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3 English Words Take On Meanings That Do Not Make Sense

Updated on June 11, 2013

Talking Now

Words, let's talk about it.
Words, let's talk about it. | Source

The English Language

There are many words in the English language that have two meanings, and many words even have more than two definitions. When English words take on new meanings that do not make sense, it is time to stop and pause.

When we speak words that do not literally make sense in the context of the particular sentence, have we undermined the notion that language is about communicating and teaching? There are rules of grammar and spelling. Popular phrases, however, often do not make sense in literal terms.

For example, picture "You the man" being spoken to a woman. The phrase means "You are great", but how would a person new to the English language understand the intended meaning of the phrase?

There are three words that further illustrate the point. These words are used by English speakers around the world.

Sweet rolls. A different kind of sweet.
Sweet rolls. A different kind of sweet. | Source

The Word Sweet

Two definitions of the word "sweet" according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary are:

  • Pleasing to the taste.
  • Being or inducing one of the four basic taste sensations.

Now, think, about the ways you hear the word "sweet" being used today. Have you said the word without referring to your taste buds? Did you use the word to describe that great song on the radio the other day or the vibrant photo you recently pinned on Pinterest? There are other definitions for sweet that we use than the two outlined in the list above.

In conversations, sweet sometimes becomes a word used to describe something we really like. "Sweet coat, I want it!" and "That car is sweet with those new rims" are examples. There is no reference to one's sense of taste. Yet the new definition for sweet has been formed and is used by many English speakers.

A popular definition of "sweet" is:

  • An alternative word for awesome.

Please note that here are variations on the word as well. People may draw out the "e" in the word to be "sweeeeet!" and elongate the word as "sweetness". The variations are popular as well.

These bottles will help you when you are a certain type of sick.
These bottles will help you when you are a certain type of sick. | Source

The Word Sick

When you first think of the word "sick" you may associate it with a person affected by a disease or illness. When you had measles as a child, you were told you were sick.

Today, you may hear the word "sick" used in these phrases:

  • Her talent is sick! Wow, she sings really well!!
  • The way you dance is sick! You are so creative in your movements; I really liked your routine!

"Sick", when used in the contexts of these two sentences, refers to being excellent and above par. Sick is a compliment. The word is often used in the context of the arts, such as music and dance. The word has become a positive term, whereas several years ago it had such a negative connotation. To be sick meant to be feeling ill and having to stay home from work or school. Today, it can be a good thing to be sick!

Cool Is the Word

Cool has developed a variety of definitions for English speakers. "Cool" can refer to the temperature of your fridge or of the water in the sink. The temperature is not quite cold but is also not warm; cool falls in between the two.

Have you heard someone refer to an item that they like as "cool"? Perhaps they said:

"Cool bike, I would love to have one myself one day!"

To be called cool or to have an item of yours referred to as cool are good things! There are positive associations with the word by English speakers. The word means "Hey, I like that" or "I approve of that item".

The definition of cool as being a positive attribute for a person or an item is very different than the temperature of an item. How strange that the word has taken on the new definition that is miles away from the temperature of the water you use to brush your teeth in the morning!

Cool water temperature. A cool photo as well?
Cool water temperature. A cool photo as well? | Source

English Words

These three words exemplify the reason why people learning English as a second language find the process to be difficult. There are slang words and words can be used as both adjectives and verbs. Factor in "sweet", "cool", and "sick" items to mix and there is a lot for people to learn about English.

Even people whose first language is English may have trouble keeping up with the latest definitions tagged on to words. Language varies over time and sometimes the newly acquired definitions go out of style and stop being used. What to do but shake your head and embrace the sweet trends in word definitions that surround you! Otherwise, you may not seem to be very cool!

Do You Use The Three Words?

Do You Use The Three Words In The Context Of Their Newer Definitions?

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    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 4 years ago from Long Island, NY

      I use the word sweet to mean awesome when I like something someone did. Well, actually only towards women. Is that being sexist? I wouldn't say "You're so sweet" to a man. That definition of the use of the word "sick" as used today was a surprise to me. Completely the opposite of what I expected. My! - how times are changing. As for "cool" - I'll end my comment with saying I think your Hub is cool !

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @Brian, your comment has brought me close to tears. Thank-you. I am at a loss for more words but I will tell you that I know I will come back to re-read your comment and really appreciate you. Take care.

    • BRIAN SLATER profile image

      Brian Slater 5 years ago from England

      Hey Christy you say the sweetest things and most hubbers adore you all the more for it. You are way to cool a person and everyone takes notice when you write a new hub. I've never heard anyone say anything but nice things about you, hubbers never get sick or tired of hearing your voice. voted up and shared.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @bmcoll, Thanks for your great comment. The word "sick" is a difficult one to understand as it is meant in a good way yet the original meaning is a negative one. Yes you are right that phrases between Canada and the US can differ considerably. Oh the English language LOL (wait is that Canadian too?!)

