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Stupid innit?

Actress Emma Thompson told a group of school kids the other day that using slang words like ‘innit?’ instead of ‘isn’t it?’ makes them sound stupid. It seems that the real issue is context. The way you chat with your friends is obviously more informal than the way you would speak to a teacher, and most children understand this. For learners of English though, it can all be a bit tricky – although the Macmillan Dictionary uses a range of word labels like very formal or very informal, every learner has used slang in the wrong environment at some point or another. Any embarrassing mistakes you want to share?

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Beth Penfold


  • This is very interesting, particularly as it is a topic tackled in Fry’s English Delight recently (Stephen Fry’s podcast on the English language). He argues that “innit” is simply the English version of the French “n’est-ce pas?” and as such shouldn’t be derided as slang.

    While I never use “innit” I do pepper my conversations with “like” and “kinda, like”, usually without realising it. It must be both confusing and iritating for the non-native speakers of my acquaintance.

  • Well, the same happens in other languages, too – so don’t fear we get confused. Some Germans (it is a question of the region you come from) put words like “halt” in their speach without knowing so. (“Halt” doesn’t mean “stop” here.) Others like interjections like “ja?” or “stimmt’s” (“right”?) in rather absurd connecitons. So don’t worry. And when we slip into slang in surroundings we’d prefer not doing so, other people might not even notice, innit?

  • Hi Claudia, that’s reassuring and you are quite right of course, that every language has it’s own slang and every user of any language knows to moderate their language based on the situation they happen to be in. Thanks for your comment.

  • Quite right Caroline! I think the line between formal English and slang has to be a lot more flexible these days. Oh I LOVE ‘Fry’s English Delight’! There is something new for me to learn in every episode – rock on Stephen! Thanks for your comment, Caroline.

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