BOSTON (CBS) – New England and “wicked” go together like peanut butter and Fluff.
But what’s the story behind the word that has flourished in Massachusetts and the northeast corner of the United States? The folks at Merriam-Webster Dictionary tried to shed some light on its origins, tweeting Thursday “This is how ‘wicked’ became an adverb.”
Interestingly, the linguists say it’s not all about the region’s history with witchcraft.
“Though some have linked the Salem witch trials to the use of ‘wicked’ as an intensifier, the explosion of ‘wicked’ as an adverb is a late 20th-century phenomenon,” Merriam-Webster says.
The blog notes that one of the most prominent and early uses of “wicked” comes from Shakespeare’s famous line “Something wicked this way comes.” That quote was in Macbeth, published in 1606 — decades before the witch trials.
In New England, Merriam-Webster says “wicked” became popular as an intensifying adverb meaning “to an extreme or impressive degree.”
“A possible interpretation is that adverbial wicked was a literal extension of its adjective sense—something that was wicked fast, for example, might have been to such a degree that seemed the result of a curse or supernatural force,” the blog states.