Language is always changing and embracing new words and phrases, but most linguists agree that the internet has sped up the process. A made-up word in a tweet can travel around the country and become old news within 24 hours, which was certainly not the case before. Internet slang is shaping the evolution of language.
Young people especially are quick to adapt their lexicons to the newest trends. There are thousands of examples out there — just check Urban Dictionary — but we’re going to explore one social media platform that spawned a variety of linguistic phenomena: Vine.
What Is Vine?
Vine is a social media app that’s basically a short-form video service. Or, it was one, because it has been shut down. It only lasted about four years, but it had a pretty major impact on young people during its lifespan. It launched celebrities and became the source of many, many memes.
Vine was acquired by Twitter in 2012, the year before it was launched to the public. Users uploaded videos called Vines, which had to be six seconds or shorter. If that sounds short, don’t worry, because the video would loop so you could watch it over and over. In an era of shortening attention spans and non sequitur comedy, Vine was perfect. It was like a modern equivalent of America’s Funniest Home Videos. The app’s shutdown in 2016 was because of internal issues rather than a lack of popularity, and fortunately, all of the individual Vines were archived and are still available online.
The format of Vine made it perfect for spawning novel words and phrases. Because each Vine was so short, there were only so many words you could fit. And because they were looped, the language would just repeat and repeat until the phrases were embedded into your consciousness. The social aspect meant that a Vine might be remixed by other famous users, and thus spread even further. To see exactly how this worked, we should look at a case study.
The Story Of “On Fleek”
If you know one vine, it is likely the one that spawned the phrase “on fleek.” While “fleek” appeared for the first time in 2009, it became really famous in its current usage when said by Vine user Peaches Monroee on June 21, 2014, to describe her eyebrows. It essentially means something is “perfectly done,” and it caught on.
“On fleek” is particularly fascinating because, despite some uses of “fleek” before 2014, it basically came out of nowhere. Most new words are evolutions of past ones, but Monroee has said she just pulled the phrase out of thin air. Soon, people on Twitter and Vine were talking about being “on fleek” in any applicable situation. It was mostly used to describe eyebrows to reflect the original usage, but could also describe makeup or hair, and as time went on, it was applied to more concepts.
The Vine then made the leap into mainstream pop culture beyond the internet, where it was ridiculed by people from older generations who were confused as to what it meant. That’s not something unique to Vine, of course — youth slang will always be the subject of adult derision. Sadly, the increased attention had an adverse effect on its popularity. Just a few months after the original Vine, it lost any cultural cachet it had when companies like IHOP started saying “on fleek.”
But the phrase lingers on, though less prevalently than before. If you search Twitter for “fleek” you’ll see dozens if not hundreds of uses every single day. That just shows the staying power of this language. Four years after the Vine was posted and two years after Vine itself died, people are still using “on fleek.”
A Dictionary Of Vine Language
Not every phrase that Vine spawned became as famous as “on fleek.” And yet, because of young people who still watch Vine compilations on YouTube, they have survived to this day. Some of them are used as a kind of in-group identifier — you might quote a Vine to show your internet friends that you’re cool and hip. This isn’t the typical kind of “jargon” because it’s not a necessary form of communication, but it can certainly be fun
In case you run into any youths who really like Vine, here’s a quick primer of phrases you might hear. There are hundreds we could have chosen from, but these are some of the most linguistically fascinating
Bae and Fam — “bae” and “fam” did not originate on Vine, but this Vine does provide a fun, quick analysis of some popular slang. “Bae” is a term of affection for someone you’re very close to, and “fam” is a term for your group of friends. Thus, “I thought you were bae. Turns out you were just fam,” does a nice job of showing how their meanings differ in intensity
Balegdah — on the game show You Generation, British singer Jesy Nelson was attempting different accents, which another contestant had to guess. When she was given “Jamaican,” she for some reason emitted the odd noise “balegdah.” The nonsensical nature of it caught people’s attention when it was uploaded to YouTube and Vine. Nelson tried to explain that sometimes when you try to do an accent, you just start spitting out random sounds
Free Shavacado — this doesn’t have much of a meaning, it’s just a funny misreading of the phrase “Fresh Avocado.” People who watch Vines tend to yell this at each other every once in a while
It Is Wednesday, My Dudes — on hump day, nothing quite captures the mood like a video of a man wearing goggles and a Spiderman jumpsuit saying “It is Wednesday, my dudes” and then screeching. The Vine, one of many created by JimmyHere, is based on an image of a frog that became popular on Tumblr. Saying it to your friends on Wednesday is a secret handshake for Vine devotees
Merry Chrysler — in this Vine, Christine Sydelko mispronounces “Merry Christmas” a few times, which sounds dumb but is for some reason hilarious. “Merry Chrysler” has become the new way for Vine lovers to wish each other happy holidays
Pronouncing Things Incorrectly — continuing the mispronunciation theme, Vine user Chaz Smith posted many videos of himself pronouncing words wrong. Whether it be “bananas” as “banaynays” or “success” as “suckas,” it’s a rapidfire tour of how ambiguous English spelling can be
What are those?! — this question is asked of people whose shoes are dirty or not name brand. Its first use predates Vine, but it was Vine user A-RODney King who uploaded the first famous instance to the app, in which a man yells the phrase at a police officer. The video itself, however, was first uploaded on Instagram, where it didn’t get as much attention. It spawned dozens of other Vines, and one person even had the courage to pose the question to Michael Jordan at a Q&A
Why you always lyin’? — in this Vine is a silly short song that asks the simple question: “Why you always lyin’?” Sure, this isn’t exactly a new phrase, but the comedy of it makes it friendlier. When your friend makes up an excuse to not hang out with you, you can respond by referencing this Vine and it won’t sound nearly as blunt as a straight “Why are you lying to me?”