A parents’ guide to modern teenage slang
Most parents don’t understand a lot of today’s teen-speak, so a language expert decodes some of the more popular and perplexing teenage slang.
If you have teenage children, chances are they litter their speech with ever-evolving words and phrases you just don’t understand.
And then there are the acronyms teenagers use to seemingly speak in code – leaving bemused parents mentally assessing different word combinations to see if they can work out what’s been said.
But while it may be perplexing for mums and dads, young people attaching their own meaning to words is nothing new. Take the word ‘cool’, for example – most people nowadays accept that if something is ‘cool’ it’s laid-back or stylish, although before ‘cool’ became the keyword of the 1950’s Beat generation, it usually meant something was on the chilly side.
“Slang is, by definition, just informal language,” says Jennifer Dorman, from the language app Babbel (www.babbel.com). “Adolescents are generally the primary drivers of language change – they’re more daring and creative with regards to language, and they innovate much more than speakers in other age brackets.”
Dorman explains that such language creativity is part of a teenager’s cognitive development, which sees them asserting their independence from their family and forging strong social connections with peers. So when a teenager uses a slang term in the correct context, it shows their affiliation with a specific group, or even a gang.
“Peppering their everyday speech with slang terms known primarily or exclusively within the peer group helps to solidify the new social bonds,” says Dorman.
But if you’re not part of the gang and are ‘just’ a parent, you may need help translating teen-speak, so here Dorman shares some of the most popular teen slang, and their meanings:
POS: Parents over shoulder
Today’s teen will use the POS abbreviation to signal that a parent is near and can see what’s being typed on a device. Other abbreviations include PWOS (parents watching over shoulder) and PWOMS (parents watching over my shoulder).
Skrrt: Rapidly leaving/expression of excitement
The easiest way to understand this term is to think of the sound a car makes as it’s driving away at high speed, with its wheels screeching. It’s pronounced similarly to ‘skirt’, but usually in a high-pitched tone, and was first popularised in rap songs, to convey the rapper trying to get away from something.
Finsta: Fake/Fun Instagram
This term is another attempt by teens to deceive their parents, and was originally used to refer to a fake Instagram account, which would be used for posts you don’t want your parents or wider family, to see. The meaning has since grown to include any secondary or fake thing, like a second Twitter account, or a secret phone.
Cancelled: No longer relevant
Spotted by the New York Times almost a year ago, this one has since made its way across the pond. It’s frequently used when speaking about celebrities who’re considered no longer relevant, or have said or done something unacceptable, but it can also refer to other things – from a fashion trend through to an emotion. It’s thought the term is a direct result of ‘subscription culture’, where anything can be cancelled at the click of a button.
OBNR: Open, but not responded
This is an example of text slang, which typically refers to a message that’s been seen, but not responded to. You might be surprised by how many text abbreviations there are, but the reality is that teens are addicted to their phones – a Babbel survey found that in the UK, 44% of teens use their phones while on the toilet.
Tea: Juicy gossip
This is one of many current popular slang terms that originally came from black LGBTQ ball culture, eventually co-opted by Gen Z. When someone asks you to “spill the tea,” they’re asking for juicy gossip.
Mood: Something that’s relateable, or a form of agreement
Surprisingly, this doesn’t refer to teenagers being moody. Instead, this is a term used to confirm something is relateable, or reflective of your own state. For example, commenting ‘big mood’ on a meme of a sad Keanu would mean that you agree with the image and feel the same.
Flex: Showing off
If you’re flexing, you’re showing off. And your ‘flex’ is your power move, whether you’ve earned the right to make one or not. Hence the phrase ‘weird flex, but okay’.
Shook: Shaken, surprised
If someone is ‘shook’, they’re shaken (or shooketh) to their core (and they’re probably exaggerating for dramatic effect).
Stan: To approve or endorse
To ‘stan’ something or someone is to endorse or approve of them. This is actually a reference to the Eminem song Stan, about an overly committed fan.
‘Bare’ is used to add emphasis. If something is described as ‘bare good’, then you’d assume it’s very good or excellent. It can also be used to imply there’s a lot of something. In this instance you might say ‘bare people’.
Beef: To be engaged in an argument/have a disagreement
To ‘have beef’ is to have an argument with someone, or to be holding a grudge against them. If someone’s fallen out with a friend, they might say they ‘have beef’ with them.
Allow: Stop it, don’t do that/I don’t want to
Contrary to the standard dictionary definition of ‘allow’, the slang version is used to express a negative opinion or an unwillingness to do something. The phrase ‘allow that’ is often used to say no to something, or express annoyance. For example, if you ask a teenager to come to the supermarket, you’ll probably get ‘allow that’ as a response, indicating they don’t want to.
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