Aug 20, 2015

Bay Area Slang: Geoff Nunberg Explores the Origins of "Hella"

From KQED News

The Origins of Hella

By Adizah Eghan

How is it that “hella” became synonymous with the Bay?

Many Bay Area residents and Californians believe that hella — and its G-rated equivalent “hecka” — are Bay Area slang. The words, which mean “very” or “a lot of,” can be used multiple ways. You can say “I’m hella stoked” or “There were hella people at that party last night,” or even, “I was doing it for hella days.”...

Hella made its first appearance in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2002, and the dictionary says the word was first used in a 1987 article in the Toronto Star....

UC Berkeley linguist Geoff Nunberg traces hella back a few more years, to Oakland, from two early citations in a 1987 dissertation of a Berkeley student.

“Hella emerged somewhere in Northern California around the late 1970s, and although it spread to other places, it’s still associated with this region,” says Nunberg.

Historically, slang spreads from black English to white English and not in the other direction, which is why Nunberg says he suspects it started in Oakland.....


Last updated:

October 4, 2016