Jargon Watch: How To Speak Gen Z
Let’s be honest — if you’re reading this, there’s a pretty good chance that you are too old to use most of these words without feeling kind of self-conscious about it. But it’s a perfectly normal human impulse to want to understand what the youths are saying these days, as well as to marvel at the linguistic innovation that Gen Z is currently the primary driver of.
That’s right — language evolves all the time, and often because our communication needs are evolving as well, especially with the rapid proliferation of new technology. But youth culture, and in particular POC and queer youth culture, has consistently been the source of significant linguistic innovation. That’s because various social groups (especially those who don’t feel represented by mainstream society) create their own slang to distinguish themselves and create a stronger sense of community within.
Who Is Gen Z?
Gen Z, or Generation Z, is the generation of teens and young adults preceded by Millennials (who are alternatively sometimes referred to as Generation Y).
Though there is hardly ever a total consensus regarding generations and their exact cut-off dates, Generation Z is generally the cohort born after 1995 and before 2009, which encompasses everyone currently between the ages of 10 and 24.
One of the key traits that distinguishes Gen Z is that they are the first generation of total digital natives, having been born at a time when most households around the U.S. were already connected to the internet. While Millennials are also stereotyped as being tech-savvy, Millennials are distinct in that many of them remember a time before the internet, and their childhood years were defined by this seismic technological shift.
“It’s a generation of people with a tremendously nihilistic sense of humor, like people saying ‘I’m gonna kill myself’ as a joke is something I see ALL THE TIME as a reaction to super insignificant inconveniences…also just downplaying big issues or major events by responding with a simple remark like ‘that’s a mood,'” said noted Gen Z representative @jakesastrology. “I guess our way of communicating is very much downplaying huge issues while also being super dramatic/reactionary to smaller instances.”
Grokking that should put you well on the path to understanding Gen Z slang.
What Is A Thicc?
Bop — if you’re still calling a catchy song a banger, you’re a little behind. A jam is either a bop, or it bops (see also: slaps).
Canceled — this one’s been noticed by The New York Times, so “canceled” may soon be canceled.
Chonk — often used to refer to a delightfully obese animal (like “chunk,” but more endearing).
Drag — “drag” is the updated “roast” (for instance, seeing a meme that ridicules a very specific thing that you do and saying “geez, drag me why don’t you”).
Extra — when someone is “extra,” they are being over the top — not superfluous necessarily, because excess definitely has its place in our culture.
Flex — if you are flexing, you are showing off. And your “flex” is your power move, whether you’ve earned the right to make one or not. Hence the phrase “weird flex, but okay.”
Finsta — “finsta” initially referred to a “fake Instagram” (usually created to post things you don’t want your parents or wider circle of acquaintances to see), but it can now be used to refer to any fake or secondary thing, like a secret Twitter account or phone.
Gucci — is it all good? Or is it Gucci? Gucci is the highest caliber of good, awesome, great, whatever.
Lit — the function is not optimally functional if it ain’t lit. “Lit” has actually been used to describe a state of drunkenness or intoxication for over a century, but today, it can also be used to refer to a party or situation that contributes to your…lit…ness.
Mood — that’s a mood. That’s a big (or a whole) mood. Issa vibe too, to be fair. In this context, “mood” is generally used to confirm that something is relatable.
Slay — this is merely the next evolutionary step up from “killin’ it.” Slay, sis.
Shook — if someone is “shook,” they are shaken (or shooketh) to their core (and they’re probably exaggerating for dramatic effect, to be fair).
Stan — to “stan” something or someone is to endorse or approve of them. This is actually a reference to the rather Gen X Eminem song, “Stan,” which is about an, er, overly committed fan.
Tea — this is one of many current popular slang terms, including those on this list, that originally came from black LGBTQ ball culture and was eventually co-opted by Gen Z. When someone asks you to “spill the tea,” they’re asking for that juicy gossip.
Thirsty — though this is certainly not an experience that’s limited to a singular gender dynamic, most women are probably familiar with the experience of having random men message them on social media ostensibly “looking to connect” (that’s called “sliding into one’s DMs,” so take note). These are thirsty men. Alternatively, a sexy photo designed to inspire lust is a “thirst trap.”
Thicc — to be thicc is to be curvy, bodacious, and probably a bit bootylicious, too. “Thicc” is very democratic, though. Animals, cartoon characters and inanimate objects can all be thicc, too.
Yeet — “yeet” is one of those versatile terms that can be used as a noun, a verb, or as a general exclamation of excitement or…expulsion? Most people credit its proper origins to a Vine, which launched a dance craze.