Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sick and Awkward

One of the pleasures of teaching teenagers is that you get to keep up on current slang, or at least not fall behind as far as you would on your own as an old fart. This year’s two biggest slang terms are sick and awkward. Sick is an adjective that—not surprisingly—mean its opposite. It’s used almost entirely by guys, especially (at this institution) hockey players, in place of awesome or amazing. For example: That was a sick move! Or That was a totally sick move! Or Did you see the end of last night’s game? It was sick!

Awkward is used primarily by girls, which is fitting since it has more to do with social dynamics.

“I would never do that.”


“It would be so awkward. Can you imagine anything more awkward?”

It also has more complex connotations than sick. In fact, it seems to me, to signify a different and particular kind of social awareness. Sick feels like another version of cool or bad: one syllable terms that essentially mean good or really good. The prominence of the concern about awkwardness seems like something different and new. Obviously when I was a teenager there were awkward situations and moments, but we didn’t identify them in a such a clearly-defined category. Also, awkwardness can be uncomfortable or odd, and given those things it can often be quite funny. In fact, it seems to me to be the operating mode of the most popular comedy out there these days. The humor of The Office is built almost entirely around discomfort—our own and that of the characters—which is true as well of last summer’s hit movie, The Hangover.

I love to see the way people play with language, and make it fresh. I remember when my first son was born, and consciously not wanting to use the word cool around him too much. It seemed that everyone around me was using it for everything that was good or desirable. I felt like it put too much emphasis on what was cool and what wasn’t, and it also made people sound rather unintelligent when that was the only modifier that came out of their mouths. I wanted him to grow up with a greater range of descriptors at his disposal. In time, sick and awkward will either become passé or clichéd, but for now they feel fresh. Of course, as a middle-aged man I don’t actually use these terms. That would be awkward.

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