For most of the English-speaking world, wicked is an adjective that means evil. In the Boston area, however, wicked has long been used as an adverbial intensifier meaning very, e.g., wicked pissah. (The Bay Area equivalent, of much more recent vintage, is hella.)
But recently I saw two ads that made me realize wicked (adv.) had broken free of its regional associations.
First I noticed the slogan in this TV spot for the Mazda3: Wicked-Fun. Wallet-Smart.
Then, not two weeks later, I saw this AT&T ad in the New York Times.
It’s not only the adverbial use of wicked in both ads that caught my attention: the punctuation is distinctive, too. In the Mazda ad, “wicked fun” and “wallet smart” take gratuitous hyphens; in the AT&T ad, each word is its own brief sentence.
I’m a native Californian who has never lived in any other state, and wicked (adv.) was completely unknown to me until I was well into adulthood. I may have come across it in a passage of dialogue in a novel or heard it in a movie; I remember how exotic it seemed. I’ve always associated it with the Boston dialect, but apparently over the last several years its use has spread almost nationwide (and beyond, perhaps?).
Here, for example, is an excerpt of a July 2006 New York Times article (“ ‘Wicked Fast’ Electric Car Set to Roll”) about the introduction of the Tesla Roadster, an electric car conceived and built in California:
It goes from zero to 60 miles per hour in four seconds, "wicked fast," said the company chairman, Martin Eberhard.
And here’s a 2005 article in Bostonist (“Old Navy Busts a Wicked Pissah Move”) that asks whether the lyrics in an Old Navy TV ad “include a subtle, Boston-friendly bit of vocabulary”:
[W]e haven't managed to write down all the lyrics, but we're pretty sure that at the end it says, "flow with the tunic and look wicked cute." Could it really be that Old Navy had MC Lyte come back into the studio to record a different version of the ad for local markets? (If so, is there a "hella cute" version for the Bay Area?) Or did Old Navy use a Mass-specific adverb in all the ads just to bolster business at the 30 stores in our state?
(A commenter confirms it: “The closed-captioning claims that they are singing ‘wicked cute’.”)
Steve Silberman, a journalist whom I follow on Twitter, suggested to me that the use of wicked (adv.) has spread via the music-festival circuit. I have no way of corroborating his theory, so I’ll ask my readers: If you live outside of Boston, when did you first notice wicked as an adverb?
UPDATE: David Bamman, the creator of Lexicalist, pointed me to this Dunkin' Donuts commercial from 2004, in which Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling practices his Boston accent. Yeah, it’s wicked hahd.
UPDATE 2: Thanks for all the comments! To clarify: I’m looking for examples of wicked as an adverb (wicked fast, wicked hot, etc.), not wicked as an adjective meaning "cool" (or anything else).