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

Margaret Lee 0000006730deb3bf-dmarc-request at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
Wed Jan 29 10:48:49 UTC 2020

 1960's R&B singer Wilson Pickett was known as 'The Wicked Mr. Pickett' for his hits of raw soul, including "Mustang Sally" and "In the Midnight Hour."
--Margaret  Lee
    On Tuesday, January 28, 2020, 03:21:03 PM EST, 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:


This usage has come up on the list in the past -- see also the discussion


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?"


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

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."


"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.


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

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

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