"To me, strange is just another way of saying unusual. And unusual is just another way of saying special.” – Drew Hayden Taylor

An estimate, done in 2017, found that more than 1,5 billion people, 20% of the world’s population speaks English! Interestingly, most fluent users are non-native speakers of the language, a staggering 330 to 360 million in number. It ranks third, after Mandarin and Spanish, as the largest language spoken by native speakers.

Besides being widely spoken, English is, by a long stretch, the most commonly studied language globally, distantly followed by French.

As a universal, or global, language it is widely-spoken and is understood on every continent.

Although not impossible, it is extremely unusual to encounter anyone who has not previously encountered English. Words such as ‘Sorry’, ‘Where’s the rest room?’ and ‘I love you’ have been encountered in the classroom, on TV shows, songs and movies.

English is so influential in so many spheres that it has been accepted as the language for work, business and communication across the globe.

blue and black skyscrapers
English is the international language of business. - Source: Unsplash

This popularity has seen a substantial rise in the need for English Second Language (ESL) teachers, because there is a great desire to speak this international language!

Advertisements seeking qualified English teachers, to teach overseas, are abundant, with schools, companies and hiring agencies all sharing one common requirement: that the prospective candidate has completed a recognised TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teach English as a Second Language) course.

Globally, first language writing skills or excellent literacy skills can get you hired straight away at some prestigious schools or teaching centres. This on-the-job experience will also help you decide if you’re cut out for a career in teaching!

In this article, we will examine some really weird and lengthy words. The article also looks at expressions used in various English-speaking countries spread across the world. ESL teachers will have their work cut out to explain some of them to their students!

Are you a learner who’s ready for a gripping journey through this language, which has roots which are, weirdly, Indo-Germanic? We definitely hope so!

Should an ESL Teacher Present Weird and Funny Jargon in Lessons?

At the outset, it must be said that an ESL teacher designs his or her English course to help students to develop their reading, writing, listening and speaking skills as they are guided towards language proficiency.

The teacher will always strive towards providing learners a full, deep understanding of the English language. No matter how bright or hard-working the class may be, the intricacies of the language may present difficulties for some, especially those with restricted English skills.

Like all languages which are foreign to a non-native speaker, English grammar, vocabulary, expressions and conjugation have some strange definitions and terms.

Some of these unusual words and phrases are not a part of standard English elsewhere, but are soundly entrenched in the cultures of English-speaking countries like Australia, Canada, the UK and the US.

An ESL teacher faces an interesting conundrum: “Do I expose my learners to some of the weird words and expressions in this language which is already strange to them?”

The answer echoing back at them would be a deafening YES!

group of small children in class
Weird and unusual words can make the ESL classroom very interesting! - Source: Unsplash

The teacher of an ESL class would be wise to incorporate strange, weird or funny expressions to English novices as they will enrich the learning experience, language skills and prevent boring lessons which have long, complicated explanations.

The language experience should, at the end of the day, end up being memorable!

Although being familiar with unusual English words isn’t necessary for taking a final exam or developing fluency, they should not be avoided, because they provide classmates an opportunity to enjoy a nice laugh, which helps fellow students bond and develop a heightened appreciation of the English language.

The ESL learner must know that the terminology will differ, depending on which English-speaking country he or she lives in or visits.

As an English-speaker from South Africa, I sometimes have difficulty understanding some of the queer phrases used by Americans, Brits, Canadians or Australians which are generally understood in the region where they’re from. These words, phrases, expressions or idioms, or vernacular, are terminology commonly understood in a specific area.

English is spoken right around the globe, so accents and expressions are inevitably going to vary, depending on where you are. Nonetheless, ESL teachers should welcome the zaniness of the language and encourage their students to embrace the unusual expressions used in the various English-speaking countries.

An ESL teacher must keep in mind that the unusual influences will add quite a bit of spice to language lessons and keep learners interested.

The Longest English Words

“How come 'abbreviated' is such a long word?” – Steven Wright

When setting out to learn a foreign language, the longest words are the scariest. However, there are short words such as ‘a’ and ‘I’ in all languages around the globe, as there are inescapably long ones.

The average foreign language school teacher would not present his or her ESL students with long, weird words for fear of frightening them away from completing their English second language courses.

