Bae. Lit. SMH. Love it or hate it, few linguistic topics are as polarizing as slang. Beloved by youth culture and loathed by purists, the more widely used a slang term becomes, the more likely it is to irk the general population. Some phrases are loathed simply from overuse, while others are cringe-inducing by their very nature.
Slang words saunter in and out of fashion. Their general purpose, however, remains the same. According to noted slang scholar Jonathon Green, slang exists to distinguish those in the know from the rest of society: a secret code used to identify insiders. Once a given word enters the general lexicon, it’s almost universally eschewed by the very community that coined it.
Music has always been a rich source for slang terms, with hip-hop in particular offering extremely fertile ground in recent years. Social media also has its own distinctive argot, composed of initializations and acronyms designed for ease of typing or texting. Thanks to the internet, these terms quickly cycle through cyberspace and onto the lips of people around the world.
Market research group OnePoll in 2019 surveyed 2,000 Americans to gauge how slang words are used and regarded. Forty-four percent of those polled expressed concerned about using slang correctly, while 46% use slang terms without fully understanding the current meaning. The data also reveals that most Americans think people older than 43 should refrain from using slang altogether, and 25% believe anyone older than 25 should avoid trendy lingo of any kind. As far as the workplace is concerned, 37% hold a dim view of using slang on the job and more than half echo that sentiment when it comes to interacting with superiors. Almost half of those surveyed thought it was OK to use “lol” when emailing a coworker, however.
Stacker mined data from SWNS Digital regarding OnePoll’s survey (data last updated March 25, 2019) in order to compile this slideshow of the 20 most annoying slang terms for 2019. Words are ordered by their polling rank. Scroll through to see if your pet peeve made the list, and which slang world was inducted into the venerable Oxford English Dictionary.
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An amalgam of true and real, “trill” describes someone who is genuine, down-to-earth, and hardworking. Believed to have originated in the Texas prison system, trill entered the rap lexicon in 2005 when it was featured in rapper Paul Wall’s song “The People’s Champ.” The word has mostly fallen off in recent years.
A modern take on the old phrase “good enough to eat,” “snack” refers to an attractive person, generally by an admirer. Frequently found as part of the larger phrase “lookin’ like a snack,” it made its first documented appearance on Twitter in 2009. Several years later it was absorbed into general parlance, subsequently spawning endless memes.
Blood may be thicker than water, but it doesn’t necessarily make you “fam.” A truncated form of “family,” fam is used to describe a group of close friends. Coined in the U.K., it first gained traction in the U.S. in 2003, with the release of “This Is What I Do” by the New York rap group The Diplomats. The term is still widely used throughout the U.S. and U.K.
Eager for some hot gossip? You might just be lucky enough to get someone to “spill the tea.” Although the phrase evokes images of Earl Grey or oolong, it actually derives from the letter “T,” used as an abbreviation for “my thing,” or “my T,” in John Berendt's best-selling 1994 novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”
“Lit” has been around since the beginning of the 20th century, originating as a synonym for “intoxicated.” In the past decade, however, it has come to mean exciting or excellent, as in “this party is lit.” Thanks to rap artist A$AP Rocky and his 2011 hit song “Get Lit,” the word has come full circle, standing in once again for “inebriated” or “intoxicated.”
“Thirsty” is used to describe one's desperation, most often in a romantic sense. It first emerged in the black community, making its debut on Urban Dictionary in 2003. Soulja Boy introduced the term to a broader audience in 2007 with his hit song “She Thirsty.”
A 1930s jazz standard immortalized by the legendary Louis Armstrong features the memorable lyric, “Jeepers creepers, where'd ya get those peepers? Jeepers creepers, where'd ya get those eyes?” In 2014, rapper Drake, guesting on Nicki Minaj’s single “Only,” reinvented the phrase with the line, “I been peeped that you like me.”
Like “lit,” “turn up” and “turnt” refer to either a state of inebriation or excitement. A popular music staple, turnt turns up in both Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” and Ciara’s “Super Turnt Up.”
“Clap back” is similar in meaning to “comeback,” but with a sharper edge. Ja Rule launched the term into the popular lexicon with his 2003 song, “Clap Back”—a diss track directed toward fellow rappers 50 Cent and Eminem.
A favorite of the tween set, “totes” is a monosyllabic abbreviation of “totally,” a slang term immortalized by Valley Girls in the 1980s. Actor Paul Rudd popularized the phrase “totes McGoats” in the 2009 film “I Love You, Man.”
An initialism for “shaking my head,” SMH conveys disgust, frustration, or disbelief. It first appeared on Urban Dictionary in 2004 and is a popular text-messaging phrase.
More subtle than a “clap back,” “throwing shade” means to express veiled contempt, either verbally or with a facial expression (i.e. sneering). The 1990 documentary “Paris is Burning” transitioned the phrase from New York’s black and Latino drag community to the general population.
The phrase that launched a thousand memes, “TFW” is an acronym for “that feel when” or "that face when," and is used to convey empathy in challenging situations. TFW may have evolved from an earlier meme “I Know That Feel Bro,” which depicted cartoon figures embracing.
Stüssy is a high-end brand of surfer clothing with a preppy edge, co-opted as a slang term for anything desirable, expensive, and frequently out of reach. Although the company has been around since the ‘80s, the slang term didn’t appear on Urban Dictionary until 2005.
Another word for awesome, “fleek” gained notoriety in 2009 when Peaches Monroe’s legendary Vine loop describing her eyebrows as “on fleek” went viral. Ariana Grande pushed it to the next level when she uploaded a loop riffing on Monroe’s. Fleek was fully absorbed into popular culture when Wendy’s and iHop hijacked it in 2014 to push burgers and pancakes. After that peak, the term fell off; by 2016, it was considered long outdated.
Don’t have the guts to break it off in person? Can’t be bothered to send a text? Ghosting is the term used when a love interest vanishes without a trace. Both the practice and the phrase—each equally loathed, apparently—came to prominence in 2015 when Charlize Theron was accused of ghosting then-boyfriend Sean Penn. It’s not just the stars who are doing it—according to a Huffington Post/YouGov survey, 11% of Americans have opted for the cowardly way out of a relationship.
“Gucci” isn’t just the name of a pricey designer label—it’s morphed into an all-encompassing description for anything that’s fashionable, or, more broadly, excellent. Director Bo Burnham helped popularize Gucci when he made it the catchphrase of his teenage protagonist (played by Elsie Fisher) in the hit 2018 indie film, “Eighth Grade.”
If you morph into the Snicker’s monster when you’ve missed a meal, chances are you’re “hangry”—an amalgam of hungry and angry. The phrase appears to have made its debut in a 1992 short story by Rebecca Camu in The London Magazine, reemerging years later on various internet sites. While the word may irritate some, it’s here to stay: “Hangry” in 2018 was inducted into the Oxford English Dictionary.
“Bae” is either an acronym for the phrase “before anyone else” or a truncated form of “baby” or “babe,” according to Urban Dictionary. The slang term has been a constant in both memes and popular music since the mid-2000s, notably in Pharrell’s “Come Get It Bae.”
GOAT is indebted to Muhammad Ali, the self-styled “greatest of all time.” In 1992, Ali’s wife Lonnie launched G.O.A.T. Inc. in an effort to protect the couple’s intellectual property. LL Cool J resurrected the term in 2000 when he released his album “G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time)," catapulting the acronym to prominence.