Word of the day: Blimey!

I have to begin with a bit of a confession: I’m quite a nosy person! Sometimes I can probably be a bit too interested in what other people are doing and I always want to find out more about them! Of course, in some ways, this is quite a useful quality for a teacher to possess, because it helps me get to know my students. I enjoy asking lots of questions and finding out as much as I can about the people I’m teaching, and I know how to use this kind of information when teaching. For instance, if I know what someone does in their free time and I’m teaching the phrase keep fit, I might explain that Natalia likes to keep fit by going mountain-biking, thus firmly rooting the new piece of vocabulary in the realities of my own learners.

Being nosy also means that I enjoy eavesdropping – listening to people’s private conversations without them knowing I’m doing it. Of course, I can always claim it’s all being done in the name of linguistic curiosity (!!) and in fact, it does often lead me to notice things I’d not thought much about before.

Just yesterday, I was sitting on the bus going in to work listening to the old couple behind me natter away when I heard this wonderful sample of everyday speech:

Forty-five pounds she paid for that. Forty-five pounds!

> Blimey! Did she?

And then she only went and lost it the very first day she had it, didn’t she?

> Blimey! Well, there you go,

On one level, it was a great example of how to just about manage to sound interested in a conversation you’re clearly not really paying much attention to, but it was also a reminder of quite how common an exclamation Blimey! is – and how under-taught it is as well. Blimey is basically used to express surprise or excitement about what someone has just told you, and actually originated in the 19th century, when it was more widely said as Gor Blimey, which is derived from (May) God blind me! Of course, those were more religious times and the idea of ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain’ and using words like God or Jesus to do anything other than refer to God or Jesus was seen as blasphemous – offensive to God and to religious people. As a result, this strange version of the expression developed and is still commonly used today!

You might think that language teaching wouldn’t be affected by these kinds of ideas anymore, but as writers we’ve had to remove God (used as an expression of shock or anger) from dialogues in books we’ve written because – allegedly – “some people might find it offensive“! It was suggested that we replaced it with Gosh, which is, of course, derived from God in the same way as Blimey comes from God blind me! Gosh, though, sounds incredibly polite and upper-middle class, and thus not really suitable for the contexts we were writing about. In the end, we went for something that sounded like Gor or Cor to capture the emotion we wanted expressed. Of course, I know what you’re thinking by now: “They compromised! Blimey! I can’t believe it!”

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  • Is it common in your language to use words connected to religion in other contexts?
  • Would you describe yourself as nosy in any way? Do you like eavesdropping?
  • What’s the strangest / funniest thing you’ve overheard recently?
  • Do you think it’s useful to learn words that some people may sometimes consider offensive? Why? / Why not?
  • What other qualities do you think it’s useful for teachers to possess? Why?

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