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Would it be correct to use "hell knows who/how" like this?

When everything in life is going hell knows how, but you've somehow gotten used to it.

I don't get why hell knows who is always trying to give you advice.

There was Justin, Andrew and hell knows who.

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    The Devil, Hell, God, Christ, Jesus, f**k (and more) knows who/how/when/why/what (etc) - select your preferred profanity. God is probably the most used where I am (UK) among more polite people. Commented Jun 30 at 10:25
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    Hell knows is not often used in the U.S., FWIW. Now, Hell if I know is a different matter. Commented Jun 30 at 11:40
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    Profanity or sacred figure, I should have written. Commented Jun 30 at 11:40
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    There is an answer and comment saying this is unusual. Can you explain why you want to use it? Have you considered the alternatives? Technically, you can use "X knows", "X alone knows", or similar constructions with almost any X, and there are a lot of quirky variations in existence, but some are more common than others.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jun 30 at 14:23
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    These aren't idiomatic and don't make sense. So, the answer is no.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jun 30 at 18:38

2 Answers 2

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Native Anglophones hardly ever say Hell knows why... As this usage chart shows, it's very rare compared to Heaven knows why...

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So although the usage does occur, I would seriously advise non-native speakers to avoid Hell (or the more "euphemistic" Heck knows why...), because most natives will notice the unusual choice of phrasing.

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  • Can you tell me please if these sentences themselves grammatically correct?
    – Boyep
    Commented Jun 30 at 15:12
  • I agree with everything Jay says in his answer. It's "syntactically valid", but it doesn't really "make sense", and some people will dislike hearing it because it's vulgar. And as I said, almost all people will notice it as "unusual" (and I think virtually no native Anglophones would actually have a positive opinion about hearing it in what would probably be an nns accent, so they might "correct" you). If having accepted all that you still want to use it, I guess that's your choice. But I can't see why "grammaticality" should be a relevant factor in deciding whether to use it or not. Commented Jun 30 at 17:09
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    @Boyep - fuck knows! There's the answer to that question! Fuck knows who was man of the match, they were all fucking brilliant (someone on X/Twitter) Commented Jun 30 at 19:08
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    @MichaelHarvey, Boyep: Obviously more people are gonna have issues with fuck than with Hell, Heaven, God. And it's far less likely to occur in print than in casual conversation. But the point is well made - Fuck knows why is actually more common in print than Hell knows why. Commented Jun 30 at 19:19
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    @Boyep "Hell" isn't terribly offensive. The bigger concern is that it "remixes" a common expression, and gives the hearer at least a tiny bit of curiosity why. It would make sense in any context in which people explicitly want to be "iconoclastic," to consciously avoid honoring some supernatural force of good, however vague. I could imagine it as dialogue in a fictional work set among demons, or as actual dialogue among conscientious atheists or neo-pagans. (Though some of the latter might opt for "Goddess knows.") Commented Jul 1 at 19:58
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(a) As FumbleFingers says, it's not common phrasing. It's not a common stock phrase, nor does it make literal sense. Hell is a place. How would a place know anything? Maybe you could be understood to mean "people in Hell", but that doesn't make much sense either.

(b) Do you understand that this would be considered crude language? Not the sort of thing you say to your grandmother or on the floor of the Senate. If you're trying to be vulgar for emphasis, that's up to you, but you should know what is and isn't vulgar in a new language.

As PaulTannenbaum points out, there is the stock phrase "Hell if I know", which sounds similar but is clearly not the same.

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  • You've very diplomatically set out the cons (there aren't really any "pros" here! :) That kind of info isn't always available from standard resources like dictionaries - but as you say, it's the kind of thing learners probably should know. Commented Jun 30 at 17:15

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