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地狱的门铃?Hell’s bells?

中国日报网 2018-07-10 11:21


Reader question:

Please explain “hell’s bells”, as in: “Hell’s bells, not again!”

My comments:

Apparently someone does something wrong or stupid or at least very undesirable for a second (or third or the umpteenth) time, thus drawing this exasperated reply from the speaker, who speaks in either astonishment or disbelief or both – usually with lots of anger or annoyance.

Definitely a lot of anger or annoyance, because, you see, people seldom invoke the concept of “hell” when they speak cordially, calmly and composedly.

To say “Hell’s bell, not again” is no different from saying “Hell fire, not again!” because, after all, hell evokes images of eternal flames for all of its evil inmates.

Anyways, hell’s bells refer to the bells on the door to hell. Supposedly when one goes to hell, he or she rings the door bell, by way of announcing “I’m coming.” Hearing this, all those who’re inside will say “Mighty nice to have you join us” or make some similarly welcoming remarks, followed, undoubtedly, by an odious chorus of laughter, wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Well, use your own imagination.

At any rate, that’s what hell’s bells means literally. As an expression, it is actually no different than “For God’s sake” or “Good Heavens” or “For the love of Mary” or any such similarly mild exclamations of surprise and/or annoyance.

Mild, as a matter of fact because, dear or dear, we’ve all heard swear words that sound much worse, haven’t we?

All right, here are media examples of the rhyming hell’s bells both in recent media and in the somewhat distant past:

1. In recent years, Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” has weathered its share of political scrutiny. What, for instance, should a black child make of a book that depicts slavery as a normal value? Yet this 19th-century river-bound yarn still slices through the tricky revisionism. It remains a sturdy raft, constructed of sound American storytelling.

So sound, in fact, that it can carry any adaptation that hops aboard. Even in Walt Disney's no-frills production, “The Adventures of Huck Finn,” that sturdy appeal is apparent. Maybe one day, a directorial powerhouse will create the Amazing Cinematic Version of the Book. Perhaps Robert De Niro (in his ultimate screen role) will play Jim in Martin Scorsese’s “Runawayfellas.” Or Francis Coppola will unleash “The Heart of Huckleberry,” in which government forces send Huck downriver to terminate Jim with extreme prejudice.

Until that unlikely time, it’s no hardship to watch Elijah Wood (the kid in just about every movie these days) as Huck, and Courtney B. Vance as Jim, as they sail the Mississippi toward freedom.

Afraid that brutal, drunken father Pap (Ron Perlman) will kill him, Huck fakes a bloody death, then hides out by the river. He is soon joined by slave-friend Jim, who has made his own run for it in the post-mortem confusion. But their initial joy rapidly fades when they see Jim’s face on wanted posters -- for Huck’s murder.

On a makeshift raft, they head down the Mississippi for the Ohio River, where Jim can set course for the free states. But the journey is banked with trail-sniffing dogs, sleazy wayfarers and bounty hunters. In addition, Huck’s friendship for Jim clashes with his ingrained belief that he’ll go to hell for helping an escaped slave.

The movie is dependable Disney fare, with twinkly-eyed good characters and cartoonish villains, but it marks Twain: the writer’s supple sense of humor; Huck’s irrepressible, tall-tale-spinning personality; Jim’s simple and dignified presence; and most powerfully, the growing bond between the two.

There is no shortage of dignity for this Jim, and he informs Huck about the wrongness of slavery with appropriate regularity. “Just ‘cause you’re taught something’s right,” he says, “and everybody believes it’s right, it don’t mean it’s right.”

Above all, there’s a straightforward sense of boyish adventure -- and laughs. Pretending to read Huck’s future, pseudo-mystic Jim pulls a giant hairy ball from nowhere -- his answer to entrail reading. When Huck asks what the furry thing is, Jim replies, “Hairball from a ox -- puked it up just the other day.”

As the unscrupulous rogues who give the two friends their worst trouble, Jason Robards and Robbie Coltrane come on with amusingly broad abandon as, respectively, “The King” and “The Duke.” When they introduce themselves -- in a rare burst of honesty -- as robbers and scam artists, Huck declares, “Hell’s bells, I wish I knew a good trade.

Through all the adventures (or misadventures), the most stirring moments -- in visual terms -- come on that mighty river. As Huck and Jim run from society, they play games, smoke pipes, stoke fires, chew the fat, even mock-fight each other with imaginary swords. Above the lurch of water and against the sunset-striated skies, the feeling is as hokey as it is sort of stirring. If it does little more than lightly endear itself, “Huck Finn” gives you a powerful sense of the joy of running away, rolling along and heading for freedom.

- The Adventures of Huck Finn (PG), The Washington Post, April 02, 1993.

2. Hell’s Bells was a phrase with which a friend of my late mother-in-law in Charleston, Missouri used to punctuate most of her stories, especially when she got irritated or excited. I am not really sure what she meant but I always loved the way she said it with her Southeast Missourian twang.

When John Donne wrote his poem Meditation XII or what most people recognize as No Man is an Island in 1621, one of his most oft quoted lines was For Whom the Bell Tolls. Of course, he was not writing of Hell but was referring to the universal clarion call of death. It could also refer to the eschatology that attends all of our deaths.

For the past half-century, most currents of thought in the West have mitigated, not only against a Hell but also its cause—sin! If there were no sin, then no all-loving and merciful God could condemn His creatures to the flames for eternity!

The Christmas issue, a few years ago, of the British publication, The Economist published a cover story on Hell. For centuries Hell has been the most fearful place in the human imagination. It is also the most absurd. To the Economist, Hell is just a medieval relic that went out with ducking stools and witchcraft.

Philosophically, Jean-Paul Sartre believed Hell is other people.

There may be some truth to that in that some people can often make life a hell on earth. Theologically, even the Vatican now defines Hell as a state of exile from the love of God. The devils and pitchforks, the brimstone clouds and wailing souls, have seemingly been retired to dusty vaults of pious irrelevance.

- Hell’s Bells, by William Borst, CatholicJournal.us, April 20, 2016.

3. So far there is only one player who can vouch that England is experiencing the same kind of football frenzy the country last encountered when World in Motion was in the charts, when there was Bobby Robson and Gary Lineker and Nessun Dorma and let’s-all-have-a-disco and Paul Gascoigne, with that big, chip‑pan grin, until everything went so horribly wrong.

Fabian Delph has been trying to explain it to his teammates after his visit home for the birth of his daughter. Delph kept sharp by training at Manchester City. He flew back in a private jet with the family of Vincent Kompany, his club colleague, and he is being perfectly serious when he says England’s penalties against Colombia brought his wife, Natalie, into labour. Delph was home for four days and, now he is back in Repino, he has let the others know the madness of it all.

“We are out here in our bubble, our circle, and we don’t have outside distractions so we are not aware of what is going on. But going back was incredible. The support was absolutely amazing. Even people who are not into football, stopping me, shouting and telling me: ‘Make sure you bring it home.’ It was crazy, overwhelming. I have told the lads and they could not believe it.”


And, without wishing to get too far ahead, what if England could actually beat Croatia and then, hell’s bells, do the same against France or Belgium in the final? What if the players of 2018 really have it in them to emulate Alf Ramsey’s 1966 heroes? Is it safe to broach this subject yet? Southgate seemed to think so. “We’ve already talked about the team that won the World Cup and how they’re still revered. We’ve had events at St George’s Park when some of those guys have been in, such as when the road was named after Sir Alf. I’ve met quite a few of those players. We know how they are held and, in the modern era, that [winning the World Cup] would be even crazier now, with social media and everything else. Globally it is so much bigger.”

A small thing, perhaps, but this was the first time Southgate has felt comfortable enough to talk about the possibility of going all the way, of heading back to Moscow next Sunday and testing his poorly shoulder in the Luzhniki Stadium by lifting a trophy that, for so many years, always seemed out of reach. If you were English, it was reassuring to hear. And just a touch surreal.

- England delirium has Gareth Southgate and his tyros dreaming big, TheGuardian.com, July 8, 2018.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)


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