top of page
  • Writer's pictureKristin Kowalski Ferragut

Lingo to Be Cool with the Kids: A Guide to Words Used by Gen Z and Their Meanings

As my students have made clear to me, to say you’re “cool with the kids” is not cool, but they laugh, which is heartening. I have two Gen Z kids myself, so sometimes I sprinkle new phrases I’ve learned from them at work. Often, the phrases are already passé and I'm not sure that I get points for trying but it feels good to try.

About a year ago, I took my then 13-year-old to Chuck E. Cheese. Sitting by the window, waiting for our buzzer to light up to let us know our pizza was ready, I interviewed them on Cancel Culture, which was the start of research for a post I dropped last June. Today, En and I went to the same Chuck E. Cheese, sat at the same booth, and I had with me a favorite journal and colored pens, begging for another interview. The theme rose to mind clearly — Gen Z verbiage that is current and cool. I include some insights offered by my daughter, Coley, on a long drive last week regarding emojis too, that En elaborated on further, and offer you a guide to Gen Z speak.

En categorized words in time frames — 2000’s, 2010’s, and since 2020. Some words originating in the 2000's have been added upon to be cool again in 2023, some are old and cringy.

Cool words and phrases since 2020

  • Meaning good:

  • peak - it’s way better than everyone or everything else

  • based - ideal human perfection, solid

  • GigaChad* - an awesome man. Some that fit this category include Robin Williams, Pedro Pascal, and Tobey Maguire

  • gamer - good, but used satirically

  • epic gamer - the best, also satirical

  • rizz - charisma in a dating scene, as in “Bro, has rizz!” This word can be used in other forms as well, “Rizzler” (a play on rizz and Dr. Suess’s Ounceler) or “Rizz Piece” (a play on the anime One Piece)

  • W - great, based, winning at life

  • smash - when you want to have sex with someone; most often used about a really attractive character in a game, but mostly as satire

  • bussin’ - amazing. (Once in a while my kid tells me that my chicken is bussin’, which thrills me, because I don’t taste it; I’m only guessing and it’s awfully satisfying to guess right.)

  • glow up - you look amazing, implying that you used to look terrible but had some sort of transformation

  • Meaning bad:

  • mid - not really meaning bad, but “eh”, no flavor

  • unbased - the opposite of based

  • virgin - someone who doesn’t touch grass, doesn’t go outside, who is pathetic

  • chronically online / terminally online - similar to “virgin”

  • cope - shut up, kind of like a Gen Xer might use, “f* you”

  • skill issue - as in it’s your problem

  • L ratio - L for loser, ratio is directing the person addressed to look at the proportion of people saying mean rather than nice things about them, i.e. “There’s a disproportionate amount of hate against you now.”

  • fatherless - implying someone wasn’t raised properly, which is why they’re acting cringe

  • fell off - horrible when used to be great

  • caught in the 4k - when something someone does of a personal and cringe or weird nature that is leaked on the internet, as in caught in 4000 pixels

  • QRT - this is when you quote and retweet, repost something someone else said just to make fun of them

  • simp - this is an insult to call someone who has a crush and is letting their crush walk all over them

  • glow down - you look terrible, when you used to look amazing

  • Other:

  • blue pill - cringe, just continuing to live a life of a lie

  • red pill - based, human perfection

    • Those two are referencing The Matrix (I think I now need to watch it.)

  • bitches - any partners, not an insult just meaning partners

  • drip - what you wear, any clothes, mostly good although you could say, “You have horrible drip.”

No longer cool words, but had been once in this millennium:

  • pog / poggers - this is an old word, meaning that someone or something is very cool, the opposite of cringe

  • sus, meaning suspicious, which was used in 2010 but became more widely used with the popularity of the online game Among Us, but is now cringe

  • Chad* - initially (2005) referred to a “dude bro,” a stereotypical frat boy/jock, someone who thought they were very cool, but they were actually pathetic and misogynistic. About 2020 “Chad” evolved to being a term to refer to an actually cool super nice person, usually applied to men. It may still be used, but more often these days in it’s upgrade*

  • “It’s a mood.” I feel that and that’s enough for the definition, but I’m told that it’s now “older slang”

Gen X emoji use:

  • smiley faces - really sarcastic

  • skull + crying = laughing

  • laughing emoji - not used. “People will call you a Facebook Mom.”

  • heart eyes - always satire

I will practice using the skull+crying emojis in lieu of the laughing face, that I honestly use probably every day. Although, it’s true, I am a Facebook mom.

I know it’s National Poetry Month and I had designs of maintaining focus on celebrating poetry in April posts. I’ll be back soon with some mini-reviews, I’ve read too many wonderful collections to resist. But I think maybe this too counts. If you’re a Poet, maybe something in here might serve as a writing prompt. If not, still and all, Language! — beautiful, flexible, powerful, nuanced and ever-evolving.

64 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment

Apr 08, 2023

Fun! I’m totally clueless about this language—or should I say I have a skill issue with it? Pretty sure I’m using that wrong 🤣. Oh, wait, I mean ☠️😢

One thing I can’t believe is that YOU HAVEN‘T SEEN THE MATRIX?!!! I’m curious to hear what you think of it when you do :0)

bottom of page