June 10, 2013
“Hella” is one hella interesting part of California slang lore. The Oxford English Dictionary claims that “hella” dates back to 1987, when the Toronto Star wrote, “He released the catch on his reel which began to whir like a movie camera as the horse went hella whoopin’ down the trail.” The term is believed to have originated from “a hell of a lot,” an expression used to describe the quantity of something. Over time, people started slurring the words together, and eventually, the F was dropped all together.
There are people who argue that “helluva” is not related whatsoever, citing that the word is 1) not an intensifier, and 2) it always modifies a noun, which “hella” only does for a small subset of speakers.
Rachelle Waksler breaks down the many different “hella” uses below:
1) Girl, I’m gonna be hella late to class.
2) I hella didn’t know what he said for so long.
3) You have hella too many CDs that you don’t even listen to!
4) I tried on hella pairs of shoes, but of course I bought the first ones I tried on.
In 2001, “hella” received its fifteen minutes of fame when the song “Hella Good” by No Doubt was released. However in the Bay Area, the term (hella) lives on.
(via Rachelle Waksler & OED)