Slang Today.

1) This Twitter thread by The Meanest TA, PhD. starts off “Everyone on my team (5 men ages 48-75) texts me to make sure the slang they’re using is correct in context. Some examples below.” It’s very funny:

From Boss (74): “Can I say this meeting got lit if I mean people were getting upset?”
Me: “No but you can say they were salty about it.”

Project Manager (48): “Do people still say hella?”
Me: “Not in this state.”

In return they translate my frustrations into professional corporate.

Me: “How do I say this meeting is a waste of my time I am not paid enough to deal with your bullshit?”
Boss: “Can you provide me with a meeting agenda so I can ensure my presence adds value? I want to prioritize my schedule to support our most urgent needs.”

Me: “How do I say there is no way you are this fucking stupid?”
WorkDad: “I think there was a disconnect, can you restate your definition of this concept so we can ensure there’s no miscommunication?”

Thanks, Nick!

2) Caleb Madison of The Atlantic writes about a new use of “go off”:

Go is up there with be as one of the most versatile and abstract verbs in the English language. […] Add off, easily the most dramatic preposition, and you’ve got the key to semantic ignition: “Change to be really far away” in the rapid fire of two sharp syllables. And on the internet in the mid-2010s, people truly started to go off. Go off first came into the common vernacular sandwiched between but and I guess as a sarcastic flourish at the end of a categorical disagreement. If I read a post saying that bees are scary and bad, I might respond with, “They actually play a crucial role in the global ecosystem, but go off, I guess.” And while to go off on had long been used to describe a strong reprimand, this smug final flourish after owning someone with logic drew the phrase more specifically into the world of internet discourse. Eventually the internet winnowed it down to just go off (as in, “to go on a passionate tirade without concrete structure or purpose”).

Thanks, Ariel!

3) Mark Liberman at the Log posts about “say less”:

Over the past decade or so, “say less” has spread as a substitute for “say no more”. […] This 2018 Hypebeast interview with Roy Woods, about his 2017 album Say Less, attributes the expression to Toronto street slang, maybe with a West Indies origin […] Woods’ interpretation lies somewhere in between “say no more” and “shut up already”, but the broader uptake seems to shift towards the positive valence.

The first commenter says “This strikes me as just ‘wrong’ in my personal ideolect,” but I’m not sure why it would seem wronger than any other idiom one isn’t familiar with.


  1. PlasticPaddy says

    Me: “How do I say there is no way you are this fucking stupid?”
    PP: The answer to this question should have been covered by your primary school education, which was apparently incomplete. Now that this company/university will no longer require your services, you will have time to obtain the necessary remedial tuition.

  2. Jen in Edinburgh says

    I might well just say ‘you’re not that daft’, but…

  3. David Marjanović says

    Hella is still hella common – but it’s definitely limited to specific people. Rumor has it it’s a Californian particularity (though I doubt anything is specific to all of California, given its size).

  4. Using hella was on the cutting edge of West-Coast slang in the early 1990s. I certainly hear it less nowadays than I did when I was in high school.

  5. David Eddyshaw says

    The Californian association of “hella” was previously known to me from

    Sadly, my Evil Plan to run Plan 9 on my mobile phone never came to anything.
    (I recommend Plan 9 for browsing the Intertubes, however. Very few viruses seem to run on Plan 9 …)

  6. My attempt to run Plan 9 was a sad disaster.

  7. Hella is still hella common

    As an east coaster since the late 1980s, I have never heard anyone say hella in any context. It would cause some combination of puzzlement, amusement and scorn, I think.

  8. John Emerson says

    I think “hella” belongs to a cohort, maybe people now 40 or so when they were 15 or 20 (which would be 1997). Not my age group, so my numbers are just a guess, but probably not many younger than 25 or so either.

    The California that slang comes from is probably specific areas in LA and SF, and I don’t know exactly which. I would say Venice and Hollywood for LA, but that’s probably old now.

  9. I have never heard anyone say hella in any context

    Yeah, how do you use it?

  10. John Emerson says

    Incidentally, over the last 2 or 3 years I’ve noticed people saying “poop” in contexts where normal sane adults like me say “shit”, as God intended. I blame QAnon and the “woke” movement.

  11. John Emerson says

    To ramble on, I recently realized that I’ve been totally out of touch with youth culture, above all music, ever since my son definitively moved out of the house in the early 1990s. The newest pop musician I have any awareness of id P J Harvey, who is now 50 years old and a Dame of the British Empire (or MBE, I guess it is).

  12. She’s 52. I only discovered her in 2016.

  13. If “hella” is from California then I think it’s from Northern California. I don’t remember hearing it growing up as a Southern Californian.

  14. Only use of ‘hella’ I have ever heard is “Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff”, the fictional world’s worst webcomic from Homestuck.

  15. I routinely heard ‘hella’ while I lived in the SF Bay Area in the 20-teens and I don’t recall there being a specific age range that used it exclusively. It was used much in the same way that “super” is used in the Midwest, like a more enthusiastic version of “very”.

