There’s no doubt I’m from New Hampshire aka N’ Hampsha. What gives it away? Apparently, it’s the number of times I use the word “wicked” to describe something. So, my curiosity was wicked piqued by the following Associated Press story written by Kathy McCormack. Read it. It’s wicked good.
By Kathy McCormack. Associated Press — New Englanders like to talk sports, weather – and “wicked.”
Super Bowl or no, the New England Patriots are wicked awesome. It’s been wicked cold out. And people are feeling wicked good or bad, depending on the day.
The term, so affectionately used throughout the region, has become part of popular culture, whether it’s shown up in L.L. Bean advertising its “Wicked Good” slippers to the “Boston Teens” sketch on “Saturday Night Live.”
“I love it here,” said Erin Alix-Crowdes, 32, of Rochester, N.H., who recently started “Wicked New England,” a T-shirt business playing off the term. “I think there are other people in the state and in this area that feel the same, but it seems to me that the only thing we have as a group is sports teams, and everybody talks about the foliage – but there’s always that ‘wicked’ word.”
Her enterprise is among the newest additions to businesses in the region that have adopted “wicked,” labeling everything from auto care shops to software firms.
There are a lot of “wicked” food-related businesses in the region – pizza, whoopie pies, ice cream. Danielle Thibodeau, 24, of Hampton Falls, has been running the Wicked Sweet Sugar Boutique out of her home for a little over a year. She bakes cakes, cookies, anything with sugar in it, she says.
“People always told me that I said ‘wicked’ too much, which is pretty bad when people who also live in New Hampshire say that you say it too much. I decided that I’d come up with a fun title, and that’s just what happened.” She said when she tells someone the name, “I get a little smirk.”
Being wicked has worked for some – but not for all.
Rick Page of Laconia started Wicked Old Looking Furniture back in 1996, but changed it four years later to R.A. Page Farmhouse Furniture. People thought he sold used furniture when he really made antique reproductions.
“One of my best customers at the time said, ‘It just doesn’t fit your work,’ ” Page said.
Why wicked to begin with? Page explained that he often uses it, saying something was “wicked good,” or “wicked cool.” And since he specialized in distressed finishes, he thought of “wicked old.” “My logo used to have a little witch going through it,” he said.
The word often is used as a substitute for “very” or “really,” providing emphasis to another word.
“Given the kind of religious and Puritan past of New England, oftentimes there was a kind of social disapproval of using curse words,” said Professor David Watters, director of the Center for New England Culture at the University of New Hampshire. “So, you’d get a lot of creative, non-cursing, and I think ‘wicked’ fell into that category. Sometimes you hear people say ‘hellish’ instead of ‘wicked.'”
Watters said he believes the expression originated in Northern New England and became more popular throughout the rest of New England in the last 20 years or so.
“It’s funny how we sort of take it to extremes,” said Judson Hale, editor in chief of Yankee magazine. “‘Hell of a good time’ or a ‘hell of a bad time,’ it’s sort of the same idea.”
Hale, who grew up Vanceboro, Maine, 110 miles northeast of Bangor, said he doesn’t recall “wicked” used as intensifier, as it is today. Beyond that, he said he didn’t know much about the origin of the word: “I feel wicked ignorant about it.”
Alix-Crowdes, who doesn’t have a discernible New England accent, says if she happens to be out of the region and drops the word, people automatically recognize where she’s from. And then it quickly reminds her of home.
“I just want it to be a New England brand, something New Englanders will embrace and love as their own thing,” she said of her business.
Alix-Crowdes considers herself a “wicked New England girl.” She said some of her shirts are inspired by specific businesses, such as “Wicked Tappah” for a Concord dance studio and “Wicked Wired” – complete with coffee stain – by a Dover cafe. She’s also created some T-shirts for Yankees themselves, such as “New England: Wicked Good Since 1620,” and “Wicked By Birth,” for those who moved away.
In her recently published book, “Headin’ for the Rhubarb: A New Hampshire Dictionary (well, kinda),” storyteller and humorist Rebecca Rule says the word is more prevalent in Maine than in New Hampshire. She notes that it emphasizes good, bad and evil alike.
“I supposed somebody could be wicked wicked if they were especially wicked,” she writes. “But that seems like overkill.”