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JISHOU, HUNAN — Every week, three of my Oral English students have to introduce three new words, phrases or idioms to their classmates. “Ferocious” was one that popped up last week, and “lunatic” came up last month.

Name that tune! Can you think of two popular songs using each of those words? I’ll wait.

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Time’s up. Here’s what my internal jukebox coughed up.

For “ferocious,” Kim Carnes’ 1981 hit, “Bette Davis Eyes.” For “lunatic,” “You May Be Right,” by Billy Joel, from 1980. (I know, three ’80s hits in two posts. The jukebox seems stuck in that decade for now.) I used lyrics from both songs on recent vocabulary tests, and today I played “Bette Davis Eyes” for one class.

Kim Carnes’ singing is, I guess, an acquired taste I never acquired. My students were also unimpressed. Granted, the lyrics are clever, and lent themselves to an impromptu lesson on American idioms, but Carnes’ vocal style on that song gets on my nerves, like listening to a tone-deaf teenager singing karaoke.

[Factoid: Jackie DeShannon, co-writer of the song with Donna Weiss, is from Hazel, Kentucky.]

The Joel song, which I like more, had a better reception. I’ve even seen it on local KTV playlists, with a totally random background video featuring a girl in an evening dress walking around a European-looking city and boats sailing across a harbor. (Often, KTV lyrics are wrong, too. I’ve learned to trust my memory more than the karaoke subtitles.)

By the way, in case you’re wondering, Lady Gaga is big here, too. Many of my students already know the lyrics to “Poker Face.” As for me, I’ll take Gaga over Carnes any day.

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