‘Wicked smart.’ Hmm! I thought that ‘wicked’ was an adjective (the Wicked Witch of the West and all). This is a new one on me! And I fear it may only lead us down the slippery slope to such nastiness as ‘wicked bad’ and worse yet ‘wicked good.’ (>:)<2013 “Apple Inc. reached into the world of fashion to fill its long-vacant position of retail chief—a job made all the more important as the tech giant’s sales soften. . . . In a letter to employees, Mr. Cook said he chose Ms. Ahrendts because of her track record and customer focus. . . . Mr. Cook wrote, in a letter first reported by the website 9to5Mac. ‘She believes in enriching the lives of others and she is wicked smart.”—WSJ.COM (Wall Street Journal), 15 October>
WICKED adverb Slang: Originally and mainly New England as an intensifier [early 19th century and still in use]: Very, really, extremely, totally. <The weather was wicked cold.> <All his friends thought he was wicked cool.> <His car goes wicked fast> <The band played wicked loud.> [[No derivation provided.]] (Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, Merriam-Webster.com., Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary and American Heritage Dictionary) [[The OED does not list ‘wicked’ as an adverb]]
In the absence of a dictionary discussion, the following excerpt from an article on the word ‘wicked’ will have to do:
Notice that the above article says that the expression became popular in about the last 20 years. However, in the above definition, Cassell’s had it dating from the early 19th century. But such early births with late bloomings of words are not that unusual. See, for example, #5 in the adjective definitions below. Also, Cassell’s didn’t even take a stab at a derivation, which is very unusual, nada, not even an ‘origin uncertain’!Wicked clever: New Englanders market their 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.”—Seattle Times Online, 20 February, 2011
The following quotes are from archived sources:
And, for the record, here are some definitions for the adjective:<1975 “. . . it's that ugly green building that surely personifies the cliche you-can't-tell-the-book-by-it's-cover. In fact, it's a wicked ugly cover . . .”—Times-Union (Colonie, New York), 21 March>
<1984 “I had hip boots on. I took them off, shredded them up and burned them with the lighter - one shred at a time, one about every two hours. The air was wicked cold and I was wet.”— Hutchinson News (Kansas), 21 January>
<1988 “I wanted Belinda because I always thought her records were wicked good and awesome.”—Boston Globe (Massachusetts), 1 May>
<1997 “I always wear kneepads and a helmet, but the other day I took a wicked bad spill and nearly broke my arm.”—Boston Globe 18 March>
<2005 “. . . even though my fastball was wicked slow, my curveball was working well . . .”—Bangor Daily News (Maine), 23 July>
<2009 “. . . it's no surprise that this Spanish soprano can belt out some wicked powerful arias.”—The Record (Bergen County, New Jersey, 18 September>
<2011 “At best, tree skiing is a test of skill, a taste of adventure often found not far from the beaten path. But done cluelessly, it can be a gateway to a wicked bad day.”—Boston Globe (Massachusetts), 10 February>
<2013 “When you ask her friends to describe her, over and over again you hear the same words -- feisty, fearless, funny, wicked funny, as we say in Boston . . .”—States News Service, 11 June>
1) Evil by nature and in practice: a wicked act of cruelty.
2) Playfully malicious or mischievous: a wicked prank; a critic's wicked wit.
3) Causing or likely to cause harm, distress, or trouble; severe; distressing: a wicked cough; a wicked case of food poisoning; wicked driving conditions.
4) Highly offensive; disgustingly unpleasant; obnoxious: a wicked odor.
5) Slang: Strikingly good, outstanding, impressive, remarkable, wonderful, marvelous. [From U.S. Black slang dating from the 1970s and likely inspired by the ‘bad = good’ model, as an approval adjective, although it is said to have been used ironically in U.S. English as far back as the mid 19th century. The OED earliest quote is from 1920]: a wicked fast ball; a wicked imitation.
(American Heritage Dictionary, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang, 20th Century Words by John Ayto, and Merriam-Webster Online)
Ken G – October 26, 2013