The top ESL teachers know that, when teaching non-native students, it is best to introduce them to shorter words first so that they can systematically build their skills and confidence, without facing setbacks early on.

Today, however, the enquiring ones will be introduced to the longest words to be found in the English language.

Of course, the learning of these words is not mandatory. Neither will they be taught in the first English classes, as learners will not encounter them in daily communication, nor in writing and reading.

However, let’s have some fun and examine a few really cool words:

  •  Antidisestablishmentarianism: one of the lengthiest words listed in the Oxford dictionary, is 28 letters long and uses most of the letters in the alphabet. What does it mean? It describes someone who is against a movement which advocates the separation of state and church. Quite a tongue-twister, yet easy to describe!
  • Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis: a medical term hardly ever used by any doctor. It’s quite a mouthful, at 45 letters in length, and describes a certain kind of lung condition.
  • Floccinaucinihilipilification: this 29-letter words has a definition which describes something as having little or no value. 'Worthless’ could have done the same!
  • Euouae:  This word only contains six letters, but it is the longest word in English that is made up of nothing but vowels. It's a musical term and refers to a type of cadence in medieval music.
  • Sesquipedalianism: This noun refers to the tendency to use long and sometimes obscure words.

As someone whose first language is English, I would definitely require some tuition if I ever wanted to try to read these words out loud. However, I shan’t because I don’t need to, and neither do you. I’m sure you’d be quite happy to hear that you don’t need to memorise the abovementioned words as you’ll, in all probability, never read, write or say them. You may end up twisting your tongue on these words and that will definitely get in the way of you developing greater fluency in the language!

Funnily enough, one of the the most complicated words in English only has three letters. The word 'run' has more than 640 interpretations for its verb form alone!

Would you, however, love to learn some more not-so-common expressions and words. Below we examine some of the queerest phrases and words used in the English-speaking countries of Australia, New Zealand, the US and the UK.

Strange English Expressions and Words used in the UK

Of the 400 million native English speakers, 67 million reside in the UK. While these countries, to a large degree, have given rise to the global language of English, there are numerous expressions and words that are distinctly peculiar to Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England.

Let’s examine some of them!

Bizarre Words

Here follow some of the weirdest words used by UK-residents:

  • Gibberish: a widely-used word, even in modern-day UK, it denotes unintelligible or unintelligent writing or speech; absolute nonsense. E.g: The woman over there is talking gibberish.
  • Ragamuffin: not understood or well-known everywhere in the UK, it harks back to the middle ages. It refers to someone who is dirty or untidily dressed. E.g: Tuck in your shirt; you make me think of a ragamuffin.
  • Kerfuffle: a word of Irish and Scottish origin, still in everyday use, that could mean what’s all the noise about or what are you fussing over?

Weird Expressions

Here are some really odd, unusual and funny expressions used by Brits:

  • Take the biscuit: an odd expression used when an individual has done something extremely exasperating or surprising. E.g: I could deal with her looking in my bag, but to eat my lunch takes the biscuit.
  • Bee's knees: indicates that something is really cool or great; the cream of the crop. E.g: Ladysmith Black Mambazo are really the bee’s knees.
  • A few sandwiches short of a picnic: this expression tells of someone who’s not very bright. E.g: Joey is my best friend, but he’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic.
nope graffiti
English can be confusing with the many informal words used by native speakers. - Source: Unsplash

Strange English Expressions and Words used in the United States

Most native speakers of English, around 300 million of them, reside in the United States of America, making ‘American English’ the most universally recognised and spoken English dialect.

Below we look at the most bizarre expressions and words used by US citizens.

Unusual Words

The words below are not generally recognised or used elsewhere:

  •  Zonked:  this means to be extremely exhausted or tired. E.g: He was zonked after Saturday's party.
  • Sneakers: called sneakers, running shoes or tennis shoes in other countries (and tackies in South Africa). E.g: His  sneakers broke after just one run in them.
  • Sweet: this doesn’t refer to how something tastes; rather, it refers to how cool or great something is regarded. E.g: That dive you took off the high board was really sweet.
  • Gobbledygook: this US-created word derives from the sound that a turkey makes. It signifies ‘gibberish’ and literally means something unintelligible and nonsensical. E.g: Calculus is gobbledygook to most of my class.

