- Hollis Johnson
- You might think you know what slang words teens are using these days, but there’s a good chance those are already out of fashion.
- “YOLO,” “swag,” and “bae” are out, teens told Business Insider.
- Here’s how to use the slang that Gen Z is actually using without looking completely silly.
In May, Subway Canada ran a poll imploring Twitter users to vote on their favorite bread. Or, as they put it, their “bread bae.”
Pick your bread bae.
— SUBWAY® Canada (@SUBWAYCanada) May 9, 2018
No one voted on it. Subway Canada has 135,000 followers.
To be fair, some theorized that the poll, which ultimately racked up 13,000 retweets, was fake and simply a PR scheme to troll for tweets. Either way, the internet wasn’t having it, with many saying that the use of “bread bae” sounded more like it was aggressively concocted by an out-of-touch marketing employee.
Tons of other brands have tried and failed to pander to teens by using their vernacular. Gen Z slang has appeared in various marketing ads over the years, often drawing the ire of the very consumer base these companies are trying to attract.
In a recent Business Insider survey of 104 teens nationwide, Generation Zs shared insight about how they communicate today. Here are 11 words that make them cringe, and what they’re opting to use instead.
“Swag” describes a person who is cool or enviable, or someone can “have swag.” But it hasn’t been trendy since 2012, teens say.
- Soulja Boy Tell’em/YouTube
Now, teens are more likely to express something that’s cool as “lit.” It’s slightly different than swag in that it’s not typically used to describe a person; a situation or thing is more likely to be described as “lit.”
- Donald Bowers/Getty Images for Samsung
“Bae” comes from the African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) pronunciation of “babe.” It used to be the ultra-popular way to refer to your significant other, but teens say it’s now overused.
There isn’t a trendy word to use instead of “bae,” actually. But if you want to call a friend something other than their name, teens recommend “bruh.”
Drake popularized “YOLO” in his 2012 song “The Motto.” It means “You only live once,” and became trendy as a phrase to justify seizing the day.
- Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Now, YOLO is very much out. There’s a trendier rap-originated slang that Gen Zs prefer: DJ Khaled’s “key” or “major key.” This can be used to describe anything that’s essential or important.
- Sergi Alexander/Getty
“Rad” is yet another synonym for cool, and teens say it’s totally out-of-touch. In fact, it hasn’t been trendy since the 1990s.
- YouTube/Paramount Pictures
A better way to say something is cool is “chill.” A person, situation, or thing can be chill, and it doesn’t necessarily mean relaxed or calm.
- Sergi Alexander/Getty Images for Get Schooled Foundation
Teens also picked “gnarly” as a word that no one should ever use. It’s another synonym of “cool” that dominated in the 70s and 80s.
Use “dope” instead.
- Drew Angerer/Getty Images
“Savage” refers to someone who acts ridiculously and without restraint, but it’s usually at least somewhat admiring. They often do what everyone else wants to do if they weren’t scared.
- Robin Marchant/Getty Images
But “savage” is out. If you want to express sympathy with a friend who is in an unfortunate situation or got hurt (perhaps by someone who is savage), teens recommend “oof.”
- Hollis Johnson
“On fleek” describes something that’s perfect. It also came from AAVE, and was popularized by a 2014 Vine video where the user brags about her “eyebrows on fleek.”
- Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters
Teens say you should go with “looking snatched” instead. It means basically the same thing as “on fleek.”
- Matthew Eisman/Getty
“Sick” was the cool slang in the 1980s all the way through the 2000s. But teens today say it’s passé.
- Getty Images
To express that something is really great, go with “slay” — as in, “She slays.”
- Theo Wargo/Getty Images
Hopefully you weren’t considering using “coolio” around Gen Zs, but it hasn’t been trendy since at least the early 2000s.
- Don MacKinnon/Getty Images
A trendier word to describe something that’s perfect is “GOAT.” That’s “greatest of all time.”
- Jason Miller/Getty Images
Dabbing was born in the summer of 2014 and peaked about a year later. But if you’re still talking about your dab in 2018, teens are going to be seriously disturbed.
- Marco Luzzani/Getty Images
“Yeet” also originated as a dance move, but it’s still an acceptable word to use around Gen Zs. The word has many meanings: the word yes; throwing an object over a long distance; or just as an exclamation.
- Steven Ferdman/Getty Images
“Groovy” was cool in the 1960s. Gen Zs will probably think you’re just weird if you say it nowadays.
The better way to say something is cool to Gen Zs is “Gucci.” It could mean something is highly coveted, but you could also say “it’s Gucci” or “sounds Gucci” to convey that something is going well or okay.