Main description:

AB: “So, what other types of unique chants does your frat have?”

RD: “We have so many you have no idea. Let’s see, it’s hard to think of them. Because there’s some I can’t tell you. Oh, I know one. It’s, “Sick but Safe.”

AB: “How did “sick but safe” start?”
RD: “This was one I was there for! We were at a chapter meeting, and like most of the house was there, and we were talking about logistics and stuff for Formal. I think a couple of frats were suspended around that time, or something, because I remember we were paranoid about the university suspending us too down if we were too rowdy. Anyway, somebody asked a question about something, I don’t remember, and this one guy stood up all dramatic and then said really slow, “Make it sick, but safe.” And we all just started laughing. And ever since then we just say it all the time.”

AB: “Awesome. When would you say “sick but safe,” and what does it mean?”

RD: “I mean, we chant it before parties a lot. It’s one the rules we go through before we go to parties a lot of the time. So if we’re all going to something we’ll shout it in the bus. Then it usually means like, have fun, but don’t black out or throw up or something. But it’s also like, something you can really say whenever. It’s started as a chant, but it’s really like seeped into frat slang—frat vernacular. Like, somebody could say, “That presentation was sick-but-safe!” Well, I don’t think anybody ever said that, but you get what I mean.”

AB: “So in that case, what would sick-but-safe mean?”

RD: “Umm, I guess that your presentation was good but it was also fun to watch. Like, you said what you needed to, but you also were funny.”

AB: “So, if you said sick-but-safe to anyone on campus, would they know what it meant.”

RD: “No, it’s definitely kept within our frat. It’s not like a secret, I would say, but it’s—it’s that we don’t really share chants and stuff with other frats.”

AB: “Do you know if other frats have chants with similar meanings?”

RD: “Um, I’m sure they do. But I don’t know them.”

Informant’s interpretation:

AB: “So, what does sick-but-safe mean in general, and why does your frat say it?”

RD: “I think it says a lot about our mindset. Like I was saying, frat culture gets a lot more criticism now than it used so I think they’re all having to kind of adapt to stay frats. So sick-but-safe caught on I think because it sort of captures that, and it’s an easy way to say it.”

Personal interpretation:

The informant emphasizes that fraternity culture at his school (a small, liberal arts college in the South) balances irreverence with responsibility. “Sick-but-safe” helps to articulate this balance. Curiously, it is unique to the informant’s fraternity (other campus fraternities would not say it nor understand what it means,) so it may be that other frats may have sayings/words with similar meanings.