Have a Hella Good Time: On Intensifiers and Antonyms


I was born and raised in Central/Northern California. This, among other things, means I love using the word hella. As in, “Dude, that movie is heeeellllla good.” (I’ve also been known to say: rad, awesome, random, and wicked — I blame that last one on the four years I spent in Boston).

But it wasn’t until today that I got curious about the origins of hella. Wikipedia to the rescue! While hella seems to have started in Las Vegas, it found its true home in Oakland. My favorite part of its origin story is how teens used (and still use) the more parent-friendly version hecka. (Read more about the history of hella, here.)

As you know, reading one Wikipedia page inevitably leads to another page and another and another… Several wikileaps (not “leaks”!) later, I finally started thinking about the various words I’ve used over the years to mean super awesome, amazing, and fantastic. More specifically, I was interested in negative words that are used to convey the positive, or using a word as its own antonym. Presumably it comes from the fact that what is taboo often invites temptation and what is tempting is desirable and what is desirable is (hella) good…

Luckily I found the Online Slang Dictionary which was immensely helpful. I’ve created a few lists below of words that yours truly has been known to use when expressing how crazy wicked sick something is. And please, don’t judge me. I attribute all of this to the fact that I’m a language fanatic at heart. Yeah, that’s why I do it…

Finally, like hella, I was also curious about words that serve as intensifiers (as in hella good, wicked smart, etc.). I have bolded a few words below that stand out as intensifiers. If you have other examples of intensifiers, please share them in our comments section below.

Hope you have a wicked good time with these lists. And please submit some sick additions of your own!

1920s – 1970s
Bee’s Knees
Boss (predating Springsteen)
Cool / Cool beans
Far out
Fly / Superfly (Can you dig it?)
Neato (but only if you have a buzzcut)
Nifty (see Neato)
Peachy (keen)
Rage (It’s all the…)
Righteous (preferably: “Righteous, dude.”)

1980s – 1990s
Bad (Who’s bad?)
Bitchin’ (intensifier)
Bomb / Da bomb
Crazy (intensifier)
Fat / phat
Hardcore (for fully-clothed actions only)
Ill (Do you have a license for that?)
Jiggy (Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah)
Pisser / pissa (Beantown residence required)
Rad / Radical
Random (not in the mathematical sense, at all)
Shit (as in “I loved that movie! It was the shit”)
Sick (taking it way beyond coughing and sneezing)
Wicked (intensifier)

Bomb Diggity
Fetch (“Gretchen, stop trying to make fetch happen!”)
Fierce (also from Christian Siriano: ferosh, and tranny hot mess)
Flossy (Fergie was doing more than advocating for good dental hygiene)
Off da hook / Off da heezie
Shiz / Shiznit

Amazeballs (one of my all time favorites, but it’s already passe)
Awesome Sauce
Leet (aka l33t)


Do your favorite pet names date from 10, 100, or 1000 years ago?
Who could resist the opportunity to weigh in on a new pasta shape name?