[Ads-l] "wicked" (adv.) = 'extremely' (Maine, 1934)

Mark Mandel markamandel at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 29 02:28:22 UTC 2020

I remember when I lived in Massachusetts, one time when I was having lunch
with a group of friends and one of them, who like many of us was from
out-of-state, complained bitterly about the illogical and unreasonable
construction "wicked good". I thought a moment and said "Oh, I think it's
pretty good. In fact, I'd say it's awful nice." She froze for a couple of
seconds, her fork halfway to her open mouth. I counted that as a victory
for descriptivism against prescriptivism.


On Tue, Jan 28, 2020, 3:21 PM Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:

> The adverbial intensifier "wicked" = 'very, extremely' is common in modern
> New England speech, and it often crops up in mass-media portrayals of
> Boston-speak, like Hyundai's new Super Bowl ad with Rachel Dratch, Chris
> Evans, John Krasinski, and David Ortiz:
> https://adage.com/article/special-report-super-bowl/watch-hyundais-boston-themed-super-bowl-ad/2230891
> This usage has come up on the list in the past -- see also the discussion
> here:
> https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/wicked-adverb-intensifier-usage
> OED2 records adverbial "wicked" going back several centuries in the sense
> "wickedly; fiercely, savagely, furiously; 'cruelly', 'terribly'," e.g.,
> Thomas Porter, _A Witty Combat_ (1663), "Yesterday was..a wicked hot day."
> Green's Dictionary of Slang has an 1821 example from Pierce Egan's _Life in
> London_: "Come, Lummy, von’t you stand a drap of summat, as you are in
> luck, and it’s a wicked could [cold] day?"
> https://greensdictofslang.com/entry/3dbxi6i
> Green glosses that as "very, extremely," but it seems to fit the earlier
> usage in the OED, i.e., a "wickedly" cold day. For the New England-style
> usage, where it's a more general intensive, DARE has examples back to 1960
> (Charles Morrow Wilson's "Let's Barter": "Justin Persons never spent time
> or brawn drilling into that wicked hard granite mountain"). Here's an
> example I found from 1934:
> ---
> Boston Sunday Globe, Feb. 25, 1934, p. C4, col. 7
> [quoting A.K.P. Grindle, an old storekeeper in Hadlock Mills, Maine:] Upon
> urgent advice he jacked up the price of the remaining lots about four times
> what he thought was a "wicked good price" to keep the place exclusive and
> he got it.
> [via ProQuest -- Newspapers.com doesn't yet have the Sunday Globe from
> 1934.]
> ---
> The article uses dialect spelling to represent the storekeeper's speech, so
> it seems like a genuine attempt to capture Maine regional usage.
> Searching on "wicked good" finds more ambiguous earlier uses. For instance,
> in 1902, Mark Twain wrote, "I am always reading immoral books on the sly,
> and then selfishly trying to prevent other people from having the same
> wicked good time."
> https://www.newspapers.com/clip/43171933/wicked_good_time/
> "Wicked" may be understood as an adjective there, rather than as an adverb
> modifying "good," since Twain is playfully talking about the wickedness of
> having a good time reading immoral books. (He was responding to the news of
> a library banning "Huckleberry Finn.") Or even if it's an adverb, it's the
> old sense of "wickedly, cruelly" rather than the New England-style general
> intensive. With the Maine storekeeper in 1934, there's no connotation of
> wickedness or cruelty.
> --bgz
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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