Gen Z speak: Slang and language through emojis and tech

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No matter your age, there is a word or words to describe “cool.” Slang words for “cool” often define one generation to the next. In fact, the word “cool” itself has been used by many generations. Depending on your generation, you may remember using words and phrases with your friends, such as “swag,” “gag me with a spoon,” and “tight,” expressions that your parents and other adults did not understand without additional context.

With each generation, new words and phrases emerge. Some examples of common slang words used today by Generation Z – anyone born between 1997 and 2012 – include:

  • Throw shade – subtly say rude comments or give dirty looks directed toward someone
  • Extra – to be unnecessarily dramatic or over the top
  • Lowkey – way of saying that you did or like something on the down low, hinting at embarrassment if you were to openly admit this
  • Tea – gossip
  • Cheugy (“Chew-gee”) – slang to describe something as uncool, untrendy, or old
  • Skrt – imitating the sound of an abrupt stop in order to revisit a juicy part of a conversation
  • Receipts – signifies wanting proof for something
  • No cap – emphasizes that the statement is not a lie or exaggeration
  • Slaps – when something is really good or cool it “slaps”
  • Dead – used as “I’m dead” when something is super funny
  • GUCCI – good
  • Crunk – high and drunk
  • A simp – a person who does way too much for the person they like
  • Bet – used as “yes” or in a sarcastic way of saying “yeah, never going to happen”
  • 24k – used as “I’m 24k,” meaning “I’m golden, I’m good, I’m ok”

Most of the real talk is happening via technology with the use of emojis. Just think about the emoji keyboards that have been developed over the years. Phone updates sometimes automatically include updates to emojis. There is even facial recognition with emojis using voice messages as an animal i.e. shark, a dog, a pig, or custom emojis created to look like the sender.

With the expansion of emoji characters and use, comes all the meaning Gen Zers are attributing to them. These little cartoon pictures have agreed-upon meanings and can even be strung together to create sentences. Common emojis are:

– Laughing out loud

‍ – It’s party time

– Totally!

– Simping: doing way too much for a person you like

– A concern, an issue

‍ – I do not care what you say

In particular, as Gen Zers encounter their adolescent years, they are using emojis to talk about sex and drugs. Examples of these emojis, slang, and hashtag meanings can be found at:

Emojis are often used in Gen Z conversations and can have meaning beyond the literal picture. Teenagers’ need for privacy (especially from parents!) tends to increase as they get older. Hidden meanings are frequent even in the technology platforms used. For example, an app called Calculator Plus looks like a typical math/calculator but when certain “codes” are typed in, discreetly stored files, photos, or videos are revealed.

The technological world is advancing quickly and so are the many ways Gen Zers communicate. If you want to communicate with and understand this age group, you have to be open to their style and favorite platforms.

Resources for understanding Gen Z

About the authors

Jill Collins is a second-year graduate student in a Master of Public Health program focused on Community Health Promotion and Sexual Health at the University of Minnesota. She often works with teenagers on stress management and reproductive healthcare.

Lydia Shields is also a Master’s in Public Health Student at the University of Minnesota. Her interests are sexual and reproductive health, nutrition, and physical activity.

Jill and Lydia have been collaborating with the Between Us Program since 2021 through the Community Health Initiative program at the University of Minnesota.

Between Us is a grant-funded program from the Minnesota Department of Health that creates access to confidential reproductive healthcare for youth and young adults who receive their care at Hennepin Healthcare. Teens have the right to confidentiality for certain kinds of care under Minnesota’s Minor Consent Law. Between Us works to transform primary care into a more teen-friendly environment, welcoming teens and their parents, while also providing confidential care when needed.

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