Who decides what “Wicked” means? Guest Debra Bokur, and a #giveaway

By Liz, excited to welcome Debra Bokur to the blog! Debra’s new book, THE LAVA WITCH, the third in the Dark Paradise Mysteries, recently came out and she’s here to talk about a very apropos topic: What being wicked means! And, she’s got a giveaway, so make sure you leave a comment. Take it, away, Debra!

The word wicked is rife with associations. Ask a random stranger (I asked 20 for this post during an impromptu street and café survey in Boulder), and you’ll get the expected number of references to green-complexioned, warty-nosed witches scampering off on broomsticks with someone’s else’s little dog. A fair number of responses alluded to Disney movies, politicians, and scallywag celebrities (including some I’d never even heard of), but the response I found most interesting was from a gentleman who must have been around 80 years in age. He just grinned at my question and said, “That’s what we used to call bold girls like you who talked to strangers on the street.”

I’ve worked as a professional journalist for more than 30 years, so asking people questions comes naturally to me. And at first, I admit I was absolutely delighted to be called a girl, since I’m no longer without my share of gray hairs and eye crinkles. But as I started to deconstruct the man’s answer, I realized that when he was his generation’s version of hipster, too many women probably didn’t offer their opinions or perspectives unless they first watered them down to be “acceptable.”

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, aunts or the other female members of my family, who worked hard, loved harder, and took life’s blows in their stride—and never gave quarter to anyone who tried to silence them because they were women. If it’s wicked to be strong, my female ancestors and I are guilty. When I created the character of Detective Kali Mahoe for my Dark Paradise Mystery series, there was no question that she would be tough, smart, opinionated, unafraid of bullies, and resolute in her convictions.

I’ll add that this doesn’t mean she isn’t also kind, sensitive, and funny (because she is); what it means to me is that she doesn’t define or limit herself to stereotypes thought up by the world around her. She has an advanced degree in cultural anthropology, which helps her make connections between the crimes she investigates and the Hawaiian myths and legends she grew up with; she has an enormous dog that she loves and would protect with her own life; she’s sensitive to the struggles of the people she encounters; she’s fiercely loyal to her friends and family; and she’s familiar with grief and loss — emotions she carries with dignity. In The Lava Witch (book 3 of the series), Kali encounters a malevolent force wreaking havoc on the island of Maui, but she’s totally up to the challenge, and uncompromising in her pursuit.

When I was a pre-teen (and, okay, for a long time after that), I was often sentenced to my room for having a smart mouth, or admonished by my grandfather and uncles for not being a proper lady, which meant speaking back, questioning the status quo and giving elder male family members what they described as “sass.” In college, I was removed from my Shakespeare class for challenging an arrogant male professor in what I thought was a legitimate point of debate over a plot line in a play we were studying. I still ask questions and expect answers; I never back away for my beliefs, but am perfectly comfortable changing my mind when new evidence presents; and I always, without fail, apologize if I inadvertently cause someone else distress or hurt.

Am I a little bit wicked? Perhaps — but that doesn’t make me a bad witch (or any of the words that rhyme with it). These days, I’m having fun hanging out with Kali as she solves crimes and wraps up mysteries. I suspect that the gentleman who answered my question that morning on the street would say that Kali’s bold, too; and my grandfather would absolutely consider her to have more than her share of sass. And that’s all just fine with me.

Readers, what does “wicked” mean to you? Leave a comment below for a chance to win a gift bag of Hawaiian skincare products!

Find Debra at:

twitter: @SpaTravelPro

53 Thoughts

  1. When I was a teenager I would use wicked as a verb I went to the school nurse telling her that I had a wicked bad stomach ache. You should have seen the expression on her face. I also use it when say I eat something so delicious that it’s wicked good. Or I shorten it to just say It’s Wicked! Thank for this chance at your giveaway, I could use this as I’m going to Hawaii in a few months. pgenest57 at aol dot com

    1. Where are you going in Hawaii? And… are you by any chance from Rhode Island? I grew up there, and “wicked” was/is a favorite way to qualify good, bad and everything in-between!

  2. Wicked was also a general adjective for me growing up in the Boston area. I had wicked good friends and wanted to do wicked cool things with them!

  3. Welcome to the blog, Debra! Your series sounds wicked good.

    Until I moved to the Boston area forty years ago from California, I had only used and heard “wicked” to modify a noun, as in witch. Now I know how rich it is as a modifier for other adjectives, as in Wicked Cozy, the name this blog started out with.

    1. Thanks! I’m wicked glad to be here. Yes, as just noted on another reply, I’m from Rhode Island. Funny how certain words and phrases can immediately connect us to a specific place.

  4. To me, wicked is someone (man or woman) who inflicts pain (emotionally or physical) without any regard to anyone but themselves.

    To be independent, strong willed and even opinionated thankfully are rights in this wonderful country of our. However, it doesn’t mean that you are always right and someone else is always wrong. We can agree to disagree with causing harm to another. It would make for less wickedness in the world if everyone got that I think.
    2clowns at arkansas dot net

    1. You’re so right that we should be able to disagree and still maintain respect for others. It would be an awfully boring world if everyone agreed on everything. I have very good friends who feel differently and strongly on many different issues, but that’s their right — and we love one another regardless.

  5. I’m a Mainer, and here we use Wicked Good alot! So, to me, it’s a describer to mean to the nth degree. Of course, the old Oz’s wicked witch of the west comes to mind but I guess we could switch that around from meaning an evil witch to just a witch to the nth degree, too! Kali is my niece’s name, which my sister chose to combine our names (KA from Kathy and LI from Linda), which I thought was pretty cool! We had a wicked strong mom, too!

