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This posting is ‘sick’!

If you have been following my blog then you know I have been using an episode Stephen Fry’s BBC program on English called ‘So wrong it’s right’.  As part of that we have been looking at ‘unusual’ pieces of English.

It started with this, which I heard while watching sport this summer, a marvellous utterance where most people would understand every word but not understand the sentence.

“He may be a number 9 but he is no bunny”

Shall leave you to decode it (the context of cricket helps :-).  My students were obviously clueless but we got there eventually.  Next came this taken from a BBC radio one music programme:

“ This is the sickest festival in the world”

The sickest festival, is that good or bad? If you are a student hearing that what do you think? A quick look in an online dictionary lists five definitions of sick all of them negative. (I used the OALD online). And what about when compared to this sentence from the news this morning:

“Doctors want some of the sickest swine flu patients to get special treatment.”

Do they have the same meaning? No, in one case ‘sick’ means ill and another it means great, fabulous, fantastic.  If you knew then a ‘big up’ to you, you ‘smacked it’.  If you didn’t you’ve been ‘owned’.  Lost? Then maybe you need to go and read the ‘Pimp my vocabulary handbook‘ which appeared in yesterday’s Guardian, along with this quiz, which kept a lot of us distracted from doing work.

Teens  (and for that matter adults) have their own language but do we need to teach it to our students? I ask as this was a conversation was having with some twitterers (is that the word?) yesterday after posting the quiz  (in which nobody really excelled themselves btw :-)).  My students (adults) would enjoy it (well most of them) but it’s hardly language they would use – I can’t really see then high fiving and going ‘cool beans’.  But then again what if they had listened to the same radio program as I did when the sick meant great they’d need to know. Teen students might enjoy it and indeed might use it, at the risk of stereotyping, they would also have more access to it say through music but at the end of the such language is ephemeral; what’s ‘in’ today is ‘out’ tomorrow, as this chart shows (chart from The fast company)

A Timeline of the Word Cool

Language is  heavily influenced by the here and now  – take the word ‘bovvered’ used all over the UK a few years ago as it appeared in a comedy show and subsequently used by Tony Blair (so much so that Oxford chose it as there word of the year for 2006) but how much is it used now?

This post is not trying to suggest what English we should or shouldn’t teach (because that’s too controversial and I would have the ELFers up in arms so am side stepping :-)) but highlight  a) what a wonderful language English is and b) show the difficulties of teaching English – afterall none of this language would appear in a coursebook.

I think my class would like looking at this language especially as many of them work and / or teach teens so am going to use the material my next post will look at how.

Have a good day


footnote: Since I made the posting this morning,  I’ve learnt that ‘ill’ can also mean ‘sick’ in the great, fab meaning, thanks for that and the link, Shiv

Categories: Teaching Tags: , , , ,
  1. Adam Jacot de Boinod
    September 16, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Dear Shaun

    Please forgive me emailing you in such a seemingly cold fashion. You seem to share my love of language and I wondered if you might like a mutual link to my English word website:


    with best wishes

    Adam Jacot de Boinod

    (author of The Meaning of Tingo)

  2. lclandfield
    September 16, 2009 at 11:40 am

    Hi there

    Nice post, and interesting chart too. I wouldn’t expect my teen students to be using the latest words and expressions in English in class but I do think there is some motivation in finding out about them, especially if these are terms that they might encounter on the net or while gaming with others (as I did the other day, I discovered that sick=cool on an online chess game I played against someone). Look forward to your next post on it.

    • shaunwilden
      September 16, 2009 at 5:41 pm

      I wasn’t suggesting that I expect teen students to use them in class but some of the teens i have taught are quite clued up so whereas the adults wouldn’t know where to start with the quiz, I know Czech teens that would at least have some idea from youtube etc.

  3. September 16, 2009 at 2:22 pm

    Great post, Shaun – I’m going to be using some of this with my class of Advanced young adults (students) next week – cheers!

  1. October 4, 2009 at 5:30 pm

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