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My children often hear someone say "you scared the hell out of me".

and now they say "I laughed the hell out of myself" and "I laughed the hell out of you"

I am not sure why my children invented these phrases.

Do these sentences make any sense?

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    I laughed the hell out of myself is understandable but strange and does not sound like something a native speaker would say. I laughed the hell out of you doesn't make any sense, because "laugh" is not something that I do to you.
    – stangdon
    Dec 7 '21 at 14:37
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    Though you can't laugh people, you can tickle them. "I tickled the hell out of you" seems to make more sense.
    – JoL
    Dec 7 '21 at 22:44
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    The reason "you scared the hell out me" works but "you laughed the hell out of me" doesn't is that scare is a transitive verb, i.e. you scare someone or something, but laugh is an intransitive verb; you laugh but you don't laugh someone.... and therefore you can't laugh the hell out of someone either. (Although you can "laugh them out of the room") Dec 8 '21 at 1:49
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    Let's leave a little room for humor. It may not be standard but it is funny. Reminds me of someone describing a "buttoned down" individual as being "buttoned to within an inch of his life"
    – Yorik
    Dec 8 '21 at 20:24
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    TBC, if small children said this - it sounds exactly like that. When small children humorously mix-up words or idioms. Nothing else to see here. It's completely normal that small children mix-up idioms in whacky ways. The question "Does the sentence make sense" is meaningless - anyone hearing it would simply think "Isn't it funny when small children mix-up idioms." There's nothing to "make sense" of one way or the other.
    – Fattie
    Dec 9 '21 at 16:18
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In the sentence "you scared the hell out of me", the phrase "the hell out of" acts as an intensifier - it can roughly be paraphrased as "you scared me a lot".

Importantly, the sentence "you scared me" is valid on its own. Similarly, "the cat scratched my leg" could become "the cat scratched the hell out of my leg". It can also be used for an emotionally positive sentence, e.g. "I was pleased to finally see my gran, so I hugged her" can become "I was pleased to finally see my gran, so I hugged the hell out of her".

This isn't true of your proposed sentences: *"I laughed myself" and *"I laughed you" are not grammatical sentences, because "to laugh" is only used as an intransitive verb. So although a native speaker might understand what you were trying to say, those sentences sound wrong.

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    While I agree with your analysis above, and wouldn't complicate it by bloating the answer with weird corner-case exceptions, I strangely find that "I laughed the hell out of myself." seems to work (in theory) to me for most any situation where "I laughed my ass off." is used...? The specific 'you' version above definitely seems a bridge too far, but "You laughed the hell out of yourself" seems to kinda work. Dec 7 '21 at 23:35
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    @AmateurDotCounter perhaps it's like the template "I laughed myself <blank>"? "I laughed myself silly", "I laughed myself to death", and "I laughed myself to tears" all seem like common enough usages that edge "I laughed the hell out of myself" a little closer to workable.
    – TylerW
    Dec 8 '21 at 3:38
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    @TylerW I think you precisely understand where I am coming from. "...I laughed myself <blank>!" works for many idiomatic instances of "silly/to-death/to-tears" such that "...I laughed <blank> myself!" seems quite reasonable to many other possible verge-idiomatic expressions that lie close enough. Dec 8 '21 at 3:52
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    OP's children laughed so hard demons started coming out of their bodies. That's some sinister grammatics.
    – fhcimolin
    Dec 8 '21 at 11:23
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    I was pleased to see the hell out of my gran! Dec 8 '21 at 17:12
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Cambridge tells us that the phrase has a rough equivalence to "very much" (e.g. You scared me very much).

Merriam Webster tells us that it is used for emphasis after certain words (e.g. scare, frighten, beat).

After reading at these dictionaries, it may seem logical that one could say "[someone] laughed the hell out of [someone]". Notice, however, that the examples from MW are all actions that someone can do to someone else. I can scare you. I can beat you. But I can't "laugh" you, can I?

So the end, while this seems like it would work in theory, it's doesn't make sense and is unfortunately just not something that native speakers would say.

P.S. For the benefit of your children, please also note that the phrase is impolite and may come across as offensive to some audiences.

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    +1 for simple statement of not being able to "laugh" a person, as well as the PSA that the phrase may be mildly offensive. Explicitly talking about transitive and intransitive verbs isn't as helpful to informal language learners
    – automaton
    Dec 9 '21 at 18:03
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"Scared the hell out of me" is an idiom, a stock phrase that doesn't really make sense if analyzed word by word. Did you have hell in you? Did the fear cause this hell to leave you? What would any of that even mean?

I don't know the origin of the phrase. Maybe, just speculating, the idea is that something frightened someone so much that he decided he needed to reform his life so that he would not go to Hell. Like, I was leading a sinful life, headed for Hell, when this event happened where I thought I was going to die, and I thought, if I die tonight I'll go to Hell, I need to change my life and get right with God.

Or maybe the origin is not that serious and theological, maybe it means nothing more than when a person says, "Oh, Hell!" when he bumps into something. Anyway ...

Occasionally people will say "Xed the hell out of ..." where X is something other than "scared", but it's pretty rare and, to me anyway, it just sounds like they are playing off of the "scared the hell out of" phrase.

I have never heard anyone say "laughed the hell out of me". I can guess that it means, "that was very fun and I laughed a lot". But it's a weird sentence. Most fluent English speakers would understand what you mean but find it a very odd thing to say.

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  • "Xed the hell out of..." is very common in my experience. It's my understanding "the hell out of" is an idiom that can be applied with just about any sort of verb that can be used on another object, not specifically "scared". The two have never had any specific association to me. Dec 8 '21 at 22:26
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    We Australians also often replace hell with a swear word (i.e. sh*t). Plus it should probably be noted the "scared the hell out of" can also be considered impolite - I would have got a clip around the ears for using it when I was a child :) Dec 8 '21 at 23:27
  • @DavidWaterworth Yes, good points. I should especially have mentioned that "scared the Hell out of ..." is vulgar language, not something you would use in a formal setting or around "polite" people.
    – Jay
    Dec 9 '21 at 15:16
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    Seeing as how no one else appears to have mentioned it... the idiom "scared the [waste] out of me" likely originates as a literal expression, referring to the propensity of humans (and other animals) to empty themselves of such substances when frightened. Usually, one uses a four-letter word starting with C, S or P, although works trying to be "cleaner" might use "poo", and I've seen sci-fi works (where the characters are alien) use "excrement" or even a word for the species' equivalent. (Also, if you're being cheeky, you can use "fecal matter", "kidney byproduct", etc.)
    – Matthew
    Dec 9 '21 at 18:24
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    @DavidWaterworth, I'd actually argue that makes even less sense than the H-word 🙂. Then again, the word in question is (very not safe for work/minors) quite versatile.
    – Matthew
    Dec 9 '21 at 21:32
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No. but you can say, “I laughed like Hell.” You can use “like Hell” with many intransitive verbs, but be careful, “Like Hell!” as an interjection means, “Absolutely not,” or “I don’t believe you.” So, “Like Hell, I laughed,” would mean, “It is absolutely not true that I laughed.”

You can use “the Hell out of” with many transitive verbs, like in the old joke, “How do you make holy water? You boil the Hell out of it.”

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