  16. In Oregon, I don’t think hella was used for anything except “very” when it first appeared among teens. Moreover, it largely seemed to me to be used in a few specific collocations, most prominently “hella fine.” When fine was in the sense of “attractive, hot,” which it usually was, the written form could also be rendered as “hellafine” or “hella fyne” (although I might have made that last one up myself).

  17. ə de vivre says

    Hella entered my orbit sometime in the 2000s either in my late teens or early 20s. In Washington State it was perceived as Californian, and so I don’t think I ever spontaneously used it that much, but I’ll sometimes use it here in Canada when I want to emphasize that I’m an exotic American from the west coast.

    I associate it with clutch (“good, appropriate, well-placed,” as in, “did you see that bomb Chris caught in the ultimate game? Shit was hella clutch, bro!”), two words that some people I knew used, but never quite got nativized into the ambient slang.

  18. Per Y, I was mostly wrong. I always thought it was LA not SF.

    New (to me) terms I’m seeing”: “cringe” for “awful, horrible” and “based” for “great, solid, right on”.

    “Based” supposedly comes from the alt right.

  19. Amanda Adams says

    John Emerson
    I find adults saying “poop” to be inexcusable almost even when speaking to an 18-month-old person. If you feel “shit” will get you censored (by Facebook, some other forum, or the child’s parent) “crap” is available as an adult, but scarcely sweary alternative.

  20. David Marjanović says

    Facebook censors that kind of thing? I’ve never noticed.


    That’s from Chinook Jargon, right?

  21. Since one couldn’t get away with printing “shitty” in a comic strip (even one that had one a Pulitzer Prize), I remember that Bloom County used “poopy” instead. Of course, it being Bloom County, Breathed eventually turned restrictions on the use of profanity in comics into a topic for political, metafictional jokes. The strip was once pulled from circulation in mid-panel, on the orders Attorney General Ed Meese, for using the seventeen-letter S-word,* which was associated with increased rates of murder, uncle abuse, and dog hickies.

    * “snugglebunnies”

  22. The most fun of my many bans from facebook was for posting a photo of a priapulid.


    I’ve also been banned making insulting remarks about my own Dutch ancestors from Hoog Blokland…..
    along with every other Dutchperson that ever lived, and most especially an individual of my acquaintance who wasn’t even born Dutch but chose voluntarily to expatriate to the debased land of tulips, windmills, and wooden shoes.

  23. Everybody knows that Hoogblokland is the worst neighborhood in Molenlanden.

  24. Stephen J. Gould seemed to get a childlike glee out of writing “penis worms” over and over again. I think he was disingenuous by omission, but Wonderful Life is a really interesting book.

    Separately, the best known image of a fossilized priapulid (e. g. the 1A here) looks as much like a scimitar as a worm.

  25. ə de vivre says

    That’s from Chinook Jargon, right?

    With all the hills in Seattle, I’m sure Chinook Jargon speakers would have invented the automobile transmission had they had the chance.

    (For some reason I’ve always associated the slang use of “clutch” with the automotive part, but I now realize I have absolutely no justification besides a vague intuition)

  26. I remember a couple of years ago seeing a Yelp review of a Chinese restaurant that described a dish as being “hella ma la”, so I guess people are still using it.

  27. David Marjanović says

    Oh, I’ve seen it used much more recently, but only by a few specific pseudonymous web commenters of whose whereabouts I have no idea.

  28. Lars Mathiesen says

    One Hella. We have 296 of them.

  29. My mother, who has been living in the North Bay for a couple of decades, says hella all the time. She’s in her 80s and I assume she picked it up from her friends, who tend to be just slightly younger.

  30. Amanda Adams says

    I believe “hella” was used in Sunday (April 3rd) night’s episode of The Rookie. The subtitle said “hell a”, but the usage tracked. So it’s not completely dead. Some television writer has it tucked away.

  31. in my experience & understanding (based on isnads through folks raised in the bay area and l.a. in the late 70s to early 90s), ‘hella’ emerged in black east bay slang in the 80s, was pretty widespread in the bay area by the early 90s, and then spread south and east. i first heard it in the late 90s, i think, and it was still very marked as a bay area thing in the early 00s. it then got taken up as Exciting New Slang by cool-hunter types (which all the californians i know regarded as strictly a poser move). i think all those expansions were largely driven by hiphop, whether through lyrics or social scenes.

    at heart, it’s the same kind of local/regional intensifier as ‘wicked’, which made a similar breakout (north shore -> elsewhere in the boston area -> elsewhere in new england) on a roughly parallel timeline, but with much less success, absent the boost from a musical culture in the process of taking over the world*.

    * despite the best efforts of the Mighty Mighty BossToneS, Skavoovie & the Epitones, Steady Earnest, the Allstonians, and others.

  32. “Poop” does have the advantage that it almost always refers to literal shit, unlike “shit” or “crap”, which seem more often to refer to something else. Of course it will usually be clear from context, but I rarely hear “crap” used to mean excrement.

  33. John Cowan says

    Exactly. When I’m heading for the bathroom at home, I say “I have to pee/poop” (there are reasons for being explicit that I don’t feel like going into, but they are quasi-medical).

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