Facