Thursday, April 23, 2015

Measuring Beyonce's Butt -- Psyched, siked, siced (contains profanity)

This week's #rhizo15 task asks us to count. "What can we measure that isn't learning? Think about all the other facets of the human experience..can we do better?" Dave ends by begging us to grade him.

What the hell is he talking about? My grade for the clarity of this task is a D-.

My feeling about the fact that he is asking these questions is an A+. I embrace the mess.

Since I don't really understand the question, here's my take on trying to measure something that's rather non-linear/amorphous/constantly evolving/impossible to pin down. Like #rhizo15.

A WTF Face-Palm moment happened recently in my classroom, during which I realized we have reached the End of Times Apocalypse stage in student vocabulary.

A student was writing a story, and she wanted to say that the character was "psyched" about something, meaning excited.  However, she insisted that the word was "sīced" and pronounced with a soft c - as in slīced, without the "L." Yes.  Sīced.

I assumed she was simply making an error in pronunciation, but she (and several other students) explained to me QUITE OBNOXIOUSLY with great vigor that I was a complete moron I clearly did not know how to say or spell the word. 

The level of screwed-up-ness non-learning in this was baffling. [I did not make the following meme. The fact that it existed at all made me feel there was hope for the world less alone in my chagrin.] 

So I felt compelled to figure out how my students came to believe this.

Around the 1970's in the U.S., the term "psyched" came into common use as a way to show excitement or enthusiasm. As indicated below, its use steadily climbed through the 80's and 90's, hitting a high in the year 2000.

Shortly after that, the term "to psyche out," meaning to undermine someone's confidence, came into common parlance.

This morphed in "psyche!" Which meant "I tricked you into believing something."  In his 1983 album Comedian, comic Eddie Murphy includes a skit called "Ice Cream Man," in which he taunts a friend who has no ice cream, pretends to offer him some, then yanks it away and yells, "Psyche!" (Skip to 3:50 to see that part.)

Teenagers heard the word so often without reading it that they thought it was spelled "sike." In the 90's and 2000's, this became a common spelling in student notes and written assignments in my classes. It became such a common usage that it replaced the spelling psyche entirely in most teenagers' vocabulary.
Jump ahead 15 years to today. Student writing rarely uses the term "sike" to indicate tricking someone. My students are using the word pronounced "sīced" with a soft "c" to mean excited. They have no idea that it is actually spelled and pronounced psyched, or siked, or that "sike" actually did NOT mean excited, but rather, "I tricked you." And it is now spelled AND pronounced "sīced" by many teens as a result of some process of reverse-evolution.

As someone posted in Urban Dictionary:

Or you could spell "siced" wrong,
only in a different way:
Of course, since I love words, and am watching this information change in slo-mo like a train wreck, I had to see in what other ways this slang has "evolved."

And finally, to bring it full circle:

There is much more to discover, but I will leave further research to you.

Other facets of the human experience? All of my students have been expelled from their home schools. They have been measured and mismeasured. 

I embrace the way language changes. It fascinates me. It's when it goes terribly, erringly awry within a subset-vortex of illiteracy that I am perplexed at how to begin to start. There is no pre-test for this as it unfolds around itself.  

It is a microcosmic symbol of the millions of ways life has failed so many kids.

I respect my students and their experiences. I am heart-broken that their literacy experiences are so deficient.

And I can laugh at the ridiculousness of a word being used in a permutation so far removed from Latin or Greek that it has an ugly beauty of its own.

I have to go get sīced about cooking dinner so I don't have to syce some food from the store, so please don't slice my syce. 


  1. Best blog post title award for the day ... Heck, the week ... And fine words that follow it (I happen to like the crossed out words)

  2. Brilliant post and so entertaining. I am not warming to the evolution of the word into 'siced'. It doesn't even roll off my tongue. And yet it's fascinating. Thanks for writing it out, Susan.

  3. Oh no, trust me I am not warmed to it either!!!

  4. Your posts brought up so many middle school memories. Especially the work siked. Brought me back to the Fat Boys (Hip Hop pioneers) and a movie disorderlies.

    Your etymology hints at it but we are also talking about the approriation of AAL and hip-hop culture into the dominant white narrative. It was an interesting time.

    I do also wonder though if we maybe reading too much into a orthographic mix up. Maybe your student was spelling phonetically (except her assertion of being correct).

    I wonder if you assigned a measure of orthographic knowledge (spelling inventory in Words Their Way my fav) if her level of development (if thats a thing) would suggest she would make similar errors.

    I wonder if she has had experience with the ancient myths, or teaching in roots that would explore this etymology.

    Fantastic post. Great juxtaposition of modes.

  5. Greg, I will comment more later, but I investigated this with the other students before I wrote this, and they all say it with a soft "c" as in "slice," so it wasn't a phonetic spelling thing. Thank you for commenting! I will work on the self-hosted blog.

  6. I'm siced with language and am concerned you may have syced your students' language deficiences--I don't mean to slice your syce but this is an educator's sice age. I'm so sicced!

  7. Lol at post n comments esp Barry's

  8. 1) I saw this title come through my Twitter feed on a break from a 3 hour workshop I was facilitating...killed me to have to wait to see what "this" was all about :-)

    2) I taught middle school "back in the day" (6 years hard labor). I had an otherwise A student tell me once that she'd spent 30 minutes looking up a word trying to spell check her essay and never did find it. The word? Psychology. She'd been looking in the S's.

    3) I feel old.

    4) Get off my lawn. #seenumberthree

    Loved this...