While hella has long been associated with the Bay Area, questions regarding its exact origin persist. Many locals say Oakland is the word’s birthplace; with help from several linguists, we’ve uncovered evidence that backs up that claim.
Strictly speaking, the word is a submodifier — an adverb that gives an adjective more meaning, like “very,” “extremely,” or Southern California’s totally.
In practice, hella is also a “linguistic boundary” that separates the state, concluded UC Santa Barbara sociologist Mary Bucholtz in a 2007 paper. UC Berkeley Professor Sharon Inkelas told Hoodline that students from SoCal still report being surprised by hearing the word when they arrive on campus.
“It must not be entrenched there yet,” she said. “I’ve heard it goes up the west coast too, to Seattle, but can’t confirm that.” UCLA linguistics professor Pamela Munro has documented the word’s usage on her campus since 1994, but “everyone seems to believe it originated in Northern California,” she said.