"Get Ur Freak On"
If you don't know what that Missy Elliott song title means, it's time you joined this Cambridge adult-ed class on slang.
THURSDAY, 5:45 P.M. The three class members -- two men from Japan, one woman from Brazil, all young adults -- stare at the list of words in their syllabuses. A. C. Kemp, who teaches this course on slang at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, asks if anyone knows what a crib is.
Muneichi, one of the Japanese men, immediately replies, "Bed for child."
The other student from Japan, Hideki, nods in agreement.
"My niece fell from hers," adds the third student, Ana, who talks with a slight lisp, thanks to her tongue ring.
"Right," says Kemp, flipping back her long brown hair. Then she goes on to ex-plain how in hip-hop music and culture, "crib" also means "house."
"Crib" is one of the tamer words Kemp discusses in her lessons. Some can't be printed here. But nothing is off-limits, which is why these students have taken this class. All three speak English well and understand it even better. But they've also learned that textbook English is a long way from the English of everyday conversations. "There are so many words I don't know on movies and TV, but I don't find anywhere to ask," says Hideki. "Most people don't want to explain. Here, they don't mind."
Slang is one of about 20 English-as-a- second-language courses offered at the nonprofit adult-education center in Harvard Square. This class, held each semester, costs $150 and runs for two hours a week for 10 weeks. The center tries to make its classes interactive, informal, and small, so that people feel welcome and can participate. In Kemp's class, both she and her students sit around one large table, so everyone can see each other while talking. There's also a television with a VCR. Each week, Kemp shows the class some visual -- a movie, a television show -- from which she pulls the slang.
On this Thursday the class watches hip-hop videos from Missy Elliott, R. Kelly, and 50 Cent. Before each video, Kemp goes through a vocabulary list and talks about the words' meanings. Some of the vocabulary is recognizable: "ain't," "chill," "dig." Other words, such as "sweat" (to follow) and "hoopty" (an old, dumpy car), might stump anyone older than 25.
The class also involves lessons. In this session, everyone listens to the video for a second time and tries to fill in missing vocabulary words on a sheet with lyrics. But no one is graded. Mostly, the words serve as a way to spur conversations.
"Do you have hip-hop in your country?" Kemp asks the Japanese students.
"It's recently becoming more popular," says Muneichi.
"I don't like it. It's very annoying," says Hideki. "I'm not sure how you say -- rhymes?"
"Yes, rhymes," confirms Kemp.
"The rhymes don't fit in Japanese. It's horrible," he says.
For two hours, the classmates laugh and talk about music and their own cultures compared with American culture. When the class is done, Kemp previews the next lesson: To learn swear words, they'll watch Pulp Fiction.
Got slang you want to decipher? Visit Kemp's website at www.slangcity.com.