If you have found yourself overhearing a conversation between a couple of teenagers in recent years – or reading any of their text messages – you could be forgiven for thinking they were speaking a foreign language. It is true that every generation of teens invents its own words and expressions. But for Generation Y (1980-1994) & Generation Z (1995 – 2009), they seem to have elevated it to a whole new level.
As a parent of one Gen Y and two Gen Z’s, I’ve learned a little bit about the spoken and written forms of millennial speak. I’ve even picked up a few expressions that I use myself.
In the interests of journalistic accuracy, in writing this handy guide, I ‘interviewed’ one of my Gen Zs and checked spelling, pronunciation, usage and other subtleties that could present traps for young players….like ourselves.
Young people often use ‘lol’ in much the same way we might nod our head or say mmmm, or ‘sure’. As a signal that you are still engaged in an interaction.
It’s like, kind of…
“The thing you have to remember, is like, it’s changing all the time,” asserts Miss 16 – the youngest.
“There are new things coming all the time. And they, like, go in phases,” she explains.
“Like, ‘barnt’ was around in like, year 6 and 7 and then it came back again this year [in year 10],” she says to illustrate her point.
“And, like, there are things they say in the north that you just DON’T say in the east or west,” she adds, with an air of anthropological authority.” [We live in Sydney and she is referring to the northern, eastern or western suburbs of Sydney]
There are also evidently things that they say in the US and UK that are not definitely not said in Australia… A warning to you, should you be thinking about trying out something ‘cool’ you heard in a film or on the telly.
Of course there are things that you would only ‘say’ in text form – in text messaging or social media – and never say in conversation. And when you do use them in conversation, some of these terms will be given a particular ironic inflection.
If the strict rules of grammar concern you, you’ll need to look away.
So, it’s complicated and I’m not remotely pretending that the following is comprehensive or even perfectly correct. But, if you want to have a go at impressing a Gen Y or Gen Z with your cool familiarity with the latest teen speak, here is my best advice on some common words and abbreviations:
OMG [pronounced oh-emm-gee]Translation: Oh My God. Used in both spoken and written form. Sometimes also written in text form (and pronounced in speech) as: ERMAGERD
LOL [pronounced loll]Translation: Laughing out loud. LOL has been around for a long time actually. HOWEVER…. It doesn’t necessarily mean literally laughing out loud. In fact it might not even mean you think something is funny. Young people often use lol in much the same way we might nod our head or say mmmm, or ‘sure’. As a signal that you are still engaged in an interaction. But it can stand in – often ironically – for a wide range of emotions, from amusement to pity to confusion. NB: not to be confused with historical meaning ‘lots of love’ as former UK PM David Cameron discovered). Used mostly in text form but sometimes spoken too.
BRB [pronounced Bee-are-bee]Translation: Be right back. As in, “Excuse me for a moment; there is something I MUST do right now but I promise I won’t be very long. I’d be very grateful if you could wait for me to return.” Perhaps you can see how it came about… Used initially in written form, it has been widely adopted in speech too.
G2G [pronounced gee-two-gee]Translation: Got to go. As in, “It’s been nice talking to you but now I have other things I must attend to.” Like BRB, above, is a text term but teens often use it in speech too
TITF [pronounced Titt-iff or Tid-iff]Translation: Took it too far. As in, “oh dear, I think s/he has really done it this time!” Frequently used to describe the antics of b-grade celebrities, for instance.
YOLO [pronounced Yol-low]Translation: You only live once. It is another way of saying Carpe Diem – Latin for ‘seize the day’ – or, ‘don’t have regrets about things you might have done or always wanted to do… just do it’. But in teen speak it is often used to dismiss a stupid thing that you might have said or done. Eg: Question: “Why didn’t you take the umbrella I left for you? You knew it was raining and you had to walk.” Answer: “Yeh… YOLO”
K [pronounced kay]Translation: OK Used in both text and speech.
FOMO [pronounced Foe-Moe]Translation: Fear of Missing Out. The fear that if you miss a party or event you will miss out on something great and regret it. Used in text but also in speech.
RN [pronounced are-enn]Translation: right now. Used in text form only to signify immediacy.
KB [pronounced kay-bee]Translation: kick back. Used in text form to describe a state of relaxation, the act of relaxing or a relaxed person. See also ‘chill’
V [pronounced vee]Translation: very. Mostly used in text form, as in “I’m v annoyed with mum.” Sometimes used in speech, usually with irony.
