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When bad means 'good'

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Graciela Graciela | 08:14 UK time, Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Hi Neil. Howru? It's not Portuguese and neither is it English - it is just something that popped up in my head after I looked up in the dictionary 'Howzat' - it is an exclamation related to cricket, a 'shortened form of how's that?' So Alfonso and TK Nallappan got it right.

I loved your description of cricket. Do you get cricket now, Pary? I was introduced to this very English tradition by a boyfriend a few months after arriving in Britain. He told me not to cheer. He was sure I would end up cheering the wrong side because I couldn’t understand the game. So, I watched it silently, like a Mona Lisa. With a mysterious smile that could, I hoped, belong equally well to a stoic loser or a serene winner.

You know what? Probably it was the same blank face I had when I heard about cockney rhyming slang. I could see that my life wouldn’t be easy if some people said ‘baker’s dozen’ when they meant ‘a cousin’. But cockney today seems to be in the past. The new hurdle we, non-native speakers of the English language, have to jump over is something called MLE or Multicultural London English.


One of the most exciting things about living in London is meeting people from different cultures. It’s not unusual to hear three or four different languages at the same time when walking around the capital. But it can feel a bit unsettling when you learn that ‘sick’ means ‘feeling ill’ and hear people around you using the word as a synonym for ‘good’. ‘Wicked’? It means ‘bad’ or ‘immoral’ but some use it when they mean ‘great’, ‘excellent’.

About accents, DenisSA, I share your pain. I had my share of accent heartache. I remember the first time I had to deal with a dropped ‘t’. An example? When the ‘Ts’ of the word ‘butter’ are turned into what I could describe as a hiccup. The same happened with the ‘t’ in ‘water’. And what about Britons from other cities? Well, once I asked a girl I had just met on a London bus what country she was from. She said she was from Manchester and people around laughed.

Neil, sometimes I wonder how you manage to keep track of all the changes in your own language. Is it wicked? Or is it … ‘wicked’?

Useful words:

popped up: appeared suddenly
to cheer: to shout expressing approval
stoic: unaffected by emotions
serene: calm
blank face: face that lacks expression
hurdle to jump over: obstacle to overcome
unsettling: that causes uneasiness, discomfort
share your pain: felt the same difficulties as you did
heartache: suffering
to keep track: to stay informed


  • Comment number 1.

    Hi Graciela,
    Thanks for your comments on english grammar.
    In the States you may see everywhere the short ´TGIF....´,meaning ´Thanks God is Friday..´.By the way ,that ´short´ became the name of one of the most popular and iconic places to have a do,eating or chat with your friends watching TV sports.People used to say¨Let´s go to TGI....´
    But now-here in Colombia- I´m looking for the best ´short ´just to say´Thanks God we don´t have cricket´.
    All the best.

  • Comment number 2.

    Hi Graciela,
    Talking about MLE...can we talk about MSE... Multicultural States English ?
    American folks used to greet the persons with..´Hi there...´ but you may listen the expression as ´Hi dear...´.The second looks more as a ´greet´ than first.
    ´There´ the adverb ímply ´physical distance´but what will happen if I´m closer by the person?American folks still greeting with his ´Hi there´.....never mind if I´m closer or far away.They are sticky in his guns with.
    Is this right?
    All the best,

  • Comment number 3.

    Hi Graciela,
    Keeping on track with MSE:
    Australian folks(living in States) used to greet other people with his own ´Howdy´ instead of ´Hello´ or ´How are you´.So in States is easy to find out the ´ aussy folks´.
    The new hurdle to jump over is when you see a very and clearly definite vietnamese folk greeting you with his´Howdy... bro´
    All the best,

  • Comment number 4.

    Hi graciela,
    Sorry!My mistake.
    I meant ´Aussie´....instead of ´Aussy´...sorry.
    About the pronunciation of this word :
    In The Sates..´OW-see´.(Aussies used to say American pronunciation is badly wrong).
    Folks from UK,NZ,Canada, Ireland and ( I´m wondering) Britons too used to pronounce it as ´OZ-ee´
    Am I right?
    All the best,

  • Comment number 5.

    Hello everyone,

    I don t know I don what is the topic about...I would like to join your conversation but I don t know about what I can discuss...so I am trying to start an conversation about diffrent cultures in diffrent countriesand America is the best example because New York is build up of city with a mix of many cultures and its wonderful to see so many people with diffrent backgrounds met togetehr or live together where people used to fight because of their origin.....

  • Comment number 6.

    Hi Graciela,
    Back to ´Howzat´....
    In The States......this ´short´and ´slang´ have been used for the most part of afroamerican folks just to show up ´surprise´ but, anyway, non related with cricket.Used to be a normal ´loud´ exclamation in a normal ´loud´ conversation.
    All the best,

  • Comment number 7.

    Hi Tahira,
    Welcome !
    We have been talking about how differents folks from differents countries with differents languages living in the same place(in this case London) at the same time used to make dramatically changes in the common and normal language,in this case English and starting to create a new words and expressions called ´slang´or ´shorts for´.Consequently,the English grammar students, must be ´focus on´ the new expressions or´slangs´if want to improve his knowledge on English.
    Your comments or questions will be welcome

  • Comment number 8.

    Hello Graciela,
    I live in Australia which is a multicultural country. Consequently, i come up with people of different accent in everyday life. Nonetheless, i enjoy living in Australia and feel very fortunate to live with such a culturally diverse community. I can learn about people from different continents of the world as well as their culture. Eventually, i would like to mention that i am orginally from Bangladesh. As far as i know, Australia is one the successful nation which is based on multicultralism.



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