Hella is a word associated with 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."
According to lexicographer Allan A. Metcalf, the word is a marker of Northern California dialect. 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.
Earliest studies of the term
Hella has likely existed in California English since at least the mid 1970s. By 1993, Mary Bucholtz, a linguist at the University of California, Santa Barbara collated materials from an urban high school (Mount Eden High School) in the Bay Area, and found that hella was "used among Bay Area (and more specifically Hayward) youth of all racial, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds and both genders." Hella remains part of the dialect of Northern California, where it has grown in popularity. It is believed by most that the word originated in the eastern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area (Hayward).[verification needed] James Hetfield and the members of Metallica were among the first celebrities to use the word in both music and interviews. Having come from the Bay Area around the time the word's popularity spread, it could be said that Hetfield was one of the first people to bring hella to the mainstream. Other celebrities, mainly hip-hop artists, have also brought the term to the masses. Bay Area legends E-40 and Mac Dre have been heard using the phrase since 1986.
By 1997 the word had spread to hip hop culture, though it remained a primarily West Coast term. 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." 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 "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, which contributed to its currency spreading nationally. "You guys are hella stupid" is one of the phrases spoken by a talking Cartman doll released in 2006. 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."
Hella was included on the BBC's list of 20 words that sum up the 2000-2009 decade. 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.
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.
As of 2010, an online petition, created by Yreka's Austin Sendek, seeks to establish "hella-" as the SI prefix for 1027. The prefix, which has since appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Daily Telegraph, and Wired, was implemented by Google in May 2010. On May 31, 2011, Wolfram Alpha also implemented "hella-" as a supported prefix.
- Skookum, a similar word used in the Pacific Northwest, from the Chinook Jargon
- Valspeak, a dialect spoken in 1970s to 1990s Southern California, especially in the namesake San Fernando Valley
- "Campus Slang". Voice of America. December 19, 2002. Retrieved 2008-02-13.
- Allan A. Metcalf (2000). How We Talk: American Regional English Today. Houghton Mifflin Reference Books. ISBN 0-618-04362-4.
- Colleen Cotter (2001). USA Phrasebook. Lonely Planet. ISBN 978-1-86450-182-7.
- Lynette Holloway (January 5, 1997). "Shorties and Scholars Agree, the Word Is Rap". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-12.
- David Gentry (May 16, 2002). "I Hate Hella, All Montagues, and Thee". Charlottesville, Virginia: The Hook. Retrieved 2008-02-13.
- Thrift Shop (song)#Weekly charts
- "Spooky Fish Recap". TV.com. Retrieved 2008-02-13.
- 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.
- Luigi Lugmayr (October 28, 2006). "Must Have: Talking Cartman Action Figure". I4U News. Retrieved 2008-02-13.
- Jeremy Scherer (October 15, 2003). "Hella: Slang name for a band that's hard to pigeonhole". Inland Valley Daily Bulletin. Retrieved 2008-02-14.
- "A Portrait of the Decade". BBC. December 14, 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-14.
- 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..."
- 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."
- "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"
- "The Official Petition to Establish "Hella-" as the SI Prefix for 10^27". Facebook. Retrieved 2010-06-04.
- Kim, Ryan (2010-05-24). "Google gets behind 'hella' campaign". The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2010-06-04.
- "First goes Google, now goes WolframAlpha". Retrieved 18 October 2012.
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