WDYT Text shorthand for ‘What do you think?’
Words and expressions
wassup [Pronounced woss-up] American style slang for ‘What’s up’ but used as a greeting as in, “hi, how are you going?” Bizarrely, you might be the receiver of a call from a young person where you pick up the phone, say hello, and they respond with ‘wassup’. This is likely to be confusing and you might be tempted to reply, “Nothing’s up. You called me.” You have been warned.
doin’ [Pronounced doo-en] Like ‘wassup’, it’s an abbreviation of a slang American greeting: “How are you doing?” Used in speech and text. As in, “Hey, doin?” where you might otherwise say, “Hi, how are you going?”
random This is a weird one. It is NOT used in a traditional sense to mean something made, done, or happening unpredictably – without method or conscious plan. You will hear young people say things like, “He is sooo random” or “that jacket is really random”. And also, “What the random?” To younger people, random can mean anything that they see as weird, peculiar, strange, nonsensical, unpredictable, inexplicable, unexpected… you get the idea. In fact, it’s really random the way they use that word.
legit [Pronounced le-jitt] Adapted from ‘legitimate’ and used to mean that you are serious about something. As in, “OMG, she’s gonna be here in five minutes, legit. Like, I’m not even joking.”
chill [See also KB] to relax, to be in a state of relaxation, a state of relaxation, a relaxed person. As in “having a chill day”, “It’ll be chill”, “he’s pretty chill”.
perf Meaning “perfect” – used in speech and text.
meh [Pronounced as it looks] Used in speech as a kind of verbal shrug of the shoulders – an expression of indifference or boredom. Closely related to ‘whatever’. In the old language, we might say, ‘perhaps’ or “be that as it may.”
nah Alternative to ‘no’. Pretty self explanantory.
whatever [Frequently pronounced what-evvahh] Used as a slang expression of indifference, similar to ‘meh’. It means, “whatever you say” or “I don’t care what you say”. Often used as a passive-aggressive conversation blocker, leaving the responder (say, the parent…) simmering and without a convincing retort.
fade out This one has a few meanings. It is used to describe the slow process of disentangling oneself from a relationship – gradually reducing the number of calls, texts, emails etc. As in “I’m fading him out”, or, “he’s in fade out”. But it is also widely used to acknowledge a point in an activity or a conversation when you realise you’re talking nonsense, not really getting anywhere or making sense and you decide to ‘fade out’. You can fade yourself out or others might say to you, ‘er…fade out’. Usually used in good humour.
barnt [Pronounced as it sounds, which isn’t so easy actually] Has variable meanings and multiple applications but is usually negative. “That was so barnt”, “He is such a barnt”, “Was it barnt?”, “Did you barnt?”.
lush Pretty much the opposite to barnt. Meaning desirable or nice. Used to describe something in a positive way. “She is so lush”, “It’s really lush”, or simply, “lush!”
doob [Pronounced as it sounds] A person of any gender that you find physically attractive. As in, “S/he’s a real doob.” Similar to ‘hottie’ or ‘spunk’.
rookie This is one we all know but young people don’t know that we know. They think it’s a hip new slang expression meaning a first or a first timer.
bae [Pronounced bay] A slang adaptation of babe or baby. It is always a term of endearment that can be used in a number of ways. It can describe your girl/boyfriend – “She’s my bae” – or just someone you might like to have as a girl/boyfriend – “Justin Bieber is my bae”. It can also be used to describe any person you have a great deal of appreciation and affection for – “My history teacher is such a bae”, or “My grandpa is a real bae”.
hang out the verb form – to hang out – refers to a casual form of social interaction that might be between friends or might be the early stage of a romantic relationship. Typically but not always involving a group of three or more people. Also can be a noun (hang-out) – a physical or virtual place in which the social interaction takes place.
hook up Refers to the starting point in a new romantic relationship. You might have ‘hung out’ a few times and then comes the first time you kiss and there’s agreement that there is a mutual romantic interest. That’s when you have ‘hooked up’.
tuning When you’re ‘hanging out’ with a view to ‘hooking up’ it can be said that you are tuning or ‘on the tune’. You’ve met, you like each other, you’re not ‘dating’ yet, but you are each sending out feelers. I like this one. It conjures up the image of trying to find the right radio frequency, which seems quite appropriate!
There are loads more – do you have any you can add?