Photo courtesy of katerw












By Allie Rigonati

I have uttered the word “hella” three times today within a good 45-minute time span. This count does not include the handful of times I have caught myself about to say it, or the half a dozen times I’ve had to edit the dreadful word from a text message. The word has managed to orally penetrate the inner cavities of cranial judgment that control my motor speech functions (and if I had any knowledge of the scientific term for this area, elieve you me I would use it, but alas this is why I am a comparative literature major and not a neurosurgeon). Like a stealth ninja, “hella” manifests itself in the shadows of my brain, camouflaged in the guise of like adjectives, yet appears unannounced on the tip of my tongue once my mind realizes it’s already been attacked. There is no way of stopping it.

Several sources (and when I say sources I am referring to Wikipedia and Urban Dictionary) debate the exact location and date that the word “hella” entered our lexicon, however, there is no contention that the term is the product of “nor-cal” culture. The word is a contraction of the phrase, “hell of a” or “hell of a lot” and is a versatile adjective capable of describing the more mundane words of “good,” “very,” and “a lot,” along with the more outdated, “totally.”

Examples of Use:

Original Adjective

Adjective Replaced by “hella”

Biophysics majors are real big douchebags. Biophysics majors are HELLA douchebags.
That baby is really ugly. That baby is HELLA ugly.
I really love E-40 and getting hyphy. I HELLA love E-40 and getting hyphy.

In a study conducted at an urban Bay Area high school in 1993, linguist Mary Bucholtz of UC Santa Barbara observed the word “hella” to transcend gender, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. It’s affiliation with the Bay Area band Metallica and Bay Area rap artists further popularized the term throughout the mid-1990s, ultimately securing it national success as a popular West Coast (although “nor-cal”- specific) colloquialism satirized by the 1998 South Park episode, Spookyfish, and paid homage to through No Doubt’s 2001 single “Hella Good.” By the 2000s, “Hella” had hit the bigtime.

With all that said, perhaps I should learn to embrace “hella” before berating myself for letting one slip. There is a reason after all, that the term has managed to seep into popular culture as quickly as it has within the last two decades. Perhaps it has to do with the sheer satisfaction that can be obtained by denoting so much feeling and emotion in a neat little one-word package of linguistic perfection…or maybe I’m just HELLA hooked on “hella.”

For more posts on etymology from our editors, click here.