"Hella" - The Linguistic Disease of the Bay Area


The following is an excerpt from the pages of  Professor Emil Hancock, whose studies into regional linguistics have taken him all over the world for the past three decades. He was especially interested in local slang - a study that has been dear to him ever since his 1979 study into the English word “crikey,” which won him a professorship at Oxford University.

The following is the notable entries into his journal following his sudden disappearance from public life in 2011:

Oct. 5, 2010

I have arrived in the Sunset district of San Francisco, my new home for the foreseeable future. This is a dreary neighborhood, but also one closest to the edge of the city - a perfect place to begin my preliminary studies into the local colloquialism “hella.” I’m very much looking forward to what this new study can teach me.

Oct. 31, 2010

My searches into the origins of the word “hella” have proven very difficult. No one seems to be able to recount how or when they first heard the word. I’m not sure whether this is due to it’s prevalence in the local vernacular or if it is due to some outside influence that I have yet to ascertain. It is undoubtedly something restricted to the Bay Area, as it is most common among natives. It seems to travel quickly, however. to transplants and usually enters the vocabulary of an individual within a year of moving here. I have my theories on why this is, but that will have to wait. I have a previously planned engagement to “hang out” with some local chaps from some kind of art collective in the Mission district. It proves to be most informative.

Dec. 1, 2010

My theories solidify. This is a disease. A disease unique to humanity. The word “hella” is an audibly-transmitted condition - passed on simply by it being heard. There is no other explanation. I have run tests as to how to avoid contracting this word. I have been to seventeen countries in over 30 years of linguistic study without incorporating any localized words into my everyday language and I’m not about to let it happen now.

I do admit to the occasional desire, though, to utter this said word. It seems to be brought on by excitement or emotional fatigue.

Dec. 31 2010

The night explodes around me. I bailed on the Sunset district once I learned how lame and devoid of real San Franciscans it is. From what I can tell, it is hardly a local neighborhood at all. I now reside in Hayes Valley. It is centrally located and close to many public transit lines.

Tonight I bar-hopped with some local ruffians dressed as characters from the movie “The Royal Tennenbaums.” I have also sampled with them local varieties of cannabis in order to gain their trust. Their shit is good, real good.

You may notice I have incorporated some poor grammar and certain local phrases into my prose. This is purposeful. I’m attempting to inoculate myself with other local wordage in order to prevent myself from falling prey to “hella.” It is everywhere. People I have known since arriving have already adopted it into their regular word usage. I suspected that longtime residents would deride them - give them shit about using the word so soon. This was not the case. In fact, not even those using the word now seem to even realize its presence in their life. It is fascinating.

Catch you later, I gotta crash. This herb is positively dripping from my brain stem. Shit.

Feb. 4, 2011

Pointless. This is pointless. I’ve fought with hella for so long. I know the various bus routes in San Francisco. I know the best bars. I know the cheapest markets. Why don’t I deserve to say the most common word? Still, I resist. I know I came here for a reason, but it now pales in comparison to how awesome this place is. I could literally live here for the rest of my life. I know people now. I KNOW THEM. I don’t just have dinner parties with them, I get FUCKED UP with them. I have friends who are both my age and significantly younger. Even when I out-age them by a good 20 years, they still want to hang out with me. Why? I don’t know. Could it be my epic grant-fund I’m still whittling away at? Could it be the popular blog I run now, “Professor PFFT”? It’s a weblog about hipster culture and fashion, how much I hate hipster culture, and my reviews of new independent music releases.

I’ve also been trying to get into the local agriculture scene. These guys down the street from me have been growing this crazy type of okra that tastes like a cross between a cucumber and a bowl of spaghetti. Their parties are like a Dionysian utopia of booze and great food. I’d eat the hell out of- hell out of......I would hella eat all of their food. Hella. Hella. Their shit is hella good. I’d eat the hell out of....hella. Hella good. Get hella drunk. Hella.



Hella bollocks.

Professor Hancock hasn’t been seen or heard from since. Nearly four months after his colleagues found his apartment abandoned, a man who fit Hancock’s description, although appearing almost a decade younger, was sighted by an old collage TA in the Mission outside of a local co-op - clad in tight-fitting jeans and red flannel. He didn’t respond to his name, but did hand over a worn briefcase, which had contained the pages to his academic journal and a laminated bus pass from the exact day that Emil first arrived in San Francisco. 

No further contact with the Professor has been established since.