    • bmcoll3278 profile image

      bmcoll3278 6 years ago from Longmont, Colorado

      You look young. Try understanding teens at my age of 47.

      My son said something was "sick" It took me hours to figure out he liked it.You are also from Canada . Some of your phrases are very strange to us US people , as I'm sure ours are to you. and we both speak English. I have always said things like If oranges are orange the shoulden't apples be reds? That is another one I just used. "like" Many people here use that word after every sentence when speaking. It drives me like crazy. Great Hub I enjoyed reading it.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @Deborah, you bring up an interesting point that certain words are used by people of different ages.. Thank-you for your coooool comment :)

      @Vinaya, I find it incredible that you write hubs so well and English is your second language! You are doing so well my friend.

    • DeborahNeyens profile image

      Deborah Neyens 6 years ago from Iowa

      Interesting hub. I use cool for it's newer meaning, but not sweet or sick. Cool has been around for a while, but I'm probably too old for the other two. : )

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 6 years ago from Nepal

      English is my second language, and in my place this language is developing a regional taste.

      It is always interesting to note the usage of common words.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @Marc, yes a little bit of a jaunt into language! Thanks for stopping by buddy :)

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @Jamie, I think the word sick came to be used in the new form because it does have a sort of shock value about it. It is the opposite of what you would expect with the word, isn't it?! Thanks for your comment here :)

      @Rolly, I'm glad you are smiling my friend. Nice to see you here!

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @Made, How interesting about Sweden! Especially that the word 'cool' is not changed but instead stays in English. Learning about language is fun. Thanks for your comments!

    • Marc Babineau profile image

      Marc Babineau 6 years ago from Cornwall, Ontario, The Seaway City

      Hehe - a short venture into cunning linguistics?

    • Jamie Brock profile image

      Jamie Brock 6 years ago from Texas

      Hey Christy, This is an interesting hub! I have used the word cool for a long time but not sweet or sick so much. I notice my teenagers say sweet and sick quite a bit.. when referring to stuff that they think is neat or cool. I don't know if I would ever get used to called stuff sick or sweet.. but especially not sick. It's hard for me to equate that with something good. Sick seems to be more popular with teens in general.. or at least from what I've seen. Great hub, thanks for sharing!

    • Rolly A Chabot profile image

      Rolly A Chabot 6 years ago from Alberta Canada

      Hi Christy... good article and one which raises many questions of the way we have changed the meanings over the years... smiles to what you have written here.

      Hugs as always

    • Made profile image

      Madeleine Salin 6 years ago from Finland

      It's really funny, because we use the word "sweet" and "sick" the same way in Swedish (sweet=söt and sick=sjuk). We use the English word "cool" in Swedish too the same way, and we don't translate it. I guess Swedish is much influenced by English. Really interesting hub!

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @Claudia, language certainly can be fun when new definitions are added to words. I think you are cool and your remarks are sweet :)

      @Sunshine, hehe you are able to make me laugh! I like your sweet comment too!

      @thoughtforce, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. You are right that English is not alone in the way the definitions of words expand over time. Thanks for stopping by!

      @Teaches, I appreciate all of your comments. Thank-you so much.

    • ChristyWrites profile image

      Christy Birmingham 6 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      @billybuc, I'm glad you liked the hub! I agree that learning English as a second language must be so difficult. I had fun writing this hub!

      @Angelo52, you are witty! I think it's cool that you wrote such a great comment!

      @Joesy, I tried to pick words that most readers would be familiar with. I am always hearing new uses for words, people do have fun with language! Thanks for the comment.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 6 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I have no idea how someone who does not speak English ever learns the language. It has been so distorted over the years and there are so many words, just like the three you highlighted, that can be misconstrued.

      Great hub Christy!

    • Angelo52 profile image

      Angelo52 6 years ago from Central Florida

      Good information. Never really thought of how using those 3 words could be so cool. How sweet it is that you put together this great hub. Is that sick?

    • Joesy Shmoesy profile image

      Joesy Shmoesy 6 years ago from New England

      Fun topic, and so true. Although I recognize and use these three words I still hear some out there that I don't get at all.

    • Claudia Tello profile image

      Claudia Tello 6 years ago from Mexico

      I use "sweet" and "cool" in their newer definitions all the time but not sick, I don’t know why but I don’t like that word in its latest context. It is true that language is constantly recreated, and I am glad it is because it makes it much more fun!! :)

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 6 years ago from Orlando, FL

      This hub is sweeeet! I agree with the many uses of these three words and they are way cool. It would be sick to use them any other way! You are so hip Christy!:))

    • thougtforce profile image

      Christina Lornemark 6 years ago from Sweden

      Words with different meanings are difficult but every language has these words that can mean totally different things. It is interesting to see how the language and the words slowly change over time! You did a great hub describing these words! Voted up, useful interesting, and sharing!


    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 6 years ago

      Good way to describe these three words. I think the word sick is hard for children to explain. Especially when you need to know how they feel. Great topic and well written.


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