Sorry, City Hall, But Public WiFi Can’t Be Called ‘Wicked Free’

It's either free or it isn't. Either way, it's time for everyone to stop abusing the word 'wicked.'


City of Boston

In light of the news that Boston’s new free, public WiFi network is called “Wicked Free WiFi,” there’s something we need to talk about.

Around these parts, the use of “wicked” as an adverb is a sometimes overworked point of pride. We grow up thinking nothing of saying that school was wicked long, and we’re wicked hungry. We believe that John Travolta’s biggest mistake at the Oscars wasn’t calling Idina Menzel “Adele Dazeem.” It was calling her “wickedly talented” when just a “wicked” would do. The adverbial wicked is a unique heritage and as such, it needs to be treated with care.

This brings us to Wicked Free WiFi. Excuse the schoolmarmish tone in what follows, but this is an abuse of “wicked” as an adverb. WiFi cannot be “wicked free.” It is either free or it costs money. Unlike hunger, length, temperature, or even expensiveness, there is no gradient to “free.” It is a bit like saying that someone is “wicked alive” or the movie was “wicked 3-D.” These things are absolute adjectives. You’re either dead or alive, in two dimensions or three (or four, like those people in “Lost,” probably). On a similar note, you’ll often hear grammar freaks curse about this when people say things are “really unique.”

Of course, we all take liberties with language. And things like “Wicked Free WiFi” are excusable if they feel like knowing perversions of the standard, done for effect. This seems to be the spirit in which City Hall intended it, and we like to see them get creative. The only reason we bring it up is that Americans rarely have any idea what we’re talking about in the first place. Misusing “wicked” only exacerbates the problem, and makes outsiders like, say, TV executives, think its okay to drop “wicked” into even the most unlikely of sentences because they think it adds some Boston color, no matter how its used. This is why we get shows called “Wicked Single,” about a bunch of drunk people in Boston who are, in fact, more than just extremely single. Or there’s “Wicked Tuna” on the National Geographic Channel, which is not about an evil fish but is actually about Massachusetts fishermen. Headline writers refer to Tom Brady’s “wicked Boston accent” which anyone with a Boston accent would know makes no sense. And now, when they visit our town and look for public WiFi access, they rejoice that it doesn’t cost any money because it’s “wicked free,” a price point known in the rest of the world, simply, as “free.”

No wonder America looks confused when we talk.