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Do You Know What These Gen Z Slang Terms Mean—And Where They Really Come From?

Group of teens taking a selfie, teal filter

Language is constantly evolving, but there’s one type of language that so often changes even faster than the rest: slang. Every generation has its own unique slang words, and these terms seem to spring up faster than many people can keep up with. The popularity of TikTok and other social media trends has only made it easier for new slang to take hold, and if you aren’t keeping up with the latest trends, you might be left scratching your head.

These terms may be new to you, but it’s essential to remember that so many of the slang terms that seem suddenly brand new in the dominant, mainstream culture actually have origins and long histories of use in Black culture, the LGBTQ+ community, the drag community, and other marginalized groups and subcultures. From there, the creativity, appeal and just plain usefulness of these terms frequently leads to them being adopted by youth culture at large (including by white people and those who are not part of the communities where the terms originated), from where they may spread into the general population. This adoption, in many cases, involves appropriation that ignores, obscures, or erases the terms’ origins and originators.

If you need to brush up on the latest “cool” words so you don’t seem so cheugy, here are the meanings and likely origins of 16 essential Gen Z slang words to know—at least for the moment.

1. no cap

You’ve likely seen cap and no cap used on social media, but these terms actually pre-date social media and Gen Z by several decades. In Black slang, to cap about something means “to brag, exaggerate, or lie” about it. This meaning dates all the way back to at least the early 1900s. No cap, then, has evolved as another way of saying “no lie” or “for real.” Though it’s currently popular with Gen Z, no cap was mostly influenced by hip-hop culture.

2. cheugy

Are you cool or are you cheugy? This word, used to describe “uncool” things that are either out of style or trying too hard to be in style, is believed to have been coined in 2013. According to New York Times reporter Taylor Lorenz, Californian Gaby Rasson started using cheugy then to describe people who unsuccessfully try to be trendy. The term got a great deal of exposure in a viral TikTok video in 2021. By May 2021, the hashtag #cheugy had over 10 million views on TikTok. Cheugyness or cheuginess are noun variations of the word, and a person who is cheugy is sometimes referred to as a cheug. Beware: Slang changes fast, and some may consider cheugy itself to be cheugy already.

3. drip

During previous generations, drip was slang for “an unattractive, boring, or colorless person.” Now, if someone mentions your drip, it’s actually a good thing. Drip refers to your look or style, particularly when it’s considered extremely fashionable or sexy (kind of like a newer version of swag). The origins of this usage are the subject of some debate. Many credit the early 2000s hip-hop scene in Atlanta, while others think drip may have evolved from slang used on the teen comedy Zoey 101. Either way, if someone mentions your drip, now you know that you can take it as a compliment.

4. hits different

Sometimes something is so awesome that it impacts you or inspires you on a whole new level. The proper Gen Z term for this is hits different. In this sense, hit means “to have a marked effect or influence on; affect severely.” For example: That new Adele album just hits different.

This usage is believed to have originated in the LGBTQ community with popular YouTubers Daniel Howell and Phil Lester. In 2019, it gained popularity thanks to social media apps like TikTok and Twitter. Now, hits different has achieved widespread usage in a variety of situations.

5. main character

Do you ever wish you could be the main character in your favorite movie? Main character, for Gen Z, originated from a TikTok trend in which people post either a montage of their life featuring themselves as the main character or they reenact popular scenes from favorite movies and TV shows. Main character can also refer to someone who is the subject of viral outrage on social media. For example: I checked Twitter to see who the main character is today.

6. snatched

RuPaul’s Drag Race may well have been the vehicle that brought this slang term to the mainstream. For Gen Z, snatched means “fierce” or “on point,” particularly when it comes to someone’s hair, makeup, and physical appearance. Historically, snatched is slang from the Black drag community, in which performers often wear artificial hair called weaves. In the drag community, snatched is slang for saying something is so amazing it snatched your weave off.

Check out which slang is already falling out of style.

