Though not impossible, it’s challenging to communicate without language. Communication is the foundation of connection. Language is so essential that we start learning our ABC’s when we are at our most sponge-like. Words make it possible to express what we need, what we want, what we do, how we feel, and who we are. At an early age, we learn that words matter. But languages are dynamic and they change quickly. The learning doesn’t end with school. If you don’t pay attention, you may find that you and others who speak the same language don’t understand each other at all. Connecting when the words change takes effort.

In a world defined by rapid change, it wouldn’t make sense if something as defining as language was static but, let’s face it, it can be hard to keep up. Language changes in different ways to reflect the evolution of those using and crafting it. Words are borrowed from foreign languages, shortened, combined, or, essentially, banned. The word changes that intrigue me most fall into three buckets: slang, socially in/appropriate, and buzz.  

Words Change

Slang words are among the first clear signals to an older person that they’re aging. They arrive on the scene at an alarming pace. They are replaced equally as quickly. Slang words like “suh” and “bussin” simultaneously crack me up and make me feel ancient. The slang-ification of words I used to know renders my world askew. Bad means good, down is up. I have actually asked my daughters if they’re up for doing something and they’ve let me know they’re down. We mean the same thing. What?! Some slang has a clear connective root, making it comprehensible to some extent. For example, “suh” as a greeting comes from “what’s up” and “rizz” comes from “charisma”. Other words are just made up. Cheugy.

The second language bucket is filled with words and phrases that  replace others deemed offensive. We used to explain the decision to stop using certain terms on the basis of political correctness but I don’t think we use “politically correct” all that much anymore. Anything political is decidedly sus (see what I did there?) and nowhere near any gold standard. The phrase has been replaced by “socially acceptable” or “culturally aware”. This bucket recognizes that certain words and phrases offend groups of people and once a light has been shone, the phrase should be changed. To continue to knowingly offend people when replacement words exist is, well, cheugy.

Finally, there are the buzzwords. They tend to be both polarizing and ubiquitous. Buzzwords generally start as apt and simple ways to convey a concept, making communication smoother. In fact, they’re often so conveniently descriptive and easy to use that everyone starts using them. People often think using them makes them sound smarter and trendier and that might be right, for a time. There are buzzwords in business and the workplace (including as they relate to job postings and applications), buzzwords in wellness (including “wellness”), and buzzwords to describe society. Buzzwords tend to be popular for a period of time. And then they lose their oomph (not to be confused with OOMF). In any given setting, overuse may make them cheugy.

Buzzwords rely on timing. When a word is buzzy and you don’t use it as directed (sustainability, for example)), you are demonstrating that you are off trend and somehow lacking. However, if you use the buzzword after it’s moment has passed, you are demonstrating the same thing. Cheugy.

What To Do When the Words Change

Words change and there’s no stopping the phenomenon. Rapidly changing language can engender all sorts of feelings. It’s easy to see how someone might feel frustrated being unable to understand someone else who seemingly speaks the same language. Feeling judged for having used a word or phrase that’s been deemed inappropriate is also unpleasant. Some of these changes and proposed changes elicit negative reactions, often punctuated by using derogatory terms to describe the change seekers. But shouldn’t we want to evolve and, if so, shouldn’t we want our language to evolve accordingly?

Language change presents a great arena for curiosity and personal growth. Rather than feeling defensive about not knowing a trendy word or using a word or phrase that has fallen out of favor, consider the opportunities. Strong and effective communication requires that we listen to hear one another. If you hear slang used in a conversation and you don’t want to betray your age by asking what it means, consider smiling politely and then googling the word when you’re alone. Take a minute to see where that word came from. It might be interesting. If you’ve used a term or phrase that someone points out is no longer ok to use, there’s no need to be embarrassed or get defensive. Consider thanking them for letting you know and make it a point to understand the perceived offensive nature of the term. The opportunity to show empathy and treat another person or group of people with respect should matter more than any connection we may feel to a particular word. Shouldn’t it?

