Home > cultural commentary, education > Not letting meaning get in the way…

Not letting meaning get in the way…

According to this story on the BBC, ‘A number of made-up words such as “koob” or “zort” are to be included in the government’s planned new reading test for six-year-olds in England. The idea has drawn criticism from literary experts who say the approach will confuse those beginning to read. The UK Literacy Association said the plan was “bonkers” as the purpose of reading was to understand meaning. The government said non-words were being included to check pupils’ ability to decode words using phonics.’

Apparently “The test is trying to control all the different variables so that things like meaning don’t get in the way.”

Now Urban Dictionary may not be the most authoritative source, since it includes many slang words that are coined and used by small coteries of American teenagers. But that said:

Koob (verb): Happens whilst you are consuming something, when you get an overwhelming feeling that you don’t want to finish what you started, but you do anyway for some reason.

Alternatively, as a noun: ‘A person who is often intelligent but showing a level of intelligence severley [sic] below an average level.’

Zort: four meanings of which one is an acronym (Zombie Outbreak Resistance Tactician); one is ‘Chicago American-Italian slang for money’; one relates to a character in the World of Warcraft game, and one… let’s just say it would appear out of place in a test for six year-olds.

Alternatively, if the real intention is to test whether kids can read without things like meaning getting in the way – is this really a skill we want to encourage? Don’t we already have enough people who can write and talk without meaning getting in the way? What do we call those people? Oh, I remember – koobs. Or politicians.

Maybe the entire plan was thought up by a vindictive civil servant who wanted to find new and interesting ways to embarrass ministers? In many ways that would be the most charitable explanation.

[Edited to add] – koob is also a spelling variant of kubb, a lawn game that originated in Sweden. The rules are here.

The thing is, almost any collection of consonants and vowels that’s vaguely capable of being pronounced will either be a word in some slang or dialect, or will become so as soon as it’s created. Language is dynamic like that. I’d think since ‘koob’ and ‘zort’ have been proposed for a reading test, either can now be defined – indeed in future may be defined in dictionaries – as ‘(noun) a word coined by a government minister, official or advisor that is deliberately intended to be vague or meaningless’. They might then go on to cite the term ‘Big Society’ as an example of a koob.

Oh, and how many mothers would be happy to explain the fourth meaning of ‘zort’ to their six year-old?

  1. February 20, 2011 at 12:03 am

    As an American, if I may explain: Teenage slang begins as code, street talk or a secret language and should always be written in pencil. Eventually the word leaks out to the general public and when it does the ‘in’ crowd will change it. In any case, everything new will be old in 10 years or less, much less.

    It can be fun to discover these words, and the Urban Dictionary is a good place for them, as it can be update regularly. But to insert them into a legitimate dictionary or teach them to children is ludicrous, as they will most certainly be out of style long before the book is printed,long before these children get out of high school. 🙂 What are they thinking???? LOL

    Thinking of LOL–computer slang might hang around longer than street buzz.

    • February 20, 2011 at 6:05 pm

      Teenage slang should always be written in pencil? LOL. Government proposals should maybe always be written with a finger, on thin air, so it can blow away when the wind changes…

  2. February 20, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Zort: four meanings of which one is an acronym (Zombie Outbreak Resistance Tactician)…..MMmmmmm very useful word lol. A close friend, many birthdays ago thought it useful to buy me a book entitled: “How to Survive a Zombe Attack” though I have flicked through it on occasion whilst sorting my bookshelves, it hasn’t as yet proved useful…YET. I feel safer just knowing that its there!

  3. February 20, 2011 at 10:06 pm

    Our wonderful govt should get out of education. After all, they can’t even add up their own expenses. Leave educating to the educators. Teachers and lecturers. Surely the govt has enough to do without meddling in things they don’t understand and teachers have enough to do without trying to teach children how to make no sense. They need to zort themselves out!

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