My Jersey-born niece from San Carlos came for a visit at the house last weekend along with her Jersey-born little brother who’s quickly assimilating himself in to becoming a Bay Area local. Their mom, a Washington dweller, and their dad, a SoCal dweller, right from out of the blue, brought up a subject over lunch with the family that I thought was rather random. Not quite random, but random enough for my siblings to wonder that after living in the Bay Area for about 6-7 years now, they still haven’t capture (so to speak) the essence on how Bay Area folks talk the lingo.
My cousin-in-law (SoCal dweller) still used SoCal talk and he admitted that he tried to get the kids to stop saying “hella” because he said it didn’t sound right. My cousin (Washington dweller) didn’t even know what the meaning of “hella” is. They were saying stuff like “Jeannie kept on saying ‘this is hella hard’ or ‘Mooom I’m hella tired'” or have gone to saying things like “Buddy’s friends kept on saying hella fun” and anything similar. You’d think that they would immediately catch the meaning of hella, but I guess I was wrong.
As the photo states, hella is simply a “shortcut” slang word for “hell of a…” or “hell of…” and it is an intensifier term that easily replaces very or so or truly or anything related. I personally did not start saying hella on a regular basis in my speech until the 7th grade when I found myself more comfortable and more fluent with English,1 simply because all of my classmates and even the older kids have been using it. There was the “safer” term of hecka,2 which was another slangy intensifier that I used to say in my regular speech. Most of the time I interchange hella and hecka and vice versa, depending on the situation.
My parents may be open-minded but they do not allow any cursing3 anywhere in the house or even with each other, even when we say it out of anger and frustration. The terms hella and hecka are allowed though4 and they already figured out what those terms already meant. My mom even said one time that “hell of a” was just way too long and it was simply easier to just say hella.
I’ve heard from a few non-Californian friends that hella is now being used at some states outside California. I’ve never even heard anyone from SoCal or anywhere outside the Bay Area who says hella on a regular basis in their everyday speech. My staunch SoCal cousin-in-law is the living proof, but he kept on saying “mad” this and “mad” that. It’s SoCal lingo to them, I thought, but seriously, he does not have the right to change his kids’ everyday speech by making them refrain from saying hella in their everyday speech. After all, it was him and my cousin who made the decision to move to the Bay Area after living about four years in the East Coast and they have been very happy to be living in the Bay Area5. He’s got a very high-paying position as an executive officer at one of the world’s biggest biotech companies around6, my cousin also got a very high-paying position at PG&E in the city.7 The kids are enjoying their time in school, they’re both happy that they’ve got classmates who are in the same race as them8 and that they are heavily involved with so many activities, such as sports teams, piano and violin lessons.
My niece9 admitted to me later that day that when she started school, her new friends made fun of her “Joysie” accent that she worked so hard to get rid of it and become a Bay Area girl. That’s when she started the habit of saying hella and I have to admit that her speech is a whole lot clearer than her baby-ish “Joysie” accent.10 Soon after, when my nephew started learning how to speak properly, the whole hella thing also rubbed on to him as well.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. The kids have decided that they are Bay Area kids and not Jersey kids on their own. Nothing the parents could do to change their minds, as long as they don’t curse, right?
On the sidenote...
- My family and I immigrated from the Philippines when I was 10 and started 5th grade in my new neighborhood middle school. For my first two years, I could not speak a single word of English, or rather I spoke very little English then. [↩]
- shorter term for “heck of a” or “heck of”… [↩]
- such as f***, s***, and anything related… [↩]
- not that they’re curse words anyway… [↩]
- and of all places, at the peninsula too! [↩]
- It’s not Genentech, sadly LOL. [↩]
- for those who don’t live in the Bay Area, “The City” that we’re referring to is San Francisco. [↩]
- back in New Jersey, they lived in a community where there’s hardly any Asians there… [↩]
- close to turning 10-years-old soon [↩]
- The cousins actually admitted that they were happy that Jeannie got rid of the “Joysie” accent, but they still are having trouble getting used to the hella… [↩]