Teenagers have a language all their own. I’m living with four teens (kind of) right now and learning all kinds of teen slang. Here’s everything you need to know…
Teenagers. Interesting people. Opinionated, fascinating, fun. Totally inexperienced. With little self-reflection about their own limitations. You can’t really blame them. Their prefrontal cortexes aren’t fully formed. That’s the part of the brain responsible for impulses, emotions, and judgment. Which is one of the (many) reasons why teenagers do stupid things all the time.
But they’re not the stupid ones. We are. Any adult over, say, 29, is hopelessly out of date. Everything about us is wrong: our clothes (the horror), our wrinkles (“I think you should try this eye cream…”) and our ideas (“OMG, Mo-om, you are soooo ridiculous!”)
As Mark Twain has been famously credited for saying (though his father died of pneumonia when he was 11 years old and there’s no direct evidence that this is actually his quote):
“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
Thanks to coronavirus, I have a house full of teens and proto-teens right now. My kids are 20, 19, 16, and 10 (going on 15). The lockdown has been teaching me many life lessons. And, I’m happy to say, my vocabulary is growing apace. Teenagers speak a language of their own. Boomer is the word my son uses to insult me (among others).
So, Boomer, here’s some teen slang you’ve probably heard but have no idea what it means.
Positive teen slang
Brah. Bro, dude. As in, “Come ‘ere, brah, look at this.”
Fire. Something really really good. As in, “Oh my god, that Supreme shirt is fire.”
Flex. Do something good comparatively to others, to show off or one up someone. It comes from showing off your swol gains (muscles) at the gym. As in:
Person A: “ Remember that one time in Greece when I hooked up with this really hot person?”
Person B: “Weird flex, but ok.”
Goals. Your maximum achievement. As in: “Athena got an internship her first semester of college. That’s such goals.” Or someone just got her eyebrows threaded and they look really good, so you say: “She is such eyebrow goals.”
Ki-ki-ing. Laughing. An onamonapia from laughing with your throat slightly constricted. As in: “We were just ki-ki’ing about his weird-ass shit.”
Mood. A term of agreement (like how we used to say “Word” or “Word up”) meaning you’re in the same mood as the person talking or texting. As in: “I could really go for some ice cream right now.” “Mood.”
On fleek. A visual appearance that is perfectly coiffed, contoured, or styled. Remember Athena? Her eyebrows are on fleek.
Pull up. Stop by. Comes from pulling up in your car. As in: “I’m having a party tonight. Pull up.”
Slaps. Hits the spot. As in: “This shit slaps” (a good song, a yummy spicy taco).
Swol. Comes from swollen, how your muscles look just after working out. As in: “Check out these swol gains.”
The GOAT. Short for “Greatest Of All Time.” As in:
Person A:“You’ll never guess who just got recruited to play college soccer. Scotty!”
Person B: “Scotty’s the GOAT.”
Thicc. Large in a positive way. Can be used for people and objects. See a woman with great hips and thighs? “She thicc.”
That fat slice of cake you just cut me? “She thicc.”
Vibe check. There was a lot of discussion about the meaning and use of this phrase. According to the 19-year old (who lives on the West Coast), you say “Vibe check,” before doing something stupid, like falling into a cold river in the dead of winter. According to the 20-year old (who lives on the East Coast), “Vibe check” means “How ya doin? Give me an update.” As in: “Dom asked the group for a vibe check.”
Woke. An adjective to describe someone who knows their shit, who is really progressive and insightful. As in: “Pope Francis is woke,” or “My gender studies professor gave a really woke lecture today.” Woke is effectively the opposite of canceled (see below.)
Negative teen slang
Brah moment. A moment when something really stupid happens. As in: You say: “My teacher assigned three papers this week.” And your friend replies: “Brah moment.” Or “I wish I could go one day without a brah moment.” This phrase is mostly to refer to things that suck, but can also be used moments that are funny in an smh (shake my head) way.
Canceled. The opposite of woke. Someone who is old-school, racist, sexist, or otherwise not cool. As in: “Harvey Weinstein is canceled big time.” Or “Anyone who says the R-word is immediately canceled.”
L. Short for loss. As in: “That’s an ‘L,’” when someone dumps you, you spill water on your shirt. When you get a bad grade back on a test, you say: “It’s fine, I’ll just take an ‘L.’”
Neutral teen slang
Boi. A term of endearment for a small object or person (comes from boy, but can be used for anyone). In between masculine and neutral. If you see a gecko sunning itself on a rock you might say, “he’s a smol boi.”
Emo. Short for emotional. It includes the emotional spectrum from being nostalgic while looking at photos to feeling brokenhearted. It can also mean punk (like punk rock music) or goth (when you listen to punk music and wear all black clothes and dark eyeliner). As in, “The letter Sol wrote me was all emo,” or “I heard about this great emo band playing tonight.”
Low Key/High Key: Refers to something that is either not a big deal, not urgent (low key), or a big deal (high key). As in: “I low key failed that test, but this class isn’t for my major anyway.” Can be used in tandem to indicate that it is not a big deal, but it actually is. “Marrying someone Jewish is important to me, low key high key.”
Sad Boy: Said of people who are pale, skinny, wear beanies, and frequently stressed or emo (see below). Part of stress culture, teens who are depressed will post selfies on Instagram with tears in their eyes. Check out this Instagram for real-life examples of guys who fell asleep studying at the library, faces smushed against notes.
Sad Girl: Someone who listens to a lot of Mitski, dances alone in her room, and mentions the antidepressants she’s taking a lot. Note: people of any gender can be classified as sad boys and sad girls. As this generation of kids knows, gender is fake.
Thirsty. Someone who wants a lot of attention or someone who sleeps around. As in: “She’s so thirsty. She’s trying to get with everyone.” Very thirsty = thorsty, said emphatically. When you are dancing with a cute girl and your friend steals her attention, you side-eye your other friend and say passive aggressively “She thOrsty.”
And one for good luck…
J. Short for joint. As in: “Want to smoke a J?”
Reviewed by Hesperus di Properzio, Barnard College, 2021.
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