Zany Expressions

Americans have quite a number of peculiar expressions, some of which are examined below:

  • A foot in the door: this is not a literal expression; it doesn’t suggest that you’re preventing the door from being closed; it does, however, suggest that someone has found a way into something (e.g. a company) via a short-cut. E.g: Zinzi has her foot in the door at that large, multinational company.
  • As easy as pie: Americans love sweet things, so one can expect sayings about candy, cakes and pies. It suggests that something is simple, straightforward. E.g: Fixing the flat tyre (or tire in American English) was as easy as pie.
  • Take a rain check: not to be taken literally, this expression has nothing to do with the weather! It means to postpone an invitation or request it to a more suitable or opportune moment. E.g: I can’t meet you tonight, but let us take a rain check.

 Weird English Words and Expressions from Canada

red bicycle leaning against wooden wall with maple leaf mural
There are English expressions and words that you'll only hear in Canada. - Source: Unsplash

Canada is, in terms of its geographical size, the largest English-speaking country, but, actually, only 58% (around 20,2 million) of its total population are native speakers of English. This is because a large percentage of Canadians are French first language speakers.

Many outsiders view America and Canada as twins, yet Canada has a range of unusual expressions and words that are not readily understood by Americans. Below we examine a few.

Unusual Words

Here are some quirky and unique Canadian words:

  • Eh: the most commonly recognised Canadian word on an international scale. It is often added on to the back of a statement, turning it into a question, inviting a courteous response. E.g: ‘We had some lovely rain yesterday, eh?’

You understand, eh? Okay. Let’s move on.

  • Loonie: this is a weird word used to describe a one-dollar coin. To make matters worse, it is also used when referring to a two-dollar coin in Canada. Weird, eh? E.g: She found a loonie in her son’s pants’ pocket.
  • Tuque: What’s that? It’s a knitted hat which you wear to keep your head warm on those frigid winter days and nights. E.g: It was so cold yesterday, I wore my tuque.

Queer Expressions

Below we share some hilarious Canadian sayings that any ESL student will find challenging:

  • Canadian tuxedo: not a very classy outfit. This is when someone, girl or guy, wears jeans and tops it off with a denim jacket over a shirt of their choosing. E.g: I saw you yesterday looking stunning in your Canadian tuxedo.
  • Double double: can often be heard at Tim Hortons, Canada's most renowned coffee shop. It means double the amount of sugar and double the cream. E.g: I’d like a double double, please.

Unusual English Words and Expressions Used in Australia

New Zealand and Australia are the two most prominent countries in Oceania where English is the predominant language. Today, we focus primarily on Australia. The country, also referred to as being ‘down under’, is a prominent member of the Commonwealth and has about 16.5 million native English speakers.

Let’s look at some of the most common utterances you’ll hear ‘down under’.

Bizarre Words

Here follow some Aussie words that will have an ESL student wondering whether he’s listening to English or some other strange tongue:

  • Barbie: not the doll launched 60 years ago, a barbie is simply an Australian barbecue. E.g: Come over for a barbie on Saturday.
  • Bogan: this word commonly describes a person who is described as a 'redneck' or is used when one of a group of friends is acting oddly.
  • Gnarly: often heard on Australian beaches; it means excellent, brilliant or fantastic. E.g: That was gnarly ride, mate.
G'day Mate! Australian English signage
The Aussies' brand of English sounds like no other language on earth! - Source: Unsplash

Strange Phrases

The phrases below will leave even native English speakers puzzled:

  • Having a whinge: excuse me? This means to protest (complain) about something; Australians often love 'having a whinge' about their boss or the weather. E.g: What is she having a whinge about, mate?
  • You little ripper: a cute expression that Aussies uttered in pure delight when something important or noteworthy happens. When would one use it? When you’ve received good news, your horse has just won his race, your last varsity class was cancelled. E.g: Brilliant stuff, you little ripper!

In closing, learning interesting, new, unusual and maybe even weird words and expressions can provide you a bit of respite from the rigours of your normal, conventional exposure to the English language. The weirdest part is that most of these unusual words and expressions are spoken by English first language speakers around the globe.

We hope that the contents of this article have been informative and fun for non-native students who want to become proficient in English. Learning a new language can be daunting and thrilling at the same time, especially when the eccentricities of the language are exposed. Who would have thought that learning a second language could be this interesting?

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Career teacher turned writer. Passionate about family, running, and the great outdoors.