Evolving Slang


One of the most challenging aspects of learning a new language such as English is picking up slang words and expressions that aren’t even found in textbooks. To make matters even more difficult, new slang is introduced to the language all the time, old slang dies out, and sometimes regular words change into slang with totally different meanings over time. In this article, we’d like to give two examples of the latter.


The first example of evolving slang is the word ‘gay.’ For many centuries, this English adjective meant ‘happy’ or ‘merry’, so to have a ‘gay time’ meant to have a good time. In the first half of the 20th century the word gay started to be used to refer to homosexuals, as either an adjective or a noun, and by the end of the century, the usage of gay meaning ‘happy’ was seldom used. In the 21st century, people also started to use ‘gay’ as an adjective meaning ‘bad’ or ‘inferior’, as in, “this movie is so gay!” However, this usage is considered offensive and we don’t recommend using it.
第一個俚語演化的例子就是「gay」這個字。數百年來,這個英語形容詞意思表「開心的」或「快樂的」,因此有段「gay time」就表示「玩得開心」。20世紀前半,這個字開始被用來指同性戀,可當形容詞或名詞使用。20世紀末,幾乎沒有人用這個字來表示「開心的」的意思。到了21世紀,人們也開始把「gay」的形容詞意思當作「不好的」或「劣等的」,就像句子「this movie is so gay!」表「這部電影真爛!」。但這個用法很冒犯人,因此我們也不建議大家使用。


Our second interesting example is the word ‘sick’. This adjective used to (and still does) mean ‘ill’ or ‘unhealthy’, but in the last 40 years, people also started to say it to mean ‘gross’ or ‘disgusting’. For example, if you unintentionally stepped on dog poop, you might exclaim, “sick!” Interestingly enough, in the last 10 years, some people also started to say ‘sick’ to mean just about the opposite, for example, “this song is sick!” meaning “this song is awesome!”
介紹第二個有趣的例字是「sick」。這個形容詞曾經(現在也還是)表「生病的」或「不健康的」,但這40年來,人們也開始用來表「噁心的」或「厭惡的」。舉例來說,假如你不小心踩到狗屎,你可能就會說「噁心!」。有趣的是,這10年來,有些人也開始用「sick」這個字來表示相反的意思,譬如「this song is sick!」就表示「這首歌真棒!」

Vocabulary 好字精選

1. evolve (v) grow/change/develop  演化,演變
The giraffe evolved a longer neck to reach leaves high up in trees.  

2. latter (n) the second of two previously mentioned things, as opposed to ‘the former’ 後者
Recently I traveled to Spain and France. I’d like to tell you about the latter.        

3. homosexual (n/adj) gay  同性戀
Fred finally came out of the closet and told all his friends that he was homosexual.   

4. inferior (adj) lower in quality or level  (地位)低等的,(品質)較差的
Jamison feels inferior around Jim because Jim is such a successful person.

5. offensive (adj) causing offense to others 冒犯人的
Trump’s comments and behavior have been highly offensive to many people. 

6. unintentionally (adv) not on purpose 無意的,無心的
The cat unintentionally knocked the vase off the cabinet. 

7. exclaim (v) shout in surprise (由於興奮、痛苦、憤怒等)驚叫,呼喊
“Stop!” exclaimed the woman when she saw her child about to run off the train platform. 

8. awesome (adj) very cool 令人驚嘆的
“That was awesome!” said the teenage boy after the girl kissed him.

Phrases and Sentence Patterns 句型解析

1. pick up (phrasal verb) to learn something, usually knowledge or a language 習得;拾起,撿起;接(人);責備
Jeremy picked up a lot of knowledge about Brazil by being roommates with a man from there.  

2. To make matters/things (even) worse/more difficult, S + V (sentence pattern)  更糟糕,更困難
To make things even more difficult, the contestants had to be blindfolded during the race.  

3. die out (phrasal verb) to fall out of use, to stop existing  絕種,絕跡
Mindy hopes the electronic music trend will die out someday.   

Exercise 課後練習題

1. English has changed enormously as it _______________ over the centuries.

2. I enjoyed both the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series, but I found the ____________ more entertaining.

3. Sadly, being _______________ is still illegal in some countries.

4. These cookies are really of ______________ quality compared to those excellent ones we ate last night.

5. The politician apologized to the public for his ______________ remarks.

6. Leanne cried after she ______________ stepped on a butterfly and killed it.

7. The prisoner _______________, “I’m free!” as he walked out of the jail.

8. “What a/an _____________ concert!” said one of the teens as she left the bar.

9. Did you _______________ any Cantonese during your trip to Hong Kong?

10. Linda fell in the mud on the way to the bus stop. _______________ worse, she missed the bus and it started to rain.

11. Thousands of languages in the world are on the verge of _______________ .

1. evolved
2. latter
3. homosexual
4. inferior
5. offensive
6. unintentionally
7. exclaimed
8. awesome
9. pick up
10. To make things/matters (even)
11. dying out

Comprehension Questions 閱讀理解

1. What did the word ‘gay’ mean in 1925?   
a. ‘joyful’
b. ‘homosexual’
c. both ‘joyful’ and ‘homosexual’
d. ‘inferior’

2. How many different meanings of the word ‘sick’ are given? 
a. 2   
b. 3
c. 4 
d. 5

1. 這個字「gay」在1952年時的意思為何?
a. 開心的
b. 同性戀的
c. 有開心也有表同性戀的意思
d. 低等的,較差的

2. 這個字「sick」有幾個意思?
a. 2   
b. 3
c. 4 
d. 5


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