In my last evening class, one of my students came in looking slightly confused. “I’ve got a question about something my English housemate said”, he told me. “OK. Let’s hear it, then”. “Well, I know she went to see this new sci-fi film, Annihilation. Do you know it?” “Well, I’ve heard of it“, I replied, “but it doesn’t really look like my kind of thing, to be honest. But anyway, what was the problem? “Well, this morning, I asked her if she’d enjoyed it and she just said it was cracking.” “Right.” “Well, does that mean it was good or bad, because she looked happy when she said this, but I know that if you crack a plate or a cup, it’s bad, right, because you damage it.”
I laughed, but also realised that I couldn’t remember ever teaching the word cracking, despite the fact that I know it’s a word I use all the time to describe things I’ve greatly enjoyed. In fact the list of things I frequently describe using this adjective is as long as your arm: “What a cracking goal”, I tell my son as we watch a video of Dennis Bergkamp’s moment of genius against Newcastle for the hundredth time; “That’s a cracking idea”, I’ll tell my business partner Andrew, as he comes up with yet another scheme; “How was Dublin / Russia / Spain / Indonesia?” friends ask me after I’ve been away on a trip somewhere. “Cracking”, I reply! On finishing off a plate of roast beef in the pub last Sunday, I pushed the plate away and announced “That was cracking!” “That was a cracking film”, “I had a cracking time”, “I had a cracking couple of days”, “It’s a cracking story” . . . the list goes on and on!
Cracking is one of those words that rarely appears in coursebooks as it’s seen as too informal, or – perhaps – as too British (though I’ve actually no idea if it’s said on the other side of the pond – in America – or not!). Also, we’re often told that most conversations these days are between non-natives rather than with native speakers . . . and yet it’s the kind of word that learners who do encounter Brits will very probably hear. It certainly helped my student yesterday – and I hope it helps you too!
Want to learn more about new uses and British cultural references?
- When was the last time you saw a cracking film? What made it so good?
- What was the last cracking place you visited?
- Have you seen any cracking matches / goals so far during this World Cup?
- Do you like the idea of learning informal native speaker expressions like this? Why? / Why not?