The Southern versus Northern California slang rivalry may soon be put to rest thanks to the help of UC Davis physics student Austin Sendek.
“Hella,” the popular NorCal slang word meaning “a lot” or “very” is commonly contested among Northern and Southern Californians and until this point has not been associated with any specific measurement.
Now, Sendek hopes to give hella new meaning – representing 10 to the 27th power to be exact.
After joking about “hella volts” in an electric field in an in-class experiment, Sendek created the Facebook group “The Official Petition to Establish ‘Hella-‘ as the SI Prefix for 10^27.” Within one week, group membership grew to over 8,000, with people hailing from all over the United States.
“I made it a group on Facebook as a joke,” Sendek said. “But when a professor from Rhode Island signed the petition I realized that we might actually be on to something.”
Currently, the International System of Units has prefixes up to 10^24, and because the system increases by increments of three, 10^27 is the next in line. Measurements for the universe could be indicated with the prefix at 1.4 hellameters, and the sun’s energy, at 0.3 hellawatts.
“Hella” is typically used by Northern Californians and tends to be unpopular among Southern Californians, creating a colloquial war between the two.
There are currently nine anti-hella groups on Facebook, and fifteen pro-hella groups including two fan pages with between 86,000 and 100,000 fans on each.
“If you use the term ‘hella’ you will be sent back to the north where you belong,” threatened one anti-hella Facebook group.
A student from CalTech suggested renaming 10^27 after Southern California slang, arguing that Southern California has more influence than Northern California.
Northern California has more schools that are dedicated to science – UC Berkeley, UC Davis, Stanford, Lawrence Livermore and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratories – and using “hella” honors their achievements, Sendek argues.
According to the petition statement, Sendek’s proposal offers “the chance for the SI system to use nomenclature to honor a constantly overlooked scientific contributor: Northern California.”
The SI committee last approved a prefix addition in 1991. If the SI committee doesn’t take Sendek’s petition seriously, he plans to submit it to Google for its conversion units.
“I think it has the right meaning to get the idea across, but I think it’s unlikely to get chosen because they usually use Latin or Greek, it has a taboo associated with it and it’s an ordinary word,” said UC Davis linguistics professor Patrick Farrell. “In some sense it would be like saying ‘lots-a-kilometers.'”
The “hella” petition made its way into Farrell’s Linguistics 1 class, in which students have the option of writing a paper on the legitimacy of using “hella” as an SI prefix.
“Hella” is thought to originate from “helluva” during the 1990s in San Francisco. “Helluva,” however, does not have the grammatical flexibility of “hella;” as describing someone as “helluva smart” could not work, but “hella smart” could.
Farrell also uses “hella” in his classes to illustrate points about the grammar of English, because “hella” has its own set of unique grammar rules.
Sendek hopes to get the support of his science professors who may carry more weight towards influencing the scientific community.
For more information visit makehellaofficial.blogspot.com.
GABRIELLE GROW can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.