I’m fairly hip. Though my teenage daughter would beg to differ, I know who DJ Khaled is, can actually sing a few lines of Drake’s latest hit, and even know what the eggplant emoji really means (but only because I did a story on it…). Still, translating the latest “slanguage” in 2017 is no easy feat.
Teens these days drop so many “lits,” “fams,” and “wokes” that you never know if they’re giving you a compliment or secretly planning to set your house on fire. It’s partly the natural evolution of language and part byproduct of text messaging and social media, but it may as well be Egyptian hieroglyphs to many of us.
Before I dive any deeper here, it’s worth noting that most of these words — woke, squad goals, to name a few — have roots in black culture, with specific meanings and history. There’s active debate on whether using these words, if you’re not black, is a form of cultural appropriation that co-ops black culture to seem cool (think fashion, music) while ignoring historic racism. That’s an important discussion to have with your kids, and something to think about and read up on when you get the chance – though my goal here is to just give you a quick overview.
Mobile messaging platform Blend searched through nearly a half million chats for the most popular slang words/phrases recently. Here are their results—plus a few of my own from both living with a teen and working with a millennial!
Fam – A person’s group of friends, but can also reference just one member of that tight inner circle.
Example: “What’s up, fam?”
Lit – Used to describe something that is hot and happening. Similar to “cool,” but with an added emphasis on the fact that it’s fresh and current.
Example: “Jesse’s party last weekend was totally lit, why weren’t you there?”
Turnt – Describes an excessive state of excitement, hype, or overall craziness. When used to describe a person, it might also mean they’re intoxicated, either via alcohol or something else.
Example: “You should have seen Casey at the game last night, she was turnt.”
Goals – This one is actually super easy. It literally means the same as “goals” normally would (something to strive for, or desire) but it’s used as an adjective rather than a noun. You can think of it as meaning the same as “desirable” in most cases.
Example: “The way that couple looks at each other is goals.”
AF – This is a bit of a weird one, since it’s never used on its own, but instead adds emphasis to something else. It’s short for “as f**k”, but it’s a cleaner way of saying it, and is a lot less likely to get a teen a scolding by their evil, evil parents!
Example: “OMG, I stayed up to watch The Bachelor last night and now I’m tired af.”
?Clap back – A snappy comeback. It’s the kind of response where you know exactly what to say to make the other person steam, and it’s the perfect way to win an argument.
Example: “He kept teasing me, but he wasn’t expecting me to clap back!”
?Thirsty – This means desperate, impatient, or overly eager. It’s the kind of feeling where you just can’t wait anymore, and a lot of times it’s used when someone greatly desires a relationship or affection from a specific person.
Example: “You see how James acts around Claire? He seems thirsty.”
Shade – Shade is kind of like an insult or a diss. It’s usually used by saying that someone “threw shade” or “is throwing shade,” meaning that you’re putting someone else down.
Example: “Kanye just threw shade on Jay-Z on Twitter, this is going to be great.”
Savage – Someone who says something without a filter. If you’re “acting savage” you’re probably being more raw and public with your words or actions than people are comfortable with, though it can also be a compliment if you’re arguing with someone and drop a particularly great insult. It means you don’t care what other people think.
Example: “She just broke up with her boyfriend in the middle of the cafeteria while we all watched. Savage!”
Squad – Your squad is your closest group of friends. It’s kind of like “fam” but more focused on just the very most trusted of your friend group. When you see “squad goals” it’s a shorter way of saying “I wish my friends and I were like this.”
Example: “Taylor Swift and her friends are totally squad goals.”
?Fire – This one is going to sound super obvious, but it describes something that’s “hot,” as in new and awesome.
Example: “Beyonce’s new song is straight fire.”
?Salty – Finally one that I actually recognize! Okay, so “salty” is used to describe someone who is angry or bitter, and usually at a specific person. If you drop your phone and crack the screen you get angry. But if someone bumps you and you drop your phone and crack the screen, you get salty.
Example: “She totally ignored me at the party last night, I’m salty af.”
Woke – “Woke” means you’re knowledgeable, aware, and “with it.” You’re not naive about the topic at hand and are above all smart and tactful. It’s the exact opposite of “ignorant”, and is usually used as such.
Example: “If you care more about the Kardashians than the national housing crisis you need to get woke.”
V – Easily the simplest term on this list to explain (and remember), “V” literally means “very,” providing emphasis to any statement.
Example: “I saw him playing basketball at the gym last weekend, he’s v good.”
High Key – Saying something “high key” is saying it in a way that makes it clear you don’t care that everyone knows it. It’s a bold declaration. It might also be extremely obvious to everyone already, but it’s something you just feel the need to say. It’s the opposite of low key.
Example: “Yo, high key, it’s almost midnight and I need to get some sleep.”
Low Key – Something you need to say or express but would prefer if nobody else knew about it. Kind of like asking someone to keep something “on the down low,” in that you don’t want them to tell anyone about it. The opposite of high key.
Example: “Low key, she told me she’s breaking up with her boyfriend tomorrow.”
Thot – Someone, usually a girl, who has a lot of “love interests,” and actually stands for “that “ho” over there. So, it’s kind of like a more socially acceptable way of saying “ho.”
Example: “I’ve seen her with a different guy every weekend, she’s getting a reputation as a bit of a thot.”
Sus – Short for suspicious or suspect, it’s used to describe something or someone shady or scandalous.
Example: “I’m not surprised he lied to you, I told you he was sus.”
LB/FB – Short for “like back” and “follow back.” On social media, getting other people to interact with you is the whole point, so putting LB or FB is a subtle way of saying that you want someone to check out your posts or page and return the favor.
Example: “I just started a new Instagram account so lb/fb.”
Hundo P – Short (but actually longer) for 100%. “Hundo P” and 100% describe something that’s really awesome, or totally certain. It places emphasis, kind of like “totally.”
Example: “I’m about to fail this quiz, hundo p”
There now, feel v woke, high key, talking teen? Just don’t make my mistake and try to use these words with, or even in front of a real teen. According to my daughter, “that’s v embarrassing. Not gucci Mom.” By the way, gucci is the new “good.” Sigh.
What are some of the words you’ve picked up lately? Be sure to share them with us in the comments section below.
Reader Keenan B shared this feedback via email: “A guide to all those weird words your teen uses” provides some misinformation to its readers. A couple of your definitions are incomplete, while others miss the mark entirely.* After reading the piece, I found myself motivated to provide you with some notes that will improve its accuracy and completeness. As a black man with a white wife, I have seen first-hand and can appreciate the struggle to keep up with slang. I recommend that you utilize the following notes to update your article:*Jenn’s Note: when I wrote this column for USA Today, I was aware of alternate definitions and uses, and choose to go with the most popular ones, as noted from a variety of sources. We have a word limit on our columns – and have to really edit content down as a result. I learned a lot from reading Keenan’s email and LOVE this kind of thoughtful and insightful feedback. Please keep it coming!