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Last updated at 15:28 BST, Tuesday, 09 June 2009



Jim Pettiward explains how some words and expression change their meaning over time. Today's example is 'sick'. Click below to listen:

He’s got a sick car!

He’s got a sick car!


Say the word ‘sick’ and what’s the first thing that comes to mind? A time when you were off school or work, maybe, or perhaps when you had too much to drink, or ate something that had gone off?

You might be surprised, then, to hear that in fact, for many young people today, ‘sick’ is used as an adjective to describe something good, amazing or cool. “That game was sick!” or “He’s got a sick car.”

The dictionary publisher Harper Collins has enlisted the help of social networking site, Bebo, which has 10.5 million UK users, to vote on which new slang words should be included in the 30th edition of their dictionary. The words which users will be asked to vote on were chosen by a panel of 14 – 18 year-olds. ‘Sick’ was one of the words on the shortlist, a reflection of its widespread use among today’s teenagers in Britain. It is part of a wider trend of words which have taken on an additional meaning, in this case changing from an originally negative meaning to something more positive. Other examples of this are ‘bad’ (meaning good of course), or ‘wicked’ (see Series 2).

This inversion of the meaning of words can lead to some confusion for anyone who’s been around a bit longer and is used to the more conventional meaning of the word. You know the word ‘sick’ can mean something negative or positive, depending on the context, so you might occasionally hear someone say ‘That’s sick!’ and just for a moment ask yourself, hmmm, I wonder, do they mean ‘good’ or ‘bad’?

About Jim Pettiward

Jim Pettiward

Jim Pettiward has a BA (hons) in French and Spanish, CTEFLA and Trinity TESOL Diploma. He has taught EFL, EAP, ESP and Business English in Ecuador, Venezuela, Hungary and the UK. He has also worked as an ICT trainer for the British Council and the University of the Arts, London. He is currently teaching English for Academic Purposes in the Department of Humanities, Arts, Languages and Education at London Metropolitan University.


Series 5

13 talks about new and changing words and expressions by Jim Pettiward