The Girl Who
An Indisputable True History of the Word
by Veronica Montes
Hey, teenagers of today and Gwen Stefani, guess what? You did not invent the word “hella.” I will tell you who did: Anna G — , a small but mighty Filipina who was the de facto queen of all kids of color at my junior high school in Daly City, California, circa 1979.
I realize my claim will cause controversy.
Journalist George McIntire, in his article “Hella Facts About the Word Hella,” fails to even mention Anna, Daly City, or the year 1979. He states that the origin of the word is “muddled,” and that “Hunters Point is its birthplace.” Oh but you are wrong, Journalist George McIntire. In fact,
you are hella wrong.
I know this to be true because in my infallible mind’s eye I can still see Anna. Her hair falls to her waist like a sheet of black glass. She is wearing meticulously starched and creased gun-metal blue Dickies and a big, red plaid flannel shirt.
Her liquid eyeliner and Cherries-In-The-Snow lipstick
have been applied with an expert hand.
To the delight of her minions, Anna has coined an adjective with a myriad of fantastic rhetorical uses. The word is “hella,” and from her perch atop a lunch table in the cafeteria, she generously schools us:
“That is hella stupid,” Anna says. And you nod. Because it is.
It’s incredibly stupid, whatever it is.
“You are hella funny, though, but not really.” She delivers this withering burn without even looking at the person she’s addressing. You store everything about this moment in your memory without truly understanding how useful your re-enactment will one day be.
“He is hella fine. Hella fine,” Anna murmurs, as one fortunate boy passes through her line of sight. This boy will be hers at the next school dance, the air around them electric as they sway through the 6-minute and 43-second original version of Heatwave’s “Always and Forever.”
And, finally, weary from the adoration and all the work it takes to maintain her reign while so many pretenders-to-the-throne nip at her heels, Anna proclaims, “I’m hella tired.”
You will say this exact same thing 37 years later when you get home from a long day of work, and your three teenage daughters ask for rides to three different places. “You guys,” you’ll say. “I’m hella tired.” They will stare at you and immediately pick up their phones to text an approximation of the following to their friends:
“Dude. My mom just said, ‘hella.’”
Veronica Montes is a writer with a soft spot for fiction about the Filipino-American experience + productive rants about many things. So many things.