It starts with tlhe clipping amaze for amazing and then goes on to the playful extension amazeballs (or amaze balls). Then both of these can be modified by the slang clipping totes (for totally). And another slang intensive modifier, def, can be added to the mix, giving things like the slogan on this tea towel:


1. amaze. This is where the recent discussion on ADS-L started: a not very startling informal clipping of amazing. Likely to have been made multiple times. Two examples from the net (from Twitter and The Wrap):

@TaniaGuyer it’s AMAZE [of a piece on pumpkin five ways] (link)

Ellen Pompeo Breaks Silence on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’s’ Katherine Heigl, Isaiah Washington Drama – and It’s Amaze (link)

Urban Dictionary has both predicative and attributive examples.

2. amazeballs. Like amaze, this playful extension of it is an adjective. It’s a recent creation, and it’s widely unpopular; a 6/15/09 Urban Diction entry by amirjoon:

a douchey/hollywoody way to say amazing, originated by a Youtube comedy duo named Jessica and Hunter and popularized by blogger Perez Hilton

It was certainly popularized by Paris Hilton. But it’s ultimate origin is a matter of dispute.

A 12/27/12 Slate column by Katy Waldman reports on a Katy Steinmetz column in Time on the worst words of 2012, noting that despite such hostility,

in September 2012, amazeballs rolled into the Collins Online Dictionary, with the definition “an expression of enthusiastic approval.” The Urban Dictionary glosses it thusly: “Basically beyond amazing. Being so awesome that a regular word can’t describe you.”

On the primacy dispute between Perez Hilton vs. Jessica and Hunter, Waldman writes:

As it happens, they’re both wrong. The originator of the term appears to be fashion blogger Elizabeth Spiridakis. In an interview with Gavin McInnes, Spiridakis takes credit/responsibility for the adjective/noun/adjective-annoyingly-disguised-as-a-noun—though she wisely displaces some of the blame onto her BFFs. Spiridakis:

To be fair, the true originator of “amazeballs” was probably Ece Ozturk or Andrea Oliveri, two of my best friends. We met at Details mag in 2003 and all had a love of ridiculous shorthand and nicknames and dumb jokes like that. Putting “-balls” on everything was pretty standard (starveballs, hungballs, tiballs, exhaustballs = starving, hungry, tired, exhausted. regs vocab for girls at magazines.) I just had a forum to make it more public because I am addicted to the internets and they are just sorta “whatevs” about blogs, etc.

3. totes. This item is a playful slang clipping, functioning as an intensive, much like totally. It combines naturally with both amaze and amazeballs. Totes amaze elicits some hostility, as in this Middle Class Handbook posting of 12/29/11, entitled “Middle-c lass annoyance of the year: “totes amaze” “.

And then there’s totes amazeballs. There is, or was, even a cereal with this name:


According to this site, the cereal was available only at one music festival. The cereal consisted of Choco rocks, shortbread, raisins and marshmallows.

4. def. A clipping of definite(ly) to def would be perfectly natural, and it might have been invented many times. But most occurrences are associated with African-American English, especially in hip-hop. So the dictionaries are all over the place on this one.

AHD4 (2009) marks it as slang, glosses it as ‘excellent, first-rate’, and says it’s short for definite.

The Collins English Dictionary (2003) marks it as slang, glosses it as ‘very good, esp. of hip-hop’, and says “perhaps from definitive”.

But the Random House Kernerman Webster’s College Dictionary (2010), labeling it as slang and glossing it as ‘excellent’, gives the following etymology:

1975–80, Amer.; < W Ind E pronoun of death used as an intensifier

Now it’s entirely possible that both etymologies are correct; the same form can arise from different sources. The OED is often reluctant to consider this possibility, however; it looks for a single origin whenever it can. So we get this from OED3 (March 2002):

Etymology:  Probably alteration of death n., originating in the nonstandard Jamaican English pronunciation and spelling def , and the use of the word (in both forms) as a general intensifier (see quot. 1907). Compare death adj.2

The form in quot. 1979 is often interpreted as being a use of def adj., and is in fact spelt def in many later transcriptions of the song, including that in L. A. Stanley Rap: the Lyrics (1992). However, in the original published lyrics, the word is spelt death , although the pronunciation on the recording itself is indistinct. This song, one of the most celebrated and influential hip-hop records and one of the first to enjoy international commercial success, may in part account for the enduring use of def within the genre and the strength of its association with hip-hop culture.

An alternative derivation < definite adj. or definitive adj. seems less likely, but see the form def’ in quot. 1982.

[gloss] slang (orig. U.S., esp. in African-American usage). Excellent, outstanding; fashionable, ‘cool’.

1979   G. O’Brien et al. Rapper’s Delight (song, perf. ‘Sugarhill Gang’) ,   Someone get a fly girl, gonna get some spank and drive off in a death O.J.

1982   in S. Hager Hip Hop (1984) 89   A sureshot party presentation… Thurs. January 21… ‘Aanother def’ bet’.

In any case, intensive def is now well-established slang, and not just in hip-hop contexts. Which gives us totes def amazeballs and similar things, uttered and written by people far from these contexts.

One Response to “amaze”

  1. Ben Zimmer Says:

    For “amazeballs,” see also our treatment of it in “Among the New Words” (AmSp Spring 2012):

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