Talking to a teen or perusing TikTok comments can sometimes feel like trying to decipher a new language. But while some of Gen Z’s slang was indeed coined on the internet in recent years, plenty of terms originated decades ago, often in LGBTQIA+ or Black communities (or the intersection of the two). Below are 15 zoomer expressions worth knowing—though considering how quickly slang can fall out of fashion, we’re not promising that the kids will think you’re cool if you use them.
Sus—an abbreviation for suspect or suspicious—describes suspicious behavior. It was popularized by players of the 2018 online game Among Us, in which the crew members of an alien spacecraft try to determine who the impostors are (or die trying). But according to the Oxford English Dictionary, English speakers have been using sus in this way since at least the 1950s, and its origins in law enforcement date back to the 1930s.
Eminem coined this term in his 2000 song “Stan,” in which a guy named Stan takes his Eminem obsession to the extreme. The following year, Nas helped broaden its meaning to “any overly obsessed fan” when he mentioned Stan in his iconic Jay-Z diss track “Ether.” Despite those early beginnings as a putdown, stan—lowercase, these days—has now been reclaimed by masses of Swifties, Barbz, and other members of specific fan bases who are proud to wear their stan-dom on their sleeves. You can also use stan as a verb, a trend that started around 2008.
Los Angeles-based software developer Gaby Rasson invented the word cheugy (pronounced "chew-gee") when she was a high school student in 2013, and it took off in 2021 after Hallie Cain posted a TikTok about it. The term describes anything that’s slightly off-trend, outdated, and/or cringey, such as: being a Disney adult; the word adulting; decor that features trite or punny sayings; and whatever else any nearby Gen Zer tells you is "cheugy." It’s up to interpretation.
4. I’m Dead
I’m dead is typically used as a response to something so funny, outrageous, and/or shocking that the speaker has figuratively died laughing (or just died). Variations include dead, I’m deceased, or simply the skull emoji.
An acronym for If you know, you know, IYKYK usually goes along with content shared without context—be it a video taken at a party that only other attendees will understand, or a certain ’90s childhood memory for which everyone except other ’90s kids would need an explanation. It’s not clear exactly where the abbreviation came from, but Pusha T popularized the full phrase with his 2018 song “If You Know You Know.” (And if you would like context for his lyrical references so you, too, can know, he breaks them down here.)
Simp is an insult aimed at men who, as Dictionary.com explains, “are seen as too attentive and submissive to women, especially out of a failed hope of winning some entitled sexual attention or activity from them.” Simp as an abbreviation of simpleton dates back to the very early 1900s, and although there’s no direct trail connecting the two terms, it’s possible that today’s simp evolved from that one. (After all, they both imply that the person is misguided and even a little pathetic.) Whatever the case, the 21st century’s version of the word actually originated in the 20th century, too: West Coast rappers like Too Short and E-40 began mentioning it in their lyrics in the mid-1980s.
There are a couple main ways to use hits different. One is to describe something that simply feels better under certain conditions—e.g., waking up on Christmas morning hits different (than waking up on a regular Wednesday). Another is to describe something that you experience or interpret differently now that new information has come to light—it’s this sense that went viral in 2019 when YouTube duo Daniel Howell and Phil Lester both came out as gay, prompting their stans to revisit their older content and read into those interactions.
Tea as slang for gossip didn’t originate from Kermit the Frog’s "But that’s none of my business" meme or any other tea-related internet content. As Merriam-Webster explains, the term comes from the ’80s and ’90s Black drag scene, and it wasn’t just used for gossip about others. When transgender performer The Lady Chablis mentions her “T” in John Berendt's 1994 nonfiction book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, she’s referring to her own personal information. In her 1997 autobiography, she specifies that T stands for Truth. T and tea—for personal truths and others’ secrets—were both used during the ’90s, but today tea reigns supreme.
