hell vs infierno

I always thought Hell sounded like a way more terrible place than el Infierno.

In fact, looking up the definition of infierno, it sounds pretty terrible too:


  1. m. rel. Lugar destinado al eterno castigo de los condenados:
    la monja dijo que por ser malas iríamos al infierno.
  2. Tormento y castigo de los condenados:
    el infierno de los pecadores.
  3. mit. Lugar al que iban las almas de los difuntos.
  4. Lugar en donde hay mucho alboroto y discordia:
    esta oficina se ha convertido en un infierno por los continuos rumores.

To English ears, though, Infierno just sounds like an oven or a furnace. We hear the word “fire” in it. An earthly, physical pain; Hell is supposed to be unimaginable torment, right? I actually read Dante’s Inferno in 10th grade, and I guess it sounded pretty bad, but it didn’t seem as bleak as I reckon Hell to be. Because I have imagined the profoundness of Hell more in English, for one, complete with its existential despair (thanks, Sam Beckett!), and for two because the word just sounds bad.

Turns out Hell comes from Hel, the Norse goddess of the underworld by the same name. Why are the Scandinavians responsible for this? Figures, anyway.

When I was in Stockholm briefly a few years ago with Chris Baronavski, I noticed how severe the statues around the city seemed. I surmised it was a reflection of the craggly, dramatic, and very beautiful landscape, and the fact that Scandinavians are historically really badass.

I do not claim credit for these photos. I nabbed them off flickr.

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