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Hyundai Super Bowl ad has one wicked bad mistake, if you ask Bostonians

People are mostly loving the Boston-themed TV spot. But there’s some debate on the New England regionalism.

The ad stars John Krasinski, Rachel Dratch, and Chris Evans, all of whom are Greater Boston natives.
The ad stars John Krasinski, Rachel Dratch, and Chris Evans, all of whom are Greater Boston natives.Hyundai

Unlike many films, television shows, and commercials that have tried to peddle poorly executed tropes about the Boston accent before, people seem to think that Hyundai’s upcoming Super Bowl ad is actually wicked funny.

But there’s a brief moment in the 60-second spot that’s been a sticking point for at least some locals — one that mercifully isn’t centered on an actor’s poor attempt at a Boston accent.

Viewers have been weighing in on the use of the word “wicked,” which gets tossed around in the ad in a way that Boston ears might find, well, wicked awkward.

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“Wicked is not an adjective, it’s an adverb,” one person pointed out, after the South Korean car manufacturer unveiled the commercial online this week. “Wicked awesome, wicked cold. Nothing is just ‘wicked.’ ”

The ad, released Monday and slated for the first quarter of the game, highlights the 2020 Sonata’s “Remote Smart Parking Assist” feature. Or, as they call it in the commercial, “Smaht Pahk.”

Hyundai enlisted the help of a cast of local faces, including Captain America (Chris Evans, of Sudbury); Jim from “The Office" (AKA Newton’s John Krasinski); and “Saturday Night Live” alum and Lexington native Rachel Dratch. David Ortiz even pokes his head in.

Throughout the ad, the company piles on the Boston-ness like onions and peppers on a Fenway sausage. Besides leaning hahd on the local accent, Hyundai shot the commercial in the South End, according to a spokesman. The company also sprinkled “Easter eggs” in here and there — like the “I Love Dorchester” bumper sticker on a car driven by a couple of Wahlberg brothers, and the song “Dirty Water,” by the Standells, which plays in the background near the end.

The commercial begins with Evans and Dratch standing on the sidewalk as they watch someone try to park a car in an angled space. So far, so good: Watching people park is a Boston pastime.

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“He’s naht gettin’ that cah in there," says Evans, clutching a coffee.

“No suh,” Dratch replies.

When the driver finally gives up, Krasinski rolls up in a shiny blue Sonata. As he pulls into the prime parking spot, Dratch takes in the new vehicle.

“Wicked cah," she says.

And that’s where some people have pumped the brakes.

After seeing a few remarks on social media about how “wicked” is typically used as an adverbial intensifier, rather than an adjective, this reporter conducted an unscientific survey on Twitter to further gauge people’s thoughts. Within 24-hours, the inquiry garnered nearly 700 votes and a slew of wicked strong opinions.

Of those who responded, 71 percent said regionally, “wicked” is most commonly used as a synonym for “very," beefing up and emphasizing an adjective — not as an adjective itself.

“I grew up and live on Boston’s North Shore,” one reader wrote. “Wicked cool. Wicked psyched. Wicked good. You get the picture. Never used it or heard it used any other way. To say ‘wicked car’ is wicked dumb.”

Another replied, “Here wicked equals very/really, etc., which isn’t the case most other places. ... You can certainly use it as an adjective here, but that’s the universal use. The ad, trying to be Boston, goofed.”

To be clear, it’s not unprecedented to hear “wicked” as an adjective or even as a standalone. The case could also be made that there’s been some generational shift in its use. Dratch also says “you’re a wicked moron” in one of her Boston-themed skits on SNL — alongside Jimmy Fallon — from the early 2000s.

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Many have trudged this road before, including Springfield-based Merriam-Webster. In a blog post on the dictionary company’s website, word experts traced the term’s origins to the Middle English “wicke.”

The post goes on to describe how “wicked" is an adjective that typically means “morally evil,” “clever and conniving,” and even “exceptional" in its quality or degree, depending on how and where it’s being used.

But when it comes to the Northeast, they said, “ 'wicked’ might mean something entirely different."

“In that part of the country in particular, wicked is commonly recognized as its own intensifying adverb,” the company said. “So tied to the region is adverbial wicked, in fact, that the use pervades its depictions in popular culture."

That claim rings true for Jim Wood, who has spent a fair chunk of his recent group research on syntactic variation nationwide dissecting “wicked” as a New England regionalism. It’s a subject that hits close to home for the New Hampshire native and assistant professor of linguistics at Yale University.

“I’ve spent some time looking at it," he said. “I would actually like to write a paper on ‘wicked’ at some point."

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Wood was excited to learn that the Boston-themed Super Bowl ad was leading to a robust conversation. He said it’s not every day that he gets to witness such debates in real-time.

Putting his research aside for a moment, he, too, weighed in on the subject: “Wicked cool car would have been perfect."

In Hyundai’s defense, the ad doesn’t completely miss its target, Wood added. There’s a second point in the commercial where Big Papi says “wicked smaht,” using the slang as an intensifier and recalling Casey Affleck’s classic line in “Good Will Hunting.” What’s more, on its website, the car company says parking in Boston can be “wicked hahd."

Edward Babaian, the ad’s copywriter, said in an email that the intent “was to deliver an appreciation to Boston,” and that “most would agree that it is a ‘wicked smaht ad!’”

Mim Harrison, author of “Wicked Good Words," a roundup of American regionalisms, said anyone from New England is bound to get a “charge” out of this small slice of the city hitting the spotlight.

“It is nice that there still are regionalisms in the US," she said, “and that we still are inclined to talk in a way that kind of shows where we live or where we’re from.”

When asked about Dratch dropping “wicked” as an adjective, however, the former Rhode Island resident — whose father grew up in Boston and whose husband doesn’t let any coffee touch his lips that’s not from Dunkin’ — tread lightly.

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“She could have used it a little bit better,” she admitted.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.