Posts tagged ‘slang’

July 28, 2015

About Slang

I have one simple and easy piece of advise to give when it comes to slang terms: stay away!  To use an American expression “don’t touch it with a 10-foot pole” – meaning “don’t even go near that one.

If you live in a foreign country and get to the point where you can speak the language rather fluently the temptation is great to adopt slang terms, or maybe dialects and regional expressions.  Some of that can be okay, some might be unavoidable and some should be avoided at all cost – 10-foot pole stuff.

Let’s start with the unavoidable.  I live (lived, will live) in California.  Wide roads with multiple lanes, on-ramps and exits and no cross traffic are called freeways, technically speaking freeways are limited access highways.  So in Northern California we take freeways to get to work/wherever and we refer to them by number.  We would, for example say something like: “I take 280 South and then 880 East to get to work”. In Southern California people also take freeways to work but their they use articles, so they would use “the 405″ to work but the 10” to get to the beach.  What we never ever use in California are things like turnpikes.  That’s for those Eastern folks.

In California we eat subs, not sandwiches and if we talk about you in the plural we will say “you” or something like”you guys” but never y’all.  That’s what they do in the south or mid-west or wherever. So if a foreigner picks up the “y’all habit” when living in “y’all territory” that is pretty much unavoidable and okay.  I use the expression “you guys” all the time, giving away my Californian “heritage”.

So something like: “you guys, let’s take 280 instead of 101 to go to the city” is perfectly acceptable.

Were it gets less acceptable are expressions used by an ethnic or other groups you do not belong to.  If you are a white woman from Germany it will sound stupid if you try and speak like a black kid in the Bronx.  It will also sound stupid if you if try and speak like a surfer dude or your teenage daughter.  It starts with you not sounding authentic and not being able to carry on a whole conversation in that style and ends with you likely using words that are so last week.  That then, instead of making you sound cool, makes you sound lame.

There is also a risk of mixing perceived cool terms, slang and regional vocabulary that do not go together in one sentence making it sound even weirder.  To make this effect clear I always think about  how a foreigner with an accent (because most non-native speakers will retain some form of accent) would sound mixing Swabian words, with Saxon words and a few far northern idiosyncrasies thrown in for good measure.  Add to that a few words my pre-teen son uses with abandon and you have the perfect storm of ridiculousness.  If you do an exercise like that with your own language in mind you’ll undersatad what I mean.

Some of these slang terms eventually make it into the common language by which time they may be carefully adopted in special situations; although I have to say that I find all the “yo, bro” and “whazz up, dude” going on between middle aged men rather annoying.  Something similar goes for women in their 30s, 40s and beyond who scream in high-pitched voices “oh my gosh, this is ,like, so awesome” as if they were 15 years old.  Not so good.

So, again, my advice would be to stay away from the slang and the overly colloquial terms as well as any language that is associated with a specific group you do not belong to.

Of course I am expressing my own views in this blog, not some universal truth but I have seen these things go wrong so many times that I am at least claiming to have a well-informed opinion on this.  An opinion nevertheless.

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September 26, 2012

NewB vs. Noob

I had heard neither term until recently when my 8 year old son used the word “noob” (also spelled nub).

My assumption was, that noob is like newb is like newbie – somebody who is new to something and still learning the skill (often computer games, especially when dealing with young boys).  However, that isn’t the case, I  have come to understand.   Newbs/newbies are different from noobs/nubs in the following respect:  whereas newbies are new to something and hence not very good at it they are willing and able to learn and improve.  Noobs however, are hopeless cases, they are bad at something – or to use a popular slang term – they suck at something but no amount of training will ever make them good at it.  Lost cases, pretty much.

The term is very much a kid/young people slang term and unfit to be used at the office or in a meeting.  The exception here is newbie which isn’t demeaning or negative and is a somewhat cute term for beginner.

September 5, 2012

Even Madder

No text needed 🙂 , pic:

As discussed the other day there are a number of slang words for a mental institution but that number pales in comparison to the words and expressions used to convey the idea of a person being insane.

Crazy is the probably the least offensive one, it can also mean cool in a with a bizarre or risky  edge to it.  “The way you skied down that double black diamond hill was just crazy.”

