What Does All Hell Broke Loose Mean?

All Hell Broke Loose Meaning

Definition: A situation changes from being relatively peaceful to suddenly being noisy, chaotic, aggressive, or confused.

This saying is used to convey an extremely negative reaction to some form of instigation or stimulus. The reaction often involves violence, pandemonium, or arguing.

Origin of All Hell Broke Loose

The English author and poet John Milton is responsible for the origin of this idiom. In his epic poem, Paradise Lost, this expression appears as, “Wherefore with thee came not all hell broke loose?”

all hell will break loose meaningThe context of this quote is helpful in understanding how the idiom is used. Milton’s poem is a biblical story about Satan, an angel who rebelled against God and was forced out of heaven into hell.

In this poem, Satan goes to Eden, a paradise on Earth that God created for humans. Satan is asked why all the other inhabitants of hell did not also break free and come to Eden.

Imagine if hell were filled with evil demons, banished fallen angels, and suffering souls, and all of them broke free from hell to enter into the world. Imagine all the chaos that would occur. This is the sort of imagery that the expression “all hell broke loose” should conjure.

Examples of All Hell Broke Loose

This idiom is used frequently for both chaotic actions and furious arguments.

Here is an example of the idiom being used to describe a hectic and tumultuous event.

Kira: Did you hear about what happened on the interstate the other day?

Dan: No, what was it?

Kira: A big truck carrying a shipment of livestock crashed.

Dan: Did all the animals die?

Kira: No, the pigs escaped from the truck after it fell. They ran onto the street, and all hell broke loose. Cars everywhere were trying to avoid them, and then they started crashing. Then the people tried to get out of their crashed cars, and the pigs panicked and scared the people, so the people ran off into the woods and got lost.

Dan: Unbelievable!

all hell would break looseThe following example demonstrates the idiom being used to describe a heated argument.

Gertrude: Phillip finally told Roger that he spent all of their money on that ridiculous car.

Ruby: So now Roger knows that all of the saved money is gone? What happened?

Gertrude: As you can imagine, all hell broke loose! Roger screamed at Phillip for over two hours, and then demanded that he get out!

More Examples

  • The riots lasted four long days, during which then-Mayor David Dinkins, his top aides and Police Commissioner Lee Brown seemed paralyzed in what a state report found was massive miscommunication and sheer ineptitude as all hell broke loose. At one point, cops “were in full retreat, gave up their positions and ran” from the mobs. –New York Post
  • According to the papers based on the new data, it appears as though Axial Seamount’s magma chamber filled up until the pressure became overwhelming and all hell broke loose. –National Geographic

Summary

All hell broke loose is used to describe an extremely chaotic reaction or event, and conveys a negative meaning.