Press / Improper Bostonian
Inner View / Interview with A. C. Kemp

It's been parodied a million times on the big screen, yet it never seems to get old: Foreign exchange student fumbles English colloquialisms while smug Americans yuk it up. Somerville resident and English-as-a-second-language teacher turned web master A. C. Kemp has taken pit on helpless non-English speakers with The site is a guerilla tour of naughty and nice ways to express yourself, with special features on insults, music and sex talk. Here she chats about talkin' jive with the newbies.

IB: Why did you start Slang City in the first place?

AC: I started teaching English as a second language about eight years ago. My students were asking me questions about slang, and I realized there was a real need for it because they couldn't get it anywhere else. So the web site was an extension of the class I taught. I started it just over a year ago.

IB: Who is using the site?

AC: I put it up for my students, but most of the people who go to it are Americans.

IB: What's the most popular part of the site?

AC: Definitely the body parts map, followed by the Adult Slang Picture Dictionary. That [section] was very difficult to do without being pornographic. It involves a lot of poses with stuffed animals.

IB: What slang phrases are the hardest to explain?

AC: Oh gosh. When I first started teaching, people were always asking me about really bad things, [like] "What does 'blow me' mean?" You can't use euphemisms. You have to be really explicit. The first year I taught, I was really blushing, but I've gotten over that now.

IB: You interpret pop and rap lyrics a lot on the web site. How do you find out the meaning of words such as "milkshake" and "wanksta" if you're not sure?

AC: I look on the Internet, or I'll ask friends. One time, I was working on the Missy Elliot song "Work It" and I thought I knew what she was talking about but I wanted to be sure before putting it on the site. I called Emerson College's rap station and asked this guy. I think he was pretty embarrassed.

IB: What's your favorite American slang expression in another language?

AC: I had a student once ask me about what Americans say when they have an orgasm. I said, "They say 'I'm coming.'" She said, "In Japan, we say 'I'm going.'" I thought that was the funniest thing.

IB: What are some new slang phrases most people wouldn't have heard yet?

AC: The ones I tend to get asked about on the web site are from songs. I've been asked about "milkshake" and "ice cream" lately.

January 21-February 3, 2004

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