Others are:

nutty /nuts /nuttso, cuckoo, loony, lunatic, bananas, whacky, whacko  – are all possibilities (there are more, of course).  Obviously there are shades of grey here, bananas implies more unbelievable and ridiculous than seriously crazy, whereas wacko or whacky  has more of an element of stupid and strange to it “this plan of yours is just totally whacky, it will never work.”

For the geeks among us – and I haven’t heard this used in a long time probably since the days when I attended #1 geek school in the country – non-linear.  Which implies that a person, all of a sudden, displays some strange and out of character behavior, e.g. the quite withdrawn student who, suddenly, one night goes all out, parties until the wee hours and then pays a hefty price the next day in form of a hang-over and for the rest of his student days by having to endure jokes like “do you remember the day when Joey went completely non-linear.  I still remember his face before he passed out.”

There is more good crazy stuff here- enough for another post some time.

September 3, 2012

Mad Stuff

I just started a new blog about expats (us) returning home (maybe) which you can find here.  In my first post I used the word loony bin.  Since I wasn’t even sure how to write it (loonie vs. loony) I thought I better say a few words about it.

Probably the most famous movie about a “loony bin: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, pic:

A loony bin is where you end up if you have gone certifiably insane or in more politically correct word if you suffer from a serious mental illness.  Since we are already politically correct let’s get it over with and use the proper term for such an institution which is something along the lines of mental health facility, mental health institution.  I am sure there are even more politically correct terms for such places, used especially when a famous or somewhat famous person publicly ends up there – something like “rehabilitation facility” or alike.

Just like other languages, too, – I can vouch for German – there are many words, mostly unkind and politically not correct for mental institutions.  Here are a couple more English one:

nut house – being crazy is also called “being nuts”

funny farm – not sure why it would be so funny

The loony bit is derived from lunatic which is an adjective used to describe mad people (based on the old believe that a full moon will make people crazy, or turn them into werewolves).  Why bin?  I don’t know but since a bin is something where things are kept in a somewhat unorderly fashion the expression probably means just that: place where crazy people are kept.

April 17, 2011


Life can suck, pic:

Today we were driving and playing the radio when Kelly Clarkson was singing “My life would suck without you.”  My 6 year old love this song about dysfunctional love – go figure – but he did not understand what “my life would suck” means.  Personally, I don’t think he has to at his age but then again he asked and I promised myself 6 years ago (almost) never to dodge a question.

This sucks! is a fairly widespread slangy (bad not bad in the sense of being obscene) expression used to say that something isn’t good, actually, that it is fairly bad or annoying.

The phrase is okay in every day use, especially for younger people, I wouldn’t use it in conversation with my boss, though.

Here are a couple of examples:

Student 1: “I got an D on the accounting test.”

Student 2: “Man, that sucks!”

Person in a movie theater: “This movie totally sucks.  Let’s go.”

A variation of suck is sucky – the adjective of suck.

“What a sucky day.”

“We saw this really sucky movie yesterday.”

Okay, that was the easy part.  Now how do I explain Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream??

March 28, 2011

Muffin top

Muffin top: yes!, pic:

If you think something yummy and sweet to eat your are off, but not by too much: the dreaded muffin top is the consequence of too much to eat (or pants that are too tight – you can choose whatever explanation suites you better).

Muffin top non-no, pic:

A muffin top is a slang term – and not very friendly one – for a roll of fat spilling out over the waistline of pants or skirts.  That roll of fat looks like the upper part of a muffin that raised during baking and spilled over the paper casing.  Muffin tops are a big fashion and taste “no-no” in the best of cases, combined with a mid-riff free top they are a fashion/taste catastrophe and to be avoided at all costs.  If hidden under a wide sweater or t-shirt they might be okay – just as long as nobody sees them.

For once my fellow Americans did not come up with that term but our friends downunder.  The term is fairly new – created in 2003, made Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary (why is every other thing, street, university, building in Australia called Macquarie??  I guess I need to look into that) word of the year in 2006, the American Dialect Society honored it as one on the most creative words the same and our British friends finally caught up this year – 2011 – by including the term in the Oxford English Dictionary.