Ever wondered why witches are always wicked or why teenagers use the expression 'wicked!'? Tim Bowen looks at the origin of this wicked Word of the week!

The Macmillan English Dictionary for Advanced Learners defines the principal meaning of wicked as 'morally wrong and deliberately intending to hurt people'. The word wicked is believed to derive from the Old English word wicca meaning wizard. The female equivalent of wicca was wicce and this has given us the word witch. Thus wicked and witch are closely related in origin and it is interesting that the words are often used together in fairy tales.

In modern English, wicked can be used in an almost positive way in expressions like 'a  wicked sense of humour' or a 'wicked smile', where it has the meaning of being slightly cruel without intending to upset anyone. If you say someone has 'a wicked sense of humour' there is almost a note of admiration in what you say and this is also evident in examples in a sporting context such as 'He has a wicked left hook'. Perhaps it was this latter use that gave rise to the informal use of wicked, particularly by young people, to mean 'very good', as in 'Have you heard this song? It's really wicked.' Perhaps the strangest use of wicked, however, is its use as an adverb in American English, particularly in New England, where you will hear expressions like 'That was wicked cool'.