YEARS AGO, when social media was, well, social, I read on a “You know someone’s from Las Vegas when …” thread somewhere that saying “hella” is a dead giveaway. I got a little disproportionately excited. Not just because I felt validated as a Las Vegan (I’d been reflexively dropping “hella” for as long as I could remember), but because it suggested the existence of a distinctly Vegas linguistic identifier — something me, something us — in a place so dedicated to placelessness, whether that’s in our gestural Strip architecture or oceanically standardized suburban enclaves.
The prospect of hella being ours felt exciting because, while Las Vegas certainly does superlatives, it generally does not do unique. I’m typically cool with that. Las Vegas is an undisputed genius at importation and imitation; the suction power of our capital makes us an implosive borg, a literal creative vacuum — you know, as in a vacuum that is creative. But, whoa, hella, an emergent signifier of a decidedly regional slang? Something of our own? I’m so down for that. Hella is us. Hella is ours. Hella is Las Vegas.1
OF COURSE, that’s not true. It’s been reliably determined that hella is imported from Northern California, and likely originated around Oakland. Welp, so much for planting some native lingual flag in a spirited opening-salvo blogifesto or whatever this is. But hey, I’m also a person who considers the Luxor an unmistakable expression of local architectural vernacular. My thinking goes like this: Sure, pyramids will always be Egypt’s brand, but move a pyramid to the Strip, and the Vegas context, the Vegas appropriative aboutness, does its reliable transformative knitwork. Our city’s originating inspirations are all from innumerable elsewheres, but the collage is all ours.2 (I cannot vouch for the tensile rigor of this idea in any intellectual arena beyond an obscure blog post or a lively bar conversation.)
I’M ALSO a provisional subscriber to the toothbrush theory of cultural transmission — if you use it enough, it inevitably becomes yours. Hella has been my word-salt forever. I use it on everything, it’s broadly versatile, it can flavor anything as an adverb, an adjective, an affirmative. It’s sunny, vaguely optimistic, and has a casual lunge to it that suggests a ready enthusiasm for hyperbole — and all that just seems to rhyme with the ethos of Las Vegas.
The rubber-band utility of the word also proposes a kind of navigatory premise for this blog, which proposes to look at my hometown through a certain squinty, offhand personal lens, and consider Las Vegas more in its textures and reigning moods than in its facts. Vegas is just fundamentally hella — edged with the strange and improbable, forever flirting with extremes.
photo: Miguel Hermosa Cuesta/Wikimedia Commons
I mean, legendary Vegas mathcore band Curl Up and Die wrote a song about it, so it has to be true, right?
Luxor architect Veldon Simpson put it best: “Las Vegas is better than virtual reality because, in virtual reality, you have to trick your mind into thinking that you are someplace else. Here you are someplace else — many other places.”