Do You Speak Teen? 10 Terms You May Not Know
Translating the words teens use has been a headache and source of embarrassment for generations of parents. It’s as though the kids speak a different language. Let’s call it a “slanguage”. And you know you’re old when you need google to understand it.
Nowadays, too, it’s much harder to bridge the communication gap because the Internet has dramatically increased the pace at which slanguage changes. In fact, every year hundreds of new slang words and phrases that originated on the Internet are added to the terrestrial dictionary.
"Slanguage" is a moving target
And thanks to social media, new terms, phrases and acronyms—which, in cases, can describe an entire situation—crop up and go viral literally overnight.
In short, slanguage has become a moving target; it seems to change faster than we can pick it up. As soon as we’re proficient, we’re out of touch again.
For obvious reasons, this is not only a problem for parents, it’s particularly frustrating for anyone researching or marketing to youth.
The Problem with “Dictionaries”
Text analytics software has enabled us to monitor what young people are saying online, but it does us little good when the software can’t keep up with slanguage.
One of the primary weaknesses of most text analytics software platforms is that they rely on “dictionaries” to understand what is being discussed or to assign sentiment.
These dictionaries are only as good as the data used to create them. If the data changes in any way (e.g., new words are used or used in different ways) the software will miss it.
So in order to stay current using a conventional text analytics platform, one must manually identify new slang terms as they emerge and continually update the dictionary.
In contrast, OdinText is uniquely able to identify new, never-before-used terms—slang, acronyms, industry jargon, new product/competitor names, etc.—without user input.
Test Your Teenspeak Proficiency!
Staying abreast of changes in teenspeak requires some vigilance. You may be further out of touch than you realize. Let’s take a quiz: just for fun, I randomly pulled 10 terms that have become popular with post-Millennials (very roughly rank-ordered by use below).
If you’re not familiar with these terms or can’t define them, don’t worry. You’re not alone. I didn’t understand any of them either. It’s not necessarily easy to figure out what many of these new terms mean, either.
A conventional, mainstream dictionary won’t be any help here, but the Urban Dictionary can be a lifesaver. You can also learn a lot by researching the images online that are associated with a new trending slang term (especially “memes”) for context. YouTube videos and music can be similarly helpful.
Triangulating using these sources and the most common context is often the best way to stay on top of these moving targets, which as I noted come and go relatively quickly.
Many of the ten I’ve listed below can have more than one meaning depending on context, and some may even be used differently by different demographic groups and even within the same demographic group.
So, without further ado, here are 10 of the top 10 slang terms we’ve spotted circulating within the past few months.
Without skipping ahead to the answers, how many do you know?
One (or 1)
Schlonged ($ other ‘Trumpisms’)
“One” or “1”
In teenspeak, “one” or “1” doesn’t always signify a quantity. It can also mean “One Love” and is used frequently in parting (like “goodbye”). It may be used in person, on the telephone or via digital communication.
You knew this was a verb meaning to pat or tap gently, but that’s not what the kids mean. The recent uptick in “Dab” was inspired by a dance move popularized in a 2014 video by Atlanta rapper Skippa da Flippa. It’s often used as a sort of victory swagger (“Keep dabbin' ... let the haters hate ... Dab on”). Check out this YouTube clip for more.
“Trumped” & “Schlonged”
“Trump” as a noun and as a verb traditionally referred to a stronger hand of cards or other competitive advantage. But due in no small measure to Donald J. Trump the presidential candidate’s ascendancy, various combinations of “Trump” and “Trumped” and several memes and other digital chat have been cropping up with a variety of meanings.
“Trump” has appeared as an adjective describing someone rich or spoiled. A couple of months ago we also saw a renewed interest in “Schlonged” again due to media coverage of candidate Trump. There was some debate on what the actual meaning was. Here again I think the Urban Dictionary is one of the best resources for you to make up your own mind.
According to our analysis, this one seems more popular among women—about twice so—and also somewhat more popular in the Midwest. “Bae” is a pet name for one’s significant other. It may have been derived from “baby” (like “B” and “boo”) or it could be an acronym for “Before Anyone Else.”
It’s not a command for a dog. Think slang predecessors like “cool” or “awesome.” This one can be traced to the cult hit “Mean Girls”. Ironically, in the film the term never catches on despite one character’s dogged attempts to popularize it.
A hit with the youngest demographic, and skewing somewhat more Northeast regionally, rappers and other musician entertainers have been using “Lit” in recent songs and videos. It can mean a number of things, including that something is “hot” or popular, but also that someone is drunk or high. When used in a phrase like,“It’s Lit,” it means exciting, good or worthwhile. “Come on down, it’s Lit!”
It’s “bro” phonetically tweaked—basically means “buddy” among guys—but it can also be an expression of surprise (and usually as a disappointment) as in “Damn!” The latter use seems to have originated at least partly thanks to a video that appeared on Vine featuring high school basketball star Tony Farmer being sentenced to prison and consequently collapsing.
More popular among younger women, particularly in the South, “fleek” is a synonym for another popular slang phrase, "on point"—basically looking sharp, well-groomed or stylish. Recently, “fleek” has become specifically about eyebrows, in part due to a couple of Instagram videos, and mainstreamed when Kim Kardashian used it to describe a picture of her bleached eyebrows as #EyebrowsOnFleek.
“Swag” may actually already be on the way out, but it’s still quite popular. Derived from “swagger”—the supremely confident style of walking or strutting—“swag” has come to refer generally to an urban style and look associated with Hip-Hop. It could relate to a haircut or shoes, are simply an attitude or presence that exudes confidence and even arrogance. Example video: Soulja Boy Tell'em - Pretty Boy Swag
This one comes courtesy of “The Big Bang Theory” character Sheldon Cooper and means “Gotcha” or “I fooled you.”
Don’t Let Words Fail You!
I hope you had some fun with this quiz and maybe picked up some new vocabulary, but I’d like to emphasize that slang isn’t the only terminology that changes. Keeping on top of new market entrants, drug names, etc., is important. If you don’t have a technology solution like OdinText that can identify new terms with implications for your business or category, make sure that you at least set up a manual process to regularly check for them.
Until next time – One!
PS. To learn more about how OdinText can help you learn what really matters to your customers and predict real behavior, please contact us or request a Free Demo here >
[NOTE: Tom H. C. Anderson is Founder of Next Generation Text Analytics software firm OdinText Inc. Click here for more Text Analytics Tips]