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

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed Jan 29 17:59:09 UTC 2020

I lived in Maine -- taught at Gorham State Teachers College (as it was
then), near Portland -- in the mid 1960.  Several of my students indicated
amused awareness of "wicked good" as a typical Maine expression.  One
mentioned a musical group called the Wicked Good Band.  I find that that
group is still together.  On their website I find
The State-O-Maine is celebrating its 200th birthday. AND we've been
annoying audiences for more than 1/4 of that time! We've even written the
official unofficial anthem of the great Vacationland!
We have a few openings for gigs in our busy 2020 schedule...Give us a try.
We're not as bad as you might remember.
Regrettably, one-quarter 200 years is 50 years, and the mid-1960s is more
than 50 years ago.  How did that happen?


On Tue, Jan 28, 2020 at 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://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__adage.com_article_special-2Dreport-2Dsuper-2Dbowl_watch-2Dhyundais-2Dboston-2Dthemed-2Dsuper-2Dbowl-2Dad_2230891&d=DwIFaQ&c=slrrB7dE8n7gBJbeO0g-IQ&r=v2Wtu7DQZxSBMSJv-oEMNg&m=9PTyp9qSxzK738sKnH9JVoFFk8cfcEe1rYAoLQqCHwU&s=4KSDPj9d1tgGNtBdO41SInsARpeRHx59IfSVwivK7-Q&e=
> This usage has come up on the list in the past -- see also the discussion
> here:
> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__www.merriam-2Dwebster.com_words-2Dat-2Dplay_wicked-2Dadverb-2Dintensifier-2Dusage&d=DwIFaQ&c=slrrB7dE8n7gBJbeO0g-IQ&r=v2Wtu7DQZxSBMSJv-oEMNg&m=9PTyp9qSxzK738sKnH9JVoFFk8cfcEe1rYAoLQqCHwU&s=BxwivxlmIJuEqd7U4gLpNz7W-yDEm0l-YNzXqrdtNKI&e=
> 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://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__greensdictofslang.com_entry_3dbxi6i&d=DwIFaQ&c=slrrB7dE8n7gBJbeO0g-IQ&r=v2Wtu7DQZxSBMSJv-oEMNg&m=9PTyp9qSxzK738sKnH9JVoFFk8cfcEe1rYAoLQqCHwU&s=JaxVy76eL7T8JprBsehRq5QQLFs1LUWG18IudPEJvUI&e=
> 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://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=https-3A__www.newspapers.com_clip_43171933_wicked-5Fgood-5Ftime_&d=DwIFaQ&c=slrrB7dE8n7gBJbeO0g-IQ&r=v2Wtu7DQZxSBMSJv-oEMNg&m=9PTyp9qSxzK738sKnH9JVoFFk8cfcEe1rYAoLQqCHwU&s=ffOKI9O0tNSsvtL_hz7QUjtwIrC5YujE9_2l75hMF24&e=
> "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 -
> https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.americandialect.org&d=DwIFaQ&c=slrrB7dE8n7gBJbeO0g-IQ&r=v2Wtu7DQZxSBMSJv-oEMNg&m=9PTyp9qSxzK738sKnH9JVoFFk8cfcEe1rYAoLQqCHwU&s=L3PEPu9fz7AChFjHR0PtcShYh3oSVa2XoxSBcIQvOeo&e=

George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998.

But when aroused at the Trump of Doom / Ye shall start, bold kings, from
your lowly tomb. . .
L. H. Sigourney, "Burial of Mazeen", Poems.  Boston, 1827, p. 112

The Trump of Doom -- also known as The Dunghill Toadstool.  (Here's a
picture of his great-grandfather.)

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

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