I think part of the problem lies in the fact that many people feel attacked if they use a term or phrase that has fallen out of favor. Maybe if we stop using loaded buzzwords like “woke” and “canceled”, we’ll have more peaceful, meaningful conversations and connections. At the risk of stating the obvious, good communication is essential in relationships. Actively listening and speaking respectfully are key ingredients to developing and maintaining strong connections. Communication skills can be innate, learned, and improved. We don’t need to speak the same language to communicate but we connect so much better when we’re open, curious, and linguistically nimble.

Cheugy

I believe that we learned everything we need to know in kindergarten and from children’s books. Frindle is one of my all time favorite children’s books. It’s a middle grade novel, written by Andrew Clements and published first in 1996. The book’s protagonist is a 5th grader who sets on a journey (buzzword!) to prove that words can come from anywhere. He refuses to call his pen a pen, starts to call it a “frindle”, and gets his friends to do the same. The word catches on in his town and then throughout the country. Eventually, the word “frindle” is added to the dictionary. 

Cheugy is the new frindle. It was coined by Gaby Rasson, a software developer in Los Angeles, in 2013, when she was in high school, to describe people who were slightly off trend. The word spread among her school and camp friends and then followed them to college and beyond. Cheugy went mainstream when someone included it in a TikTok post in 2021. It has come to mean off-trend and uncool and applies to things as much as people. It’s worth noting that, given the cyclical nature of trends, things that are cheugy now may well make a comeback and shed their cheuginess in the future.

Thinking and Trying

Something to think about: “Language and identity are so fundamentally intertwined. You peel back all the layers in terms of what we wear and what we eat and all the things that mark us, and in the end, what we have are our words.” – Jhumpa Lahiri

Alternatively, “It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words, like ‘What about lunch?'” – A. A. Milne

Something to try: Let’s play! A list of 10 Gen Z slang terms follows. How many do you know? Their meanings follow. Extra points if you can use one appropriately in a sentence or conversation. Let me know if you do!

  • Simp
  • Sus
  • Yeet
  • NPC
  • Bussin
  • Opps
  • OOMF
  • Delulu
  • Heather
  • Mid

Answers: Simp (t is when a man is overly submissive to a woman and gains nothing from it. Example: “Guys simp in her Instagram replies and she doesn’t even notice them.”); Sus (Giving the impression that something is questionable or dishonest, short for suspicious); Yeet (To violently throw an object that you deem to be worthless, inferior or just plain garbage); NPC (Short for non-playable character, it means the opposite of a main character. This person is usually a background character in your life that doesn’t have significant importance); Bussin (What you would say if something was really good); Opps (Anyone in competition or against you. Enemies); OOMF (Short for “one of my followers”, usually used on X and TikTok to talk about one of your followers without mentioning their name); Delulu (Delusional); Heather (When someone says that you’re “Heather,” they mean that everybody can’t help but like you. Shoutout to the Heathers in my life – the two that appropriately bear the name and the others. YKWYA); Mid (Used to insult or degrade something you don’t like, labeling it as average or poor quality.)

Coaching Can Help You Communicate for Connection

The COVID years did a number on a lot of us. If you feel like you’ve lost your ability to comfortably interact with people or never felt so comfortable in the first place and that’s something you want to change, coaching can help. Let’s connect over a free 15-minute discovery call and see if we’re a good fit.

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2 Comments

  1. As a parent with teenaged kids/stepkids and early twenty-somethings, I hear these words/terms all the time. They make my brain hurt. In particular, my 17-year old stepdaughter often uses many of these words in THE SAME SENTENCE, and then she will stare at me like I’m an alien because I have absolutely no idea what she’s trying to say (until it is/was explained to me in, you know, NORMAL (translation: old people) English.

    No, excuse me while I go out and shovel coal barefoot, while I walk uphill to/from school both ways.

    1. Ahhhhh… nothing like the good old days! I remember when a chocolate bar cost a quarter. If you can hang with a 17-year old using many of these words in the same sentence and refrain from trying to use them yourself, you’re not cheugy at all!

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