[Ads-l] "Hella" in the Bay Area Reporter, 1982-85 (was Re: Hella research inquiry)

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Sat Nov 14 23:16:41 UTC 2020

My latest column for the Wall Street Journal is all about the history of
"hella," incorporating the Bay Area Reporter evidence that I uncovered
going back to 1982.

non-paywalled version: https://archive.is/PYVrD

I also mention the "hell of" examples that Peter Reitan found in the
Berkeley High School yearbook. Peter had taken that back to the 1983-84
yearbook, where "hell of" tops the list of "Most Used Slang."


Since my column was published, earlier examples have come to light in the
BHS yearbooks available on the Internet Archive (scanned and digitized by
the Berkeley Public Library). Robin Melnick pointed me to this from the
1981 yearbook:

Berkeley High School Yearbook, 1980-81, p. 158
"Man, there were hell of foxes at BHS this year."

There are even earlier examples of "hell of" in handwritten notes found in
the scanned yearbooks. Here are the two earliest I've found:

Berkeley High School Yearbook, 1978-79 (no page number)
"Too bad you didn't go to Santa Cruz cause it was hell of live."
Berkeley High School Yearbook, 1979-80 (no page number)
"We shared hell of pain together."

So that pushes back the intensifier ("hell of live") to 1979 and the
quantifier ("hell of pain") to 1980.


On Mon, Sep 28, 2020 at 9:17 PM Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:

> Following Peter Reitan's lead, I checked the Internet Archive for San
> Francisco Bay Area sources from the '80s and came across some important
> "hella" antedatings. In the Bay Area Reporter, a weekly alternative
> newspaper serving the LGBT community, there are several examples of "hella"
> used as both an adverb and adjective dating all the way back to 1982, four
> years earlier than what had previously been found. Below are examples from
> '82, '83, '84, and '85, all from the same Oakland-based columnist who used
> the pen name "Nez Pas." That further reinforces the idea that "hella"
> originated in the East Bay (as suggested by later examples, like those from
> James Hetfield and Too $hort in '86).
> According to this article, the real name of "Nez Pas" is Peter Palm:
> https://www.ebar.com/entertainment/culture/173481
> "And to keep up on the lively bar scene in the East Bay, there was a
> column by Nez Pas, known in real life as Peter Palm, the co-owner of Revol
> at 3924 Telegraph with his partner Ralph Tate. Nez Pas kept his readers up
> on the community events in Oakland, Walnut Creek and Hayward."
> Here are the cites:
> ----
> https://archive.org/details/BAR_19820311/page/n15/mode/2up
> Bay Area Reporter, Mar. 11, 1982, p. 17, col. 3
> Nez Pas, "Oakland: Chuck of Montclair"
> Until next time with the bits and pieces, take the time to find out about
> someone... you just might be "hella surprised!"
> ----
> https://archive.org/details/BAR_19831027/page/n19/mode/2up
> Bay Area Reporter, Oct. 27, 1983, p. 21, col. 1
> Nez Pas, "Oakland: Buckle Your Seat Belts"
> Graham promises a lot of entertainment on video screens throughout both
> bars, scrumptious victuals, "hella" contests, and mucho prizes!
> ----
> https://archive.org/details/BAR_19841025/page/n19/mode/2up
> Bay Area Reporter, Oct. 25, 1984, p. 21, col. 1
> Nez Pas, "Oakland: Royal Summit, Meet the Monarchs"
> Third: Lengthy, drawn-out cants aren't necessary in raising "hella" bucks.
> ----
> https://archive.org/details/BAR_19850307/page/n17/mode/2up
> Bay Area Reporter, Mar. 7, 1985, p. 19, col. 2
> Nez Pas, "Oakland: Kudos Galore"
> And speaking of March 10, a "hella" interest is being shown in the "Wizard
> of Oz Party" at Big Mama's that date.
> ----
> --bgz
> On Mon, Sep 28, 2020 at 4:26 PM Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at gmail.com> wrote:
>> In a 2016 post, I shared two "hella" citations from 1986, one from a
>> magazine interview with James Hetfield of Metallica and one from lyrics by
>> the rapper Too $hort.
>> http://listserv.linguistlist.org/pipermail/ads-l/2016-March/141400.html
>> I also posted a screenshot of the Hetfield interview on Twitter. (He
>> actually used "hella" twice: "I'm hella paranoid" and "Yeah, hella" in
>> response to "Does that scare you?")
>> https://twitter.com/bgzimmer/status/713000098276511744
>> --bgz
>> On Mon, Sep 28, 2020 at 3:50 PM Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
>> wrote:
>>> For a student working at the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project, I’m
>>> wondering if anyone has any suggestions on early cites and history of
>>> “hella”.  OED and HDAS both have 1987 for the earliest cite, but I suspect
>>> that can now be antedated. At HDAS, Jon classifies it as a prefix but it’s
>>> clearly shed that restriction when used in frames like the attested “This
>>> chair reclines hella”, and I’d be inclined to go with the OED’s entry
>>> listing it as an adverb (“hella fast/smart/funny”) and adjective (“hella
>>> memory/pride/stairs”).  Our survey results are generally consistent with
>>> the widespread view that it’s a Californianism (although while the
>>> shibboleth still associates it with Northern California, that appears to no
>>> longer be true), while also showing that it’s expanded well beyond that.
>>> (DARE doesn’t have a separate entry, and just one cite, from Berkeley,
>>> within the entry for “tight”. In terms of etymology, can we go beyond the
>>> OED’s disjunctive suggestion, "Probably shortened < either helluva adj. or
>>> hellacious adj.”?  Is there any literature the student should check out?
>>> We’d be hella grateful!

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