Global Teenspeak

Before the late 1940s, "cool!" only meant "moderately cold" to teenagers worldwide. Now the black English, jazz-originated superlative is used throughout Europe and probably - thanks to Hollywood - the world.

What other words or usages are teens contributing to the world's lexicon? We asked Monitor writers and contributors to talk with teens on six continents and send in a glossary of terms.

Not surprisingly, reporters found a lot of borrowed American slang. But they also found evidence of cultural upheaval in places like France and Russia, and plenty of piquant, creative local terms everywhere.

Here's Part 1 of what we found. Part 2 will run July 2.

Purists are battling on two fronts to preserve the Frenchness of the language with teens: the American front (Hollywood, MTV) and the ghetto front (immigrants - mostly Arab kids - in the poor suburbs of big cities). Much of the ghetto vernacular is in verlan, a slang that reverses the order of syllables (a bit like pig Latin, which began in the United States in the 1930s). Example: The French word for French, "Franais," in verlan is "Cefrans."

Cool (cool): Very good, pleasant. Borrowed American word, picked up from American TV shows syndicated in France. How to say it: Draw out the "ooo," but instead of the American gesture (palm down, hand sweeps right, smooth and easy), French kids do it with fist clenched and arm pumping, a gesture that comes from soccer matches.

Pourra (Poo-RAH): Bad. Variation on the French word pourriture, rotten. How to say it: Lots of emphasis on both syllables. It helps if you scrunch up your face for the first syllable. Rolling your eyes also works well.

Space (spaiss): Hip, with it, in style; as in "outer" space. Borrowed from English. The sense here is futuristic. How to say it: You need a lightness in the delivery. The end of the word should float off, as if in wonder. Your best friend's parents have just purchased your neighborhood's first big-screen TV: "C'est space!"

Mortel! (mor-TEL): Great! Literally, deadly, fatal, lethal.

Fatal! (fah-TAHL): Great! Literally, fatal.

Terrible! (tay-REE-bluh): Very good, very bad, or very surprising, depending on the context, inflection, and accompanying gestures. Literally, terrifying, dreadful, fearful. "C'est mortel/fatal/terrible, ce film!" ("This movie is great!")

Top (toh-puh): Ultimate best. In French, it means an electronic signal, but the term has been borrowed from English and Paris high-fashion runways, as in Top Models, known in France by their first names: Claudia, Cindy, Linda, etc. How to say it: Short and quick; your "p" should expel enough air to blow out a small candle.

Meuf (mef): A young woman, friend. Verlan for "femme" - note reversed letters.

Mec (meck): Man, friend. (In verlan, "keum," pronounced "kem.") In the Paris suburbs, kids might say "keum." In Paris center, it's still "mec." How to say it: Good, solid consonants, land hard on the "c." "If he doesn't watch out, that mec with the camera is going to back straight into the river."

H (hey): Greeting. "H, les mecs, let's give him a hand out of the water."

Reume (rem): Mother. Verlan for "mre."

Reupe (rep): Father. Verlan for "pre."

Dama (dahm-uh): An older woman; verlan for "madame." (PC crowd take note: There is no age distinction in French slang for men. A mec can be any age.)

Goleri (go-lay-REE): Relaxed, chilled- out. Verlan for "rigoler," to laugh.

Note: There seems to be no special phrase for "hanging out." Either those interviewed didn't know the word, or one doesn't exist. One possible explanation: French kids have a harder time finding a place to hang out than American kids do. Many teens here complain bitterly that there is no place (especially in cities outside of Paris) for them to go. You'll find kids on in-line skates or mountain bikes doing things in the street, but the police often ask them to move on. Most teens can't afford $5 glasses of soda in Paris cafes, and if you're not buying, you're asked to leave. Movies cost just under $10. French teens don't work as much, or as young, hence they often don't have the pocket money that American teens do.

Japanese "teenspeak" is characterized by making verbs out of nouns by adding "ru" at the end, making contractions of words, and mixing contracted Japanese and English words.

Takuru: (Japanese has no accented syllables; pronounce it just as spelled): To take a taxi. Taku is a contraction for "taxi." "Ginza de takuru." ("I'm taking a taxi to Tokyo's Ginza district.")

Makuru: To eat at McDonald's. Maku is a contraction of Makudonaldo, McDonald's as pronounced by Japanese. "Korekara makuru?" ("Shall we eat at McDonald's?")

Cho muka: Very disgusting. Cho is short for "super"; muka is short for mukatsuku, disgusting, exasperating.

Cho beri ba: Very bad. Beri is from the English "very," as pronounced in Japanese. Ba is also English, "bad." "A no uta dou?" ("How about that song?") "Cho beri ba yo." ("It's extremely bad."}

Hamachatteru (hahm-ma-chaht-tay-ru): Be absorbed in, mad about. Hammachau is colloquial for hamaru, which means "fit in (a niche)." "Ima Madonna ni hamachatteru." ("I'm crazy for Madonna.")