These days, anything can be sending you, meaning it thrills or excites you. But when the phrase originated around the 1930s, it was most often applied to music that could “transport or arouse emotions” or “enthrall,” according to the Oxford English Dictionary. “Hot artists or bands that can put across their licks successfully are ‘senders’; they ‘send,’” Vanity Fair wrote in 1935.
10. He/She/They Ate
The verb to eat has lived many lives in the popular lexicon over the years. "Eat my shorts" was a scathing diss during the ’80s, and saying someone ate it can mean they literally fell down. But these days, when a Gen Zer says a person ate, ate that, or ate this/that up, they mean they did something extremely well; it's often applied to celebrity performances or outfits. And if, say, one of BLACKPINK’s music videos is really sending you, you can even say, “They ate this up and left no crumbs.”
Bussin, which may be an offshoot of bustin’, began as African American English—a.k.a. African American Language or African American Vernacular English—an English dialect spoken by Black Americans. It’s specifically meant to describe delicious food, which is how TikTok user @chinaglivens used it in a March 2021 TikTok video about hot sauce on fried chicken. The sound went viral, which helped popularize the phrase among a broader audience. These days, it’s not uncommon to hear or see bussin in reference to something that isn’t edible; Nicki Minaj uses it to describe a whole host of things in her 2022 song “Bussin.” Some Black Americans argue that non-Black people shouldn’t be using the term at all—or at the very least, that it shouldn’t be taken out of its culinary context.
People have been putting the words low and key together to describe something muted or understated for more than 200 years. But Gen Zers (and some Millennials, too) were the first to drop the hyphen and also use the phrase as an adverb, rather than an adjective or a noun. In the 20th century, you might talk about a “low-key song” or a “low-key painting.” Today, you can be “lowkey excited” for an event or say that you “lowkey need a break” from social media. In other words, lowkey is basically a stand-in for other adverb qualifiers like slightly and kind of. It’s less about implying that you’re only a little excited about something, for example, and more about conveying that you’re actually really excited—but you’re only showing it a little.
If someone punctuates a piece of information with no cap, it means they’re not lying or exaggerating. According to Genius, the first mention of the phrase in rap lyrics came from Chief Keef and Gino Marley’s 2011 song “Just in Case,” and other hip hop artists like Migos have mentioned it on more recent tracks, too. But before there was no cap, there was high cap or high cappin’—which rappers like Too Short and Willie D started using in songs during the ’80s. “Capping can be insulting somebody or it can be someone being braggadocious,” Willie D told Genius. The term may have grown out of playing the dozens, a decades-old game in Black communities where two people try to out-roast each other. Not only are the insults often exaggerated or untrue, but the game was known in some circles as capping.
Poggers, an expression that conveys excitement, was coined by the Twitch community. Basically, Twitch is a platform where users livestream content (originally just video games, but now a variety of live events) and discuss it in chat rooms. You can send emoji-like images called emotes, some of which feature specific characters or people. Poggers is the title of an emote depicting the cartoon Pepe the Frog exhibiting excitement. It may be connected to an earlier emote titled PogChamp, which shows Twitch gamer Ryan Gutierrez with a similar expression. (It’s called PogChamp after a video in which Gutierrez won a Pogs competition against another gamer, but the image used for the emote is actually from a different video.) While the word poggers itself doesn’t seem to have any controversy attached to it, it’s worth noting that Pepe the Frog has been branded a hate symbol, and that the PogChamp emote was removed from Twitch following comments made by Gutierrez in the wake of the January 6 insurrection.
In 2020, Conan Gray released “Heather,” a song about unreciprocated feelings for someone who’s in love with a perfect-in-every-way girl named Heather. “But how could I hate her? She’s such an angel,” Gray sings. This launched a slew of TikTok videos in which users identified their own “Heathers”—any lovely person who seems like they’re the main character, evoking as much admiration as jealousy. So if someone calls you Heather, the proper response is “Thank you” (or “omg this is lowkey sending me”).