    1. Lucky niece — Kali is such a beautiful name! I’m in DownEast Maine for part of every year, slowly renovating an old 1860’s inn. Emphasis on “slowly.” Do you know Machias?

      1. Yes, I surely do know Machias! Just across the river from Canada. Pretty town, love downeast.

  6. Congratulations on the book!

    My original definition was much like Kay Garrett’s, but being on this blog has introduced me to new meanings.

  7. Welcome and what a great post! I love how your mind works! Growing up I’m guessing I thought wicked and evil were interchangeable. And like others I didn’t know wicked was interchangeable with very until I lived in Massachusetts.

  8. Your series sounds wicked interesting and I hope I get a chance to read it!

    1. Thank you! I hope you’ll check it out. You’ll find a different side of Hawaii than what the tourist board promotes.

  9. I love this post, especially how you touched on the ways the concept of wickedness has been applied to women as a means of control. Taken to its extreme, this attitude led to witch burnings.

    1. Burnings and other horrid things, sometime just because a woman successfully used her garden herbs to treat someone who was ill. Interestingly, in Iceland — which also has a heritage of witchcraft — it was almost always men who were burned. I touch on this in The Lava Witch, as one of the recurring characters is from Iceland, and is helping Kali with her investigation.

  10. Big time congrats on your new release, Debra! Growing up in the Midwest, I associated the word wicked with the Wicked Witch of the West. Over the years, I’ve come to learn of its use as an adjective to describe something positive, like “wicked cool.” Interesting how something can change over time, like that.

    1. Agreed. And, oh that movie…. something that hasn’t changed since the first time I saw it: a fear of monkeys; flying monkeys in particular 🙂

  11. The word always reminds me of The Wizard of OZ because that’s about the only time I heard the word growing up

    1. I think The Wizard of OZ is where a lot of minds immediately jump when they hear that word. It pops up in a lot of British shows, too, but in a far more playful (and preferable) way.

  12. I love your wicked poll, it’s not surprising that so many people responded with Disney villain references! I’m a lifelong New Yorker, when my son went to college in Massachusetts he was exposed to the wicked good usage…which he hated. I agree with you that wicked can mean strong and powerful, I’m proud to be a wicked woman.

  13. I found your post very interesting and the comments as well. It definitely makes me rethink and redefine the word wicked which up until now has always signified evil.

  14. Wicked is not a word that I normally use because it sounds very, very bad. Of course, that does not apply to The Wicked authors at all!

  15. Wicked in a sense is just a way to describe someone who is only concerned for themselves.

    1. Hmmm. I would have to respectfully disagree. While some people and actions are definitely wicked in the worst sense of that word, words can also be weapons used to control or define other people we dislike or disagree with. By describing someone as wicked, one person can cast a veil of doubt over another person, or dismiss them entirely. Which makes that person the wicked one, not the one being described that way.

  16. Growing up in New Jersey, wicked meant evil, vicious, or otherwise undesirable. Now that I live in Maine I know another side to wicked as an adjective that roughly translates to deeply – thus devil’s food whoppie pies are wicked good, and at -40 it’s wicked cold. Like most things, it’s all in the perspective!

  17. My first thought was the Stephen Crane poem, which I LOVED reading with students:
    “Think as I think,” said a man,
    “Or you are abominably wicked;
    You are a toad.”
    And after I had thought of it,
    I said: “I will, then, be a toad.”
    Second was of the L.L.Bean “wicked good” slippers that were my favorites. I wore out two pair, then they added rubber soles, to which I’m allergic . . . now that’s wicked, or at least a darned shame . . .

    1. Ha! Thanks for sharing! I have a pair of wicked good slippers myself. They have (fake of course) fox ears on them and barely have any soles left. But so warm and comfy up here in the chilly Colorado mountains!

  18. Wicked could mean evil or bad, scary but it is used as wicked good in New England so that’s my favorite use.

  19. I was told as a teen that treating other people as things, only important if useful, was the very definition of evil. Perhaps that’s also one definition of wicked.

    1. Depending on how it’s used, of course. I think of “wicked wit,” “wicked intellect” and “wicked delicious” aren’t so bad.

  20. Wicked means someone who is evil inside and out. They have no regard for anyone or anything but themselves.

  21. I never really thought about it before but wicked could be someone who is deliberately cruel or in a totally different context someone who is mischievous. It all depends on the way it’s used.

  22. Personally, I think that applies more to the word “evil,” but it seems like our definition has a lot to do with how we’ve experienced that word in the past. I respect your association with the “wicked,” and I truly find it fascinating how we interpret or assign meanings as individuals.

  23. Wicked can mean quite naughty, steamy, hot and without a care in romance story fiction or true story or wicked can mean evil not very nice to people

  24. I would say that being wicked means to me someone who is doing evil, bad or hurting another person. Thank you for sharing. God bless you.

  25. My first thought of wicked was the Wicked Witch on The Wizard Of Oz. LOL. Wicked to me is good or bad. I like to think of all the amazing wicked books I’ve read!!

    Thanks so much for the chance!

  26. Wicked to me means naughty or mischievous but it can also mean bad, I guess it varies from person to person and whether your using it as a slang term or to describe a person’s actions.

  27. I think the word has been so misused as to become meaningless and I can’t remember using it in the last half-century.

Comments are closed.