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This article is about the word. For other uses, see Hella (disambiguation).

Hella is a word associated with Northern California, particularly the San Francisco Bay Area. It is a contraction of the phrase "hell of a" or "hell of a lot [of]," in turn reduced to "hell of." It often appears in place of the words "really," "a lot," "totally," "very" and in some cases "yes". Whereas hell of a is generally used with a noun, according to linguist Pamela Munro, hella is primarily used to modify an adjective such as "good."[1]

According to lexicographer Allan A. Metcalf, the word is a marker of Northern California dialect.[2] According to Colleen Cotter, "Southern Californians know the term ... but rarely use it." Sometimes the term grippa is used to mock "NorCal" dialect, with the actual meaning being the opposite of hella.[3]


Earliest studies of the term[edit]

The term is claimed to have been coined by Collin Youn Lee, a native San Franciscan, during his sophomore year at Lowell High School in 1992. The word was an intended shortening of the phrase, "hell of a lot" according to Lee. Though initially attracting a small amount of ridicule as the progenitor of the term, within weeks its usage had become viral and the expansion through connected community networks would eventually elevate to exponential levels extending beyond teens and permeating multiple generations. Interestingly enough, Lee claims that there are two main points that substantiate his claim to the word (which was first shared to a friend in 2006); 1) The first point by Lee is that there is no documentation of the word or its use prior to 1992 (since it was not supposedly invented yet) and 2) No one has made a claim, solicited or not, to the invention of this word except by Lee himself and without solicitation. Lee concedes any evidence prior to the 1992 use of this word would nullify his claim but adds that it is extremely unlikely and not to be confused with "Hecka". When asked about the inspiration of the word "Hella", Lee points to the cultural and environmental influences that shaped his childhood and youth growing up in the Bay St. Housing Projects where Lee's family represented a very small group of non-African American families. Lee lived through and was inspired by the introduction of rap music as a genre and spending many days in East Oakland (where his parents owned and operated a popular cheese steak shop) Lee would spend many hours listening to Easy E, Run-D-M-C, and the like. Hella remains part of the dialect of Northern California, where it has grown in popularity.

Nationwide spread[edit]

By 1997 the word had spread to hip hop culture, though it remained a primarily West Coast term.[4] With the release of the 2001 No Doubt song "Hella Good," one Virginian transplant in California "fear[ed] the worst: nationwide acceptance of this wretched term."[5] Since the early '90s 'hella' has been used regularly in the Pacific Northwest as a common slang term, particularly in Seattle. Popular area rappers Blue Scholars and Macklemore regularly use the term in their lyrics; Macklemore uses the word several times in his worldwide hit song[6] "Thrift Shop".

In the South Park episode "Spookyfish," which was the 1998 Halloween special, the character Cartman repeatedly used the term hella to the annoyance of the other characters,[7] which contributed to its currency spreading nationally.[8] "You guys are hella stupid" is one of the phrases spoken by a talking Cartman doll released in 2006.[9] The Sacramento-based band Hella chose its name for the regional association; Zach Hill says "It's everywhere up here.... We thought it was funny, and everyone says it all the time."[10]

Worldwide spread[edit]

Hella was included on the BBC's list of 20 words that sum up the 2000-2009 decade.[11] Defining it as "An intensive in Youthspeak, generally substituting for the word very", inclusion on the list marks its ascension into the international slang lexicon.

Hecka Variant[edit]

Paralleling the use of the minced oath heck, some younger school children use hecka in place of hella, moving on to hella in adolescence.[12]



While intensifiers similar to hella exist in many colloquial varieties, hella is unique in its flexibility. It can be used to modify almost any part of speech, as shown below.

That pizza was hella good: hella modifies the adjective good, where Standard American English would use very.

I ate hella pizza: hella modifies the noun pizza, replacing a lot of.

I hella bought four pizzas: hella modifies the verb to buy, replacing really or totally.

I ran hella quick to the pizza joint: hella modifies the adverb quick, replacing very.

SI prefix[edit]

As of 2010, an online petition, created by Yreka's Austin Sendek, seeks to establish "hella-" as the SI prefix for 1027.[13] The prefix, which has since appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Daily Telegraph, and Wired, was implemented by Google in May 2010.[14][15][16] On May 31, 2011, Wolfram Alpha also implemented "hella-" as a supported prefix.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Campus Slang". Voice of America. December 19, 2002. Retrieved 2008-02-13. 
  2. ^ Allan A. Metcalf (2000). How We Talk: American Regional English Today. Houghton Mifflin Reference Books. ISBN 0-618-04362-4. 
  3. ^ Colleen Cotter (2001). USA Phrasebook. Lonely Planet. ISBN 978-1-86450-182-7. 
  4. ^ Lynette Holloway (January 5, 1997). "Shorties and Scholars Agree, the Word Is Rap". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-12. 
  5. ^ David Gentry (May 16, 2002). "I Hate Hella, All Montagues, and Thee". Charlottesville, Virginia: The Hook. Retrieved 2008-02-13. 
  6. ^ Thrift Shop (song)#Weekly charts
  7. ^ "Spooky Fish Recap". TV.com. Retrieved 2008-02-13. 
  8. ^ Kristin Carmichael (Spring 1999). "Yo, yo, yo ... Catch this Slang is used to unify the masses". CatBytes (California State University, Chico). Archived from the original on 2008-07-24. Retrieved 2008-02-13. 
  9. ^ Luigi Lugmayr (October 28, 2006). "Must Have: Talking Cartman Action Figure". I4U News. Retrieved 2008-02-13. 
  10. ^ Jeremy Scherer (October 15, 2003). "Hella: Slang name for a band that's hard to pigeonhole". Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Retrieved 2008-02-14. 
  11. ^ "A Portrait of the Decade". BBC. December 14, 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-14. 
  12. ^ Chawkins, Steve (2010-07-06). "Physics major has a name for a really big number". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2014-04-05. "Sendek, who was forced to use hecka as a child..." 
  13. ^ Moore, Matthew (2010-03-02). "Hella number: scientists call for new word for 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000". The Telegraph (London). Retrieved 2010-06-04. "More than 20,000 scientists, students and members of the public have signed an online petition backing the new quantity, which would be used for figures with 27 zeros after the first digit." 
  14. ^ "Jargon Watch". Wired 18 (6). June 2010. "...a proposed metric prefix...useful for describing mega-measurements like Earth's mass (6 Hellagrams). The International Committee for Weights and Measures agreed to consider it after a Facebook petition garnered 30,000 signatures" 
  15. ^ "The Official Petition to Establish "Hella-" as the SI Prefix for 10^27". Facebook. Retrieved 2010-06-04. 
  16. ^ Kim, Ryan (2010-05-24). "Google gets behind 'hella' campaign". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-06-04. 
  17. ^ "First goes Google, now goes WolframAlpha". Retrieved 18 October 2012. 

External links[edit]