Grandparent’s Guide to Understanding Teen Slang Words

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By now most of us know typing LOL in a text means “laugh out loud.” But not every text from a teenager is as easy to decipher. It seems that as soon as we have BRB (be right back) and TTYL (talk to you later) figured out, a whole new list of slang words and acronyms start arriving in our grandchildren’s texts. 

If your grandson says you are the GOAT, he’s not calling you a farm animal. He means you are the “greatest of all time.”  

Mary Kohn, an associate professor of English at Kansas State University, studies the intersection of language and culture. She told “USA Today” that language is a lot like fashion. 

“Teens coin words and slang partly because using their parent’s jargon would be like wearing mom’s jeans,” Kohn said. ”They would come across as old-fashioned and out of touch.” 

Slang words — every generation has them 

Think back to the slang words used in your generation. When you “had a ball” in the 50s you were having a great time. Events were a “gas” or “groovy” or even “far out” in the 60s. In the 70s we said, “Right on, man!” and of course, “totally” was a big hit in the 80s. 

Raychelle Cassada Lohmann, Ph.D., told “Psychology Today” that slang symbolizes how youth are responding to their environment. 

“It’s fascinating to see what new words youth will invent and whether or not it will sweep the nation or better yet, the world,” Lohmann said. 

Slang is for them, not you 

Every few years a list gets compiled of the most popular slang words. There are usually two rules: First, you can use the list to decode what your grandchildren are saying to you. Second, you are not allowed to use the slang words.  

Teens say there is nothing more “cringey” (awkward) than hearing their parents or grands asking them to “spill the tea” (gossip) or “throw shade” (trash talk) about a “Bruh” (brother or friend). 

Here are a few key phrases, acronyms, and abbreviations to get you started. You can check out a full list of 2021 teen slang words here

  • Baddie – a bad ass, usually a strong female. 
  • Basic – mainstream, not exciting. 
  • Dope – cool or awesome. 
  • Extra – trying too hard to be cool. 
  • Fam – your group of friends. 
  • Gucci – good or cool. 
  • K – OK. It can also be used sarcastically when they are not OK. 
  • Lit – amazing. 
  • OMG – started as “Oh, my god” but can also mean “Oh, my gosh” or an expression for something great. 
  • Queen or Yass Queen – showing support for a friend. 
  • Salty or Savage – bitter. 
  • Yeet – cool. 
  • 53x – sex. 

As soon as you have this lingo all figured out, no doubt teens will change it again. But at least for a little while, you might be able to translate their texts. And just think, at some point, they will be in the dark, too, when future generations make a whole new list of slang words.

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