AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- slang on campus.
RS: Our friend Dianne Gray, an English teacher in Moscow, has a student who would like to know some of the slang used by students at American colleges and universities. Dianne writes, "I have not been back to the U.S. in nearly 5 years; I thought perhaps someone could give us an update about this."
AA: That someone is Pam Munro. She's a linguistics professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. She just completed a survey asking 300 students for current slang words used at UCLA.
MUNRO: "The first one is the word 'hella,' h-e-l-l-a. It means something like 'very.'"
AA: "Or 'hell of a.'"
MUNRO: "But notice that when in standard language you say 'hell of a,' the thing that follows it is a noun or maybe an adjective plus a noun, so like 'he's a hell of a good guy.' But hella is used with an adjective, so like 'he's hella good.'"
AA: "There's a song by No Doubt, by the group No Doubt with Gwen Stefani called 'Hella Good' --
AA: "that's been getting a lot of play."
MUSIC: "Hella Good"/No Doubt
RS: Second on the list of top slang words at UCLA is "tight" -- not as in "close fitting," but meaning "good."
MUNRO: "This is a word that is kind of amusing to me, because when you ask people for examples, they'll say things like, 'man, that shirt is tight.' It's a good example of why parents don't always understand what students mean when they're using slang. And the third one is the word 'chill.'"
AA: "Used in the sense of if someone is agitated or .. "
MUNRO: "It has two meanings. It can mean relax in the two senses that relax can have. So it can mean don't be so agitated or it can mean sit around doing nothing. 'Sick' is the number 4 word. 'Sick' is another positive word. 'That girl drives a sick car.' 'Your new hairdo is sick.'"
RS: "Go on."
AA: "So number 5."
MUNRO: "Number 5 is 'cool.'"
AA: "The perennial ... "
MUNRO: "Right. I've been collecting slang from UCLA students since 1983 and working intensively with groups of students making little dictionaries since 1988 and all the students that I talk to about it always believe that 'cool' is absolutely current even though of course it's been around for a long time.' So the next one you might not have heard. The next one is 'a grip.'"
RS: "Yes, I have."
MUNRO: "So you've got a child in the right age range."
AA: "As in 'get a grip.'"
MUNRO: "No, no. Rosanne, what does it mean?"
RS: "That's what I thought!"
MUNRO: "Ha-ha-ha-ha. 'A grip' means like a lot. Here's an example. "Man, for Thanksgiving I ate a grip of food. I was so full I couldn't stand up for hours."
AA: "I have never heard that."
MUNRO: "We've been getting that at UCLA for I guess about six years, I would think."
RS: "And number 7?"
MUNRO: "I have many, many variants of this but I'm counting it as one. These are expressions that mean 'for sure.' So, the first one -- not in any particular order -- is 'fo sheezy,' then we have 'for shezy,' then we have 'forsheez,' then we have 'fo shizzle.'"
AA: "Sounds like no one is quite sure how to spell that word, huh?"
MUNRO: "They're not sure how to spell it, but notice that there are some different pronunciations too, so ... "
RS: "What was number 8?"
MUNRO: "Well, I have a tie for 8 between 'dope' which is another positive word. You know that one?"
AA: "It can mean illegal drugs; in this case it means good." MUNRO: "No, it means good. I'll give you an example here: 'That movie was dope. It's worth seeing again.'"
RS: "So 8B?"
MUNRO: "This is a word that people spell in a number of different ways -- and, depending on how they speak English, might pronounce in different ways -- the word 'wack' or 'whack' or 'whacked' are the three spellings I have. This is a negative term. Do you know this one?"
RS: "'Whacked out,' you mean like crazy?
MUNRO: "No, that's not the sense in which they mean it. The definitions that they give are bad, boring, stupid, unfair, uncool, nerdy, crazy, strange, weird, lame, pointless, messed up and pathetic. So you saw some of those are actually slang definitions, but it gives you the idea. We had two number 8's, so we're going to skip to 10. We actually had a tie for 10. One of the two is 'sweet' -- 'dude, that new computer is sweet.'"
RS: "What's tied with 'sweet'?"
MUNRO: "'Shady.' Not trustworthy, unreliable, wrong, undependable, suspicious, questionable, deceitful, not nice, or evil."
AA: "That's kind of standard English, though, isn't it."
MUNRO: "I agree with you that 'shady' has a somewhat similar meaning in standard English, but I agree with these students that this is not -- that most of these examples are not things that you would hear in standard English. So, 'That guy just smacked his girlfriend. That's shady to do her so dirty like that.'"
RS: Pam Munro is a linguistics professor at the University of California at Los Angeles. We’ve posted the UCLA campus slang list on the Wordmaster Web site at voanews.com/wordmaster.
AA: And, if you’ve got questions about American English, you can write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.
1. hella (97 responses)
2. tight / tite / tyte (87)
3. chill / chil (34)
4. sick / sic (33)
5. cool (20)
6. a grip (19)
7. fo sheezy / for shezy / forsheez / fo shizzle / fo shizzy / for shizzle / fer shizzle / fa shigidy / fo sho (16)
8-9 (tie). dope (15)
wack / whack / whacked (15)
10-11 (tie). shady (12) sweet (12)