Hell bent for election
Southern Dew
I've heard this phrase, usually when someone is talking about auto racing, but think it has nothing to do with cars.
There's a famous (well, somewhat well known) campaign victory rhyme:Oh, have you heard how old Maine went?
She went hell-bent for Governor Kent,
And Tippecanoe and Tyler, too!

To be "hell bent" is to be recklessly motivated. The 1840 elections spawned the campaign slogan, "hell bent for Kent," in Maine which was parodied as Kent being "hell bent for election."

Frank Pierce
The term "bent" seems to have an archaic echo of an impulse, a proclivity for something. I've heard older people speak of a person having a real bent for cooking, woodwork, etc.

And so hell-bent would mean someone whose every thoughtless act seems to destine him to hell in a hurry.

I don't find that it's all that archaic. There are two or three semantic moves to make, however. As a verb, where "bend" is commonly understood to be pivot so as to cause to angled, the object would then be said to be "bent" (an adjective). The next move is to appreciate the teleological flavor. The "bend" (noun) of on object can (it's, like, definition #4) be its incliniation or disposition. Rather than there simply being, exisitentially, a crimp in the object, it is "bent toward" (or away from) something or in a direction (relative or absolute). This took on an additional sense with sodomy, in which the bending forward to expose the anus to entry formed a synergy with the notion that one was disposed, or "bent," to engage in the activity. This influenced such phrases as "he's bent" or "get bent!" So that, even in modern, Standard American Media English, "bent" is indeed understood to be a proclivity.
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