Last night we saw the Broadway production of Wicked at the phenomenal Providence Performing Arts Center. (It is one of the most beautiful theaters I’ve ever attended.) The production was stunning and thoroughly enjoyable.
As I have thought back on the performance I began thinking about the word wicked and its varied uses in our language. When I went to the dictionary, I found a litany of definitions to confirm my own understanding of the variety.
1.evil or morally bad in principle or practice; sinful; iniquitous: wicked people; wicked habits.2.mischievous or playfully malicious: These wicked kittens upset everything.3.distressingly severe, as a storm, wound, or cold: a wicked winter.4.unjustifiable; dreadful; beastly: wicked prices; a wicked exam.
The word wicked is really quiet ancient, having been first identified (in English) in the 13th century, where, unsurprisingly, in Middle English it is a derivative of the familiar Old English word wicca, which means wizard or witch. In today’s world the word Wicca is very familiar, it being the name to distinguish a member of a religious tradition which incorporates men and women who understand themselves to be either witches or wizards. They are referred to as Wiccans. There is a great deal of misunderstanding of this religious tradition, some people believing it to be satanic. In their home page on the Internet, the Wiccans speak to this characterization:
Contrary to what those who choose to persecute or lie about us wish to believe, Wicca is a very peaceful, harmonious and balanced way of life which promotes oneness with the divine and all which exists.”
But, apart from the Wiccan reference, the word wicked has its own life, being an adjective which describes something which is usually depicted as evil or unable to be understood.
In recent times, particularly here in Rhode Island, the word wicked has taken on a whole new meaning, however. It is used in common language (very informal language, I should point out) to mean “very” or “excessively.” Young people, particularly, tend to use the term in sentences such as:
That group is wicked good. “
There is even a local brew which carries the name “Wicked Good Ale.” I’m told it isn’t half bad.
There is a somewhat humorous reaction to the use of the term wicked in this way. People from other parts of the country just scratch their heads and smile when they hear it. It shows up in stand up comedy, comic strips, and other places where humor is prominent.
There is a sense that this use of the word wicked may just diminish the negative definition of the word in the generations to come. But it will always carry a formal definition of something which is evil or nasty.
Photo Credit: fangirlsarewe