From Middle English brimston, bremston, corrupted forms of brinston, brenston, bernston, from Old English brynstān (“brimstone”, literally “burn-stone”), equivalent to brian + stone, or burn + stone. Cognate with Scots brunstane (“brimstone”), Icelandic brennisteinn (“sulfur, brimstone”), German Bernstein (“amber”). Compare also brimfire. More at burn, stone.
Once a synonym for "sulfur," the word is now restricted to Biblical usage.
- The sulfur of Hell; Hell, damnation.
1590, Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene:
- For griefe thereof, and diuelish despight, / From his infernall fournace forth he threw / Huge flames, that dimmed all the heauens light, / Enrold in duskish smoke and brimstone blew.
1667, John Milton, Paradise Lost:
- Till, as a signal giv'n, th' uplifted Spear / Of their great Sultan waving to direct / Thir course, in even ballance down they light / On the firm brimstone, and fill all the Plain; / A multitude.
1854, Charles Dickens, Hard Times:
- [W]hen he [the Devil] is aweary of vice, and aweary of virtue, used up as to brimstone, and used up as to bliss [...]
1916, James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:
- But the sulphurous brimstone which burns in hell is a substance which is specially designed to burn for ever and for ever with unspeakable fury.
- (obsolete) sulfur
1816, Walter Scott, The Antiquary:
- Weel I wot I wad be broken if I were to gie sic weight to the folk that come to buy our pepper and brimstone, and suchlike sweetmeats.
1838, Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby:
- Don't think, young man, that we go to the expense of flower of brimstone and molasses, just to purify them.
- (archaic) used attributively as an intensifier in exclamations
1913, Joseph C. Lincoln, chapter 7, in Mr. Pratt's Patients:
- I made a speaking trumpet of my hands and commenced to whoop “Ahoy!” and “Hello!” at the top of my lungs. […] The Colonel woke up, and, after asking what in brimstone was the matter, opened his mouth and roared “Hi!” and “Hello!” like the bull of Bashan.
- The butterfly Gonepteryx rhamni of the Pieridae family.