use in sentences.

Hell for leather means as fast as possible. The term was first used in print in 1889 by Rudyard Kipling, specifically referring to riding a horse at breakneck speed. The leather in this case either refers to the leather in the saddle or the leather in the crop.

Hell-bent describes someone who is determined to do something no matter how the effort effects himself or anyone else, at any cost. Hell-bent is an adjective that carries a connotation of recklessness or foolishness, it is an American word that was first used in the early 1800s. Interestingly, a new term is beginning to emerge that combines hell for leather and hell-bent. Hell-bent for leather describes someone who is determined to do something no matter what the cost, and does it in a ferocious manner.


They ran hell-for-leather in the rundown, blasting the black powder at each of the five remaining balloons. (The Hartford Courant)

Horrified witnesses saw them kicking him as if they were taking a penalty kick and carrying on the attack ‘hell for leather’. (The Exeter Express and Echo)

WORLD WARMONGERING Russia tell its citizens the West is hell-bent on nuclear war as tensions with US over Syria escalate (The Sun)

“They wound themselves up to fever-pitch with hysterical anti-Brexit propaganda before the referendum, and now they’re hell-bent on demonising and catastrophizing the Leave vote, whatever the truth of the matter.” (The Express)

Sunako turned up at the Nostalgic2Days classic car show in Yokohama hell bent for leather: leather pants, leather jacket, white sunglasses and turtleneck, Russian fur cap. (Road and Track Magazine)

Want to have more idioms in your arsenal? Check out some others we covered: