New Englanders are known around the nation as frequent users of the word “wicked” as everyday slang. Though we often find ourselves using the term in casual conversation with friends and family, the occasional slip in formal or professional conversation is bound to happen.
As Americans, certain slang words have become a significant part of our culture and colloquial language, but “wicked” seems to have stuck. In fact, the term has become so popular within New England that it has come to be used as a nation-wide marketing technique, using the term to promote certain aspects of New England life.
Using the term in advertising has increased the craze even more. Many businesses have begun to use “wicked” as a marketing technique, showing up on the labels of confectionary goods, ice cream, restaurant banners, storefronts, and lately on various forms of apparel, including t-shirts, sweatpants, sweatshirts, and hats. Rochester, N.H., resident Erin Alix-Crowdes, 32, has even begun her own t-shirt business, appropriately called, “Wicked New England,” producing her own rendition of what the term means for her.
“I love it here,” Alix-Crowdes said in the article published in the Times. “I think there are other people in the state and in this area that feel the same, but it seems to me that the only thing we have as a group is sports teams, and everybody talks about the foliage – but there’s always that ‘wicked’ word.”
University of New Hampshire’s director of the Center for New England Culture, Professor David Watters, provided more insight on the coining of the term and its rise to popularity.
“The use of ‘wicked’ used to be more of a northern New England expression, but it has now become associated with more of the region, perhaps eastern Massachusetts and northward,” Watters said. “But in a way, as in many regional expressions, it has roots in the attitudes and traditions of speech in this area. When I say it or hear it said, it does have a way of signaling delight in the way things are here.”
Although the roots of the term are said to come from Maine, Boston has coined the term largely because of its sports teams and movies filmed around the area.
“New England’s image has been on the upswing with the Red Sox, lots of great Boston movies … so maybe now it’s cool to be wicked,” Watters said.
Years ago, the term was not exactly considered cool; rather, it was often used as or considered to be a curse word or term that held a negative connotation during the time of the Salem Witch Trials. The same negative connotation was applied to the term “hellish,” often referencing the Devil.
“[Even now] sometimes you hear people say ‘hellish’ instead of ‘wicked,'” Watters said. Watters was featured in a New York Times article about the New England term just last week.
Has a single term shaped our culture and ultimately unified New Englanders? Professor Watters believes there is some truth to this notion.
“I think it was part of a set of terms in northern New England related to Yankee culture and identity,” Watters said. “The increased popularity of the word has something to do with the media, of course, which makes the local national, but dialect words sometimes get held onto and celebrated when a place is changing very fast, as New England has in the past decades. I remember with joy the day my son, just learning how to talk, came home from daycare and announced snack was wicked good today. I thought, ‘well, another generation of a New Englander, wherever he may go.'”
Whether it is used as a means of promotion or support in the cities of Boston or New York, “wicked” has come to generate a certain air of nationalism and team pride. The term has become almost iconic in stature, whether it is from promotional use via marketing strategies, or simply through the everyday conversations had by families, friends and coworkers.
Over time, the boundaries of whether the use of the term should be used in informal or formal speech and conversation have started to run thin, quite possibly making “wicked” the most talked-about slang word in America.
This article originally appeared in The New Hampshire on Friday, March 4, 2011.