Wicked Slang Origin: Why Does New England Say "Wicked" and What Does it Mean?

Updated on June 14, 2016
Source

Growing up in Massachusetts I was familiar with the term. It's wicked cold and He's wicked smart were common phrases heard on a daily basis. In New England, the term is used as a substitution for "really" or "very". It wasn't until I traveled outside of the North East that I realized the slang was only used in New England. From Rhode Island, to Massachusetts, Maine and Connecticut, the slang is likely to slip into both casual and professional conversation.

Every region has their own dialect and set of unique slang terms. Y'all and fixin' can be heard in the South, while the West employs terms such as gyppo and davenport. At the same time, these terms can have a completely different meaning in a varying region of the US or even another country.

Source

Various Uses of Wicked

The slang can have multiple meanings. From "cool" to "hellish" and "evil" the term has evolved and settled in various regions of the globe. Old English originally used the term to describe something evil or morally wrong.

Across the pond, "wicked" often connotes something that is neat or excellent. Most frequently seen in the Harry Potter Series, the kids often say "That's wicked" when excited or enthralled. This meaning has also carried it's way throughout the rest of the United States.

Puritans

The Puritans were a group of Protestants from the 16th and 17th century. Some even migrated to New England, often broadly categorized as the pilgrims. Puritans were unhappy with the English Church; therefore, some became separatists and removed themselves completely. Puritans devoted their lives to the words of the Bible. With a stringent work ethic and devout ideologies, Puritans also believed in demonic forces, a trait shared by most Christians of the 16th century.

New England Puritans
New England Puritans | Source

Origins of Wicked in New England

So, how did the term transform itself in New England? Well, there really is no one answer to this question as it's true origins are a bit fuzzy. We do know, however, that New England was the site of a Puritan development. These Puritans believed in demonology, often pointing fingers, exploiting who they believed to be witches. In the late 1600's, this really escalated with the Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts. Often, pastors would perform exorcisms for demonic possession. In this time, "wicked" was used to describe these witches, often carrying with them a negative connotation. Wicked i said to come from the Old English word witch (wicca-).

In New England, the adjective has transformed itself into an adverb. This is common in 19th century English. Take for example the use of "awful" - it has been transformed into the adverb, "awfully". This has a similar meaning to the adverbial use of "wicked," both meaning "really" or "very". You may hear someone exclaim that they're "awfully tired," anyone would understand "awfully's" use as an adverb intensifier to signify the strength of their fatigue.. A similar thing has happened with "terrible," "real" and "pretty". In what could be the same way, "wicked" has transformed itself into an intensifier in New England.

Source

Wicked's Current Use

The transformation of the evil connotation is thought to be around the 1960s, yet it's exact timing remains unclear. Now, the term has really centralized in Boston, Massachusetts. It has now made it's way into the business arena - used to promote New England home grown products and services. From marketing sports teams to tuna, the term has come to symbolize the community and people of New England.

Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Art 

        6 months ago

        Grew up in Springfield, Mass in the 70s and 80s and it was rare to hear wicked. That was a Boston thing.

      • profile image

        Ontrpnr 

        8 months ago

        You haven't travelled enough. I grew up in Saratoga County, NY and we used the work "wicked" all the time.

      • profile image

        Abd Alrahman Damash 

        18 months ago

        Thank u very much for your explanation ..

      • profile image

        Lynn 

        22 months ago

        They were using wicked in this way in Down East parts of Maine when I got here in 1969. I have heard it continually here ever since, and was surprised to hear Dunkin Donuts claiming it for Boston! Lately, I've been seeing it used in novels written in Great Britain and New Zealand. Is it spreading or is there an ancient English origin? This article would indicate the former.

      • profile image

        Red Mann 

        2 years ago

        I grew up in Townsend, Mass and left to join the Navy in 1964. I don't remember hearing the word "wicked" used that way, so I'm thinking it happened after 1964.

      • profile image

        Betsy 

        2 years ago

        I think it started in Maine

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        3 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        alyssa.........a wickedly interesting hub! Thank you. I enjoyed it.

      • annart profile image

        Ann Carr 

        4 years ago from SW England

        'Wicked' was used for a while here in Britain to mean 'cool' or 'really good' but has faded a little. Now the word 'sick' is used instead; not such a good choice I feel!

        The French use the word 'terrible' in the same way, so I guess these things are world-wide. It's fascinating how our language is manipulated in this way, mainly by the young.

        Ann

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        4 years ago from USA

        I lived in Maine for a few months and had to get used to the term up there. Very different.

      • alyssagoesgreen profile imageAUTHOR

        Alyssa S. 

        4 years ago from USA

        Thank you! Those not from New-England always seem to get a kick out of it; what's everyday language up here is foreign elsewhere, funny how that works.

      • JMcFarland profile image

        Elizabeth 

        4 years ago from The US of A, but I'm Open to Suggestions

        Love this hub! My wife is from Maine, and I had to get used to hearing wicked a lot

      • Twilight Lawns profile image

        Twilight Lawns 

        4 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

        Wickid!!!

        (Flips fingers and kisses teeth0

      • alancaster149 profile image

        Alan R Lancaster 

        4 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

        As Twilight Lawns, I live in an area with a high - mainly Asian - immigrant population. Their vocabulary is generally limited and 'wicked' covers a lot of ground, along with 'is it?' or 'innit' (i.e., 'isn't it').

        There's a TV advert here that markets a brand of 'alcopops' called 'W.K.D', and shows the drinkers getting up to all manner of pranks to underline the 'wicked' influence. No prizes for guessing the sales for 'W.K.D' have taken off.

      • alyssagoesgreen profile imageAUTHOR

        Alyssa S. 

        4 years ago from USA

        Thank you! It's use is definitely spreading, especially with the young generation. I almost wish it was used more in the US in that context.

      • Twilight Lawns profile image

        Twilight Lawns 

        4 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

        An extremely well written and interesting hub. I liked it a lot. Thank you.

        Interestingly enough, the word "Wicked" has entered the vocabulary of (particularly) Afro-Caribbean and Asian youth in the UK; although it is used extensively across the board here. For several years it has been used with an almost obligatory bending of the fingers to denote importance. It means "excellent" and all the other synonyms of that word, and is usually pronounced:

        "Wickid!"

        By chance, I have just published (or am in the last throes of publishing) an e-book in which one of the characters uses the word.

        In this case, it is a young Asian boy, Imran, who is impressed by the actions of a colleague.

        “He smiled proudly, and said one word: “Wicked!”

        Later on in the story, young Imran is told that one of the other characters is a Princess.

        “What?” said Imran, incredulously, “Like a Rani? Wicked! That’s well good.”

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