In the Bay Area—and maybe where you live, too—“hella” is hella ubiquitous. I’ve spotted it three times recently in some unexpected contexts.
This “hella” looks cute, but it’s jailbait.
“Hella Kitty” T-shirt, Grand Avenue (Oakland) sidewalk sale. A parody (and probably an infringement) of Sanrio’s famous Hello Kitty mascot; also a crude infringement of the Oaklandish oak logo. (Via Twitter, Oaklandish assured me that this is not one of their products.)
“Hella”—a compression of “hell of a”—began appearing in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970s; language maven Allan Metcalf* has called it a marker of California dialect. It’s commonly used as a modifier, but this T-shirt misses the mark lexicographically.
“Hella” faux-definition T-shirt, Jack London Square (Oakland). When I tweeted this photo, Kory Stamper—an actual lexicographer who defines words for a living—responded thus:
LRT: AWESOME t-shirt, TERRIBLE defining job.— Kory Stamper (@KoryStamper) October 23, 2015
And she followed up with this:
Seriously: you can't say "hella" is an adverb and define it as a noun (1 & 2, wrong) and an adjective (3, wrong). MY TENDER SENSIBILITIES!— Kory Stamper (@KoryStamper) October 23, 2015
Here’s another faux-definition “hella” shirt that gets it wrong in a different way, classifying the word as an adjective but giving example sentences in which it functions as an adverb.
Faux definitions are a marketing scourge.
This bilingual “hella” made me smile.
Hella Halal food booth, Fort Mason, San Francisco.
Halal is an Arabic word that translates to “permissible”; halal food is prepared according to Muslim law and excludes pork, blood, intoxicants, and animals killed incorrectly.
In 2010, UC Davis student Austin Sendek started a petition to designate “hella” as the SI (International System of Units) prefix for one octillion (1027). He gathered more than 60,000 signatures and a fair amount of press coverage, but the proposal was officially rejected. However, the prefix has been adopted by Google Calculator and WolframAlpha, where you’ll find units like hellavolt and hellasecond.
But I haven’t yet seen any hella-units swag. Let me know if – and where – you have.
* Yes, this is the second time this week I’ve cited Allan Metcalf.