Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

Do you feel confused when you hear  words that can mean scary used in a different way?

Does it seem as if a word like “diabolical” for example used in a way that does not at all mean scary?

Sometimes scary doesn’t mean scary after all.

This is something quite common when it comes to things you hear on TV.

You listen to everyday conversation and start to get the hang of it, then suddenly there’s an example on TV that can be so confusing.

One such example from a listener highlights exactly how a certain word can be really confusing when used differently.

Let’s take a look at this word today.


Here is a question from a listener:

Hello Lindsay! I watched a video of Naomi Campbell and heard her saying ‘diabolical’ over seeing some girls trying to catwalk in a very comical way.

I know that she is from the UK and kind of guess that this adjective has got a pejorative meaning but I am not a hundred percent sure. I would be pleased if you enlighten me about this slang word.
Thanks for all the amazing episodes you have been doing. Have a nice one!

Kadir Karatas


If you want to see this particular example then here’s a link to it for your reference.


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Slang uses for words can be quite different:

This word is used quite differently here than to mean scary.

You might not think of something like “diabolical” as slang, but it actually can be.

We don’t focus on British English, so maybe it is considered slang in England.

In this particular example though, it is more of just a regular adjective that she is using.

Let’s take a look at the actual definition of diabolical from the dictionary for some insight.



Of or relating to, or characteristic of the devildevilish

Some uses can help to show how you might use this word in a different context though too. It may help you to understand why it was used as slang here.

  • diabolical plot. You might even say it in a cute way like “that was diabolical!”- almost as if you are joking with a friend.
  •  In the context of this video, Naomi Campbell is watching these girls go down the runway and she thinks they look very strange so she describes them this way–diabolical, in the way of the devil. Her actual quote: “That walk. Oh my goodness. It was diabolical. It was definitely the worst walk.” It’s a rather extreme way to use the word, but it works in a slang type of way here.

Merriam Webster dictionary


Using “diabolical” as a slang word:

Understanding that the word can quickly turn into a slang word can help you to gain some insight here.

You might take a look at other examples so that it becomes clear.

  • The look on her face was diabolical. She did a great job playing that character–she was so scary! She got into character here and you believed it.
  • Don’t play that prank on her! Seriously, it’s diabolical. It’s going too far and you are pushing it to a bad point.
  • You may describe a person or a situation as diabolical such as in the previous example.


Other ways to say “diabolical”:

There can be alternatives for this rather extreme slang word that may be ideal options.

Other words Naomi Campbell could have used to describe how these girls looked:

  • Creepy: “she looked so creepy walking down the runway”
  • Strange: “that outfit is so strange. it kind of scares me!”
  • Freaky: “Oh my gosh, that animal looked so freaky in the dark!”
  • Demonic: “He looked demonic in his costume”


Other words for describing something not about a person’s looks necessarily :

  • (pure) Evil: “That idea is pure evil. You can’t tell the boss what she did, it wasn’t a big deal.”
  • Heartless: “He was heartless. He broke up with her on her birthday!”
  • Mean spirited: “That’s very mean spirited of you. You should be more thoughtful.”



It’s great to listen to TV and get words.

This helps you get native English and can make you sound super natural.

Excellent job!


Do you have questions on this example?

If so put them in the comments and we’ll be sure to answer them right away!

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