Cool: Good. Borrowed from America. Teens here also "hang out," as in the US.

Brill: Au courant, hip. Short for "brilliant." (Give the "r" a Scottish trill.)

Pure dead brilliant: Ultimate best. Glaswegians, if not Scots in general, can be heard using this phrase as consummate praise for anything from a movie to a "poke of chips" (bag of fries).

How to say it: It is uttered as if a single word, very fast and run together: "peehoorrdedbrrrullyunt." Say it slowly to get the idea. Now speed it up. Faster. Faster - that's it! "Peehoorrdedbrrrullyunt!"

This phrase has a variety of modifications, including: "dead brilliant," meaning "really really good" ("really-really" and, in extremis, "really-really-really" are used to express ever-extendible degrees of superlativeness), and "pure," as rendering the speaker breathless in his or her admiration. The way this is said implies that it is not necessary to add any further words. "Pure " says it all. "That's pure!"

Mates: Friends; a boy refers to his friends as "ma [my] mates." A girl is more likely to say "pals," female friends.

Hi: Greeting. Said with a clipped Scottish brevity quite unlike any American use of the word. It almost sounds like "hay," but is very briefly breathed out, possibly through the nostrils rather than the mouth, who can be sure? Teens never say "hullo," we are told.

All right (ahreet): Greeting. Not said as a question, but more an acknowledgment, with a glottal-stop "t." "All right," says Jimmy to Andy. "All right," Andy replies. The intonation in both cases is indistinguishable to anyone but Professor Higgins, maybe. Teens also greet each other by simply saying each other's first names in a special and indefinable manner: "Jimmy." "Andy."

Sake!: To express hurt indignation at a petty slight. "Sake, man!" Or just plain "Sake!" It should be uttered despairingly under the breath as if talking to oneself. Short for what politer and duller adults say as "for heaven's sake!"

'I could really go a ...' : "I would really like to have a ..." sandwich, donut, ride in a taxi, drink of Irn-Bru (a type of fizzy, orange-colored soft drink in Scotland).

"I hate to say it," says Kyle Sargant, a 15-year-old who lives in Sydney, "but we copy a lot of slang from American TV."

Sick, mad, groovy, zesty: Good. (In Newcastle up the coast, however, the "in" word is "choice.")

Seedy, krusty, festy, sad: Bad.

Budget: Unhip, uncool. "That's so budget!"

Mingle: To hang out.

Mate, dude, bro: How a male refers to his male friends.

Babe, bud: How a female refers to her friends.

G'day, mate! (gidday, mite!): Greeting; "good day, mate." The Aussie welcome transcends generations.

Mega: Intensifier, meaning "large." "That's a mega-burger!" Borrowed from US.

Unreal: Ultimate best. Also American-derived.

Much of the "hip" Kenyan Swahili vocabulary these days is corrupted English.

Aristo (ar-ris-toe): Clever; a learned person. From the English word "aristocrat." "He's a college graduate, a genuine aristo."

Buda (BU-da.): Father. From "Buddha." "Buda wouldn't let me have the car tonight."

Charlie (CHA-li): Guy, boy.

Cooli (ku-lee): Sneakers, sport shoes.

Plati (pla-tee): Old-fashioned, un-hip. From platform shoes, thick-soled footwear popular in the 1970s. "I couldn't wear that - it's plati!"

Beste (best-EH): Good. Corrupted from English "best." "John is a beste sorta guy."

Diambo (di-AM-bo): Bad. Literal translation: trouble. "I went home and found everything was in diambo."

Fite (fit-EH): Good. From English: "fit," as in "physically fit." "How's it going? It's fite."

Kulo sana (coo-loh sah-nah): Ultimate best. Literal translation, "very nice." "Hey, there's Judy; she looks kulo sana."

Mutu ya mpaa: Friend, literally "someone from home." Also jamaa ya mkaa ("my fellow macho man").

Sasa? (sahss-sah?): Greetings. Literally, "What's happening now?"

Poa (poh-AH): Relaxed, cool. Literally, to reduce the temperature of. "Sasa, James?" "Poa, jamaa ya mkaa."

* Writers contributing to this report: Gail Russell Chaddock, Paris: Miharu Hasegawa, Tokyo; Christopher Andreae, Glasgow; Joyce Hackel, Nairobi. Special thanks to the Sargant family of Sydney.

What interesting words or phrases are current among teens in your area? What do they mean, where do they come from, and how are they used? Please let us know. We'd like to print a selection on a future Home Forum Page.

Or how about some "vintage teenspeak"? Words like "nifty" and "spiffy" are again popular in adolescent speech. Give us some of your favorites, and please include the decade in which they were used, if you can.

You can respond in three ways:

*Send your glossary by electronic mail to:


(Please type 'teenspeak' in the subject field.)

*Join an on-line discussion about teen language in the Monitor's Electronic Edition. Our address on the World Wide Web is:

(In the pull-down menu on the home page, go to The Forum.)

*Or mail your responses to:


The Home Forum, P-214

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