tip off
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How sick? Fully sick.

Piers Kelly writes:

As an Australianism, ‘fully sick’ isn’t exactly the latest news but somehow it still has the power to enthuse and dismay. I first remember hearing it in Melbourne in the mid-1990s and became an instant ironic user. The Macquarie word map has reports of people using it in Melbourne and Sydney only, so it’s possible that many readers won’t be familiar with it. For those out of the loop, ‘sick’ is an expression of enthusiasm or admiration. Eg, “Have a listen to this song, it’s sick”. The obligatory intensifier for ‘sick’ is ‘fully’. It’s associated with Mediterranean and/or Middle Eastern Australian English and speakers of these varieties certainly became early adopters, as represented in the popular SBS program Fat Pizza. By the time of the 2000 Sydney Olympics it had trickled up to Roy and HG who included it (at least ironically) in their commentary. And the Med/Mid-East connection was reinforced by You Tube sensation Clare Werbeloff, whose false account of witnessing a shooting in Kings Cross featured all kinds of ethnic ‘voices’ in the manner of a classic racconteur. Notice, for example, the distinctly kiwi inflection of the ‘fatter wog’ (video here):

…there were these two wogs fighting and the fatter wog said to the skinnier wog, “Oi bro, you slept with my cousin, ‘ey!”. And the other one said, “Nah man, I didn’t for shit, ‘ey!”. The other one goes, “I will call on my fully sick boys,” and then they pulled out a gun and just went “Chk chk, boom!”. And I ran away, because that’s all I wanted to see.

Why ‘fully’? I’ve a feeling that ‘fully’ had already been floating around well before ‘sick’ came onto the scene. For almost as long as I can remember I’ve heard ‘fully’ used to express agreement. Eg, “That exam was hard” “Yeah, fully”. That ‘sick’ is prefaced with any kind of intensifier at all might have something to do with the fact that it’s figurative meaning (‘excellent’) is semantically opposed to its literal meaning (‘ailing’, ‘shabby’). Could it be that ‘fully’ coupled itself to ‘sick’ to guard against possible ambiguity? Consider these expressions:

“That band is shit” (negative evaluation) vs. “That band is the shit” (positive evaluation)

“Carlos Celdran is a bastard” (negative evaluation) vs. “Carlos Celdran is a funny bastard” (positive evaluation).

"Howard DJs like a cunt" (negative evaluation) vs "Howard DJs like a mad cunt" (positive evaluation)

"Howard DJs like a cunt" (negative evaluation) vs "Howard DJs like a mad cunt" (positive evaluation)

Of course ‘sick’ doesn’t necessarily need a modifier to be understood in its intended sense, which  reminds me of the Spanish slang use of cabrón (bastard, literally ‘billy goat’) which can carry the sense of a positive evaluation of a thing without any ornamental words to prevent it from being misunderstood. On the other hand, calling a Spanish gent ‘hija de puta’ (son of a whore) is an invitation to a fight, possibly to the death. But refer to the same caballero as de puta madre (like a whore mother), with awestruck intonation, and you are offering him the highest form of praise.

Context, as Clare Werbeloff keenly understood, is everything.

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  • 1
    Jackon Taylor
    Posted April 20, 2010 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    I love it.

  • 2
    baal
    Posted April 20, 2010 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    Fully is another version of totally and almost identical in meaning

  • 3
    Greg Angelo
    Posted April 20, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    At the other end of the spectrum is the proposition that word should have specific meanings to avoid ambiguity. If someone tells me that something is making them “fully sick” my immediate reaction would be to suggest that they see in doctor or go to hospital. I can understand somebody listening to pop music saying it makes them feel “fully sick’” but I would assume that they were having some language difficulties withh the intended meaning being something like revolting, or making them feel ill.

    I have no problem with language evolving without necessarily distorting meaning. When I was younger, “things that go bonk in the night” had at completely different connotation, as does a the word gay which used to be associated with happiness, it now has a less prosaic alternative meaning.

  • 4
    W H Chong
    Posted April 20, 2010 at 6:19 pm | Permalink

    This is a magnificent piece. It’s grouse. Luvyawork, esp the artwork, which really is fully.

  • 5
    Abel
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    Proof-reading: ‘The Macquarie word map has reports of people using it [in] Melbourne and Sydney only…’

  • 6
    Piers Kelly
    Posted April 21, 2010 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    Proof-reading

    Cheers, Abel

  • 7
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 1:28 am | Permalink

    When this blog first came to my attention and before I read this post I was trying to make sense of the blog name. What I kept seeing was part of the URL: “au/fullysic”, which I read as “aufully (sic)”. Ever since, I’ve wondered if that was deliberate (and so obvious that no one bothered to mention it). But after two months of thinking it every time I visit, I’ll go ahead and point it out.

  • 8
    Fully (sic)
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    @Bill: It’s not deliberate but Mark Liberman made the same observation as you here http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2387

  • 9
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    That’s funny and embarrassing, since I think that Language Log post is probably how I ended up finding you to begin with. I either missed his observation completely (it’s a long post–maybe I was skimming), or absorbed it subconsciously.

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