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Listen to Professor Crystal

Funky - that's been around a long time. It's one of those slang expressions which has stayed for decades. I think it goes right back to the 19th century. Funk - the United States' black dance blues and soul, any music with a strong dance rhythm, 'it's got a funky beat' - that was the earliest dominant usage in the first decades of the 20th century.

And then, the use generalised to any kind of modern stylish - especially unconventional - thing, something that's off beat. People had funky clothes, funky cars, funky food. So it all had that very positive kind of meaning for a long time. But it has developed some other meanings too. I mean, funk, in British English goes back a long time meaning, you know, cowardly, or something like that. 'I'm in a funk' means 'I'm afraid'. And so you get this sense of cowardly and panicky, 'somebody's being very funky', which is also around still. And in the United States, it has another range of meaning. To say that something's funky can mean that it's smelly or it's musty - 'that smells funky'. Or 'I'm feeling funky' might mean 'I'm feeling uncomfortable or awkward. And I've actually heard some people use it as a put down, saying, you know, tasteless - 'that's funky! Go on, get rid of it!' - tasteless, useless.

But, having said all that, usually it has a positive meaning. And you'd listen to the tone of voice to really notice the difference between a positive and the negative meaning - 'hey, that's funky', meaning that's wicked, that's great. It's clever slang, in other words - funky slang!


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