7. bet

Are you ready to learn the next slang word? Bet! As you may have guessed from the previous sentence, bet is a term of affirmation, agreement, or approval along the lines of “Cool!” or “I’m down!” It can also be used to express doubt or disbelief. This usage likely originated in Black slang. It’s also even more proof that Gen Z appears to love recycling trends from the ’90s, since bet can be traced back to that decade.

8. skrrt

Does slang become less cool if we tell you it’s also an onomatopoeia? Skrrt is supposed to mimic the sound of screeching tires, and it’s used as an interjection. For example, if someone is sharing some juicy gossip, their friend might respond with a skrrt to get them to stop and repeat something exciting they just said. The term has been in use since at least 2015, and it’s closely linked to the rising popularity of trap music.

9. understood the assignment

If you spend time on Twitter, you’ve probably seen tweets about actors who understood the assignment, or were perfectly suited for the role they were playing. This slang phrase is used to mean that someone was successful at or totally nailed something they needed to do. This isn’t limited to famous people. Someone who’s well-dressed or has the exact right comeback may also have understood the assignment. Saying this about someone is like giving them a gold star.

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10. OK boomer

Gen Z and Millennials are two distinct groups, but they found something to agree on with the term OK boomer. Both generations helped popularize the phrase starting in 2019, and it’s still going strong today. OK boomer is used as a clapback when people from older generations post condescending or out-of-touch things about younger generations online. It’s also used in a humorous or ironic way to dismiss out-of-touch commentary from people of any age group.

11. say less

Say less may come off as rude to some because it’s essentially a request to stop talking. It’s an abrupt, often funny way of saying “I understand” or “I’ve got the point.” Say less is the title of a 2019 song by R&B artist Ashanti. It’s also the name of a 2017 album by Canadian musician Roy Woods. It appeared online as early as 2011, but it may have reached its current level of popularity thanks to a 2021 Saturday Night Live skit.

12. slaps

This next word really slaps. It essentially means “to be excellent or amazing.” You’ve most likely heard slap in reference to music, as in “This song really slaps.” This slang word is also a total blast from the past. It was an adjective for “first-rate” in the mid-1800s and an adverb, meaning “excellently,” even earlier, in the mid-1700s. By at least the early 2000s, slaps was being used to celebrate everything from great music to good food. The musical slap is often credited to Bay Area hip-hop slang. There are many other slang terms that draw on force and motion to characterize great music, including bops, whips, and smacks. A track that slaps can be called a banger.

13. low-key/high-key

Low-key generally means “quiet,” “restrained,” “moderate,” or “easygoing.” In the slang sense, it’s more about a subtle feeling or something you want to keep on the downlow, such as low-key being excited about a cheesy new movie coming out or having a low-key crush on a celebrity. Alternatively, high-key is used to express open excitement about something, like being high-key invested in the ongoing drama between Taylor Swift and Jake Gyllenhaal. Fun fact: while low-key originates as an adjective, it is also widely used as an adverb, as our examples show above.

Were you low-key fixated on the slang term Karen? Read more about it here.

14. bussin’

If something is really, really good, you might describe it as bussin’. This term originates in African American Vernacular English (AAVE), likely based on various senses of bust meaning “to explode, do well, enjoy.” Many say it’s been appropriated by Gen Z in a way that changes the original meaning. While younger generations use the term for everything from a great outfit to good music, in AAVE, bussin’ typically refers to delicious food.

15. simp

Gen Z didn’t invent simp, but they’ve found a way to make it their own. Simp is used—often, it’s important to note, in sexist ways—as an insult for men who are seen as being too submissive to women, especially under the guise of trying to win sexual attention from them. It’s controversial, though, as many say the term is degrading to women and a way of bullying men. Though the term found viral fame among TikTok influencers in 2019 and early 2020, rappers like Ice-T and DJ Evil E were using the term as far back as 1987.

16. vibing

Back in the day, kids used to chill out. Now, you might find them vibing instead. Vibing means relaxing, tapping into good feelings, and just generally enjoying the atmosphere. It’s closely related to vibe, which is an older slang term—from the late 1960s—that means “a feeling or flavor of the kind specified.” Vibing is used in many situations, but especially when someone is losing themselves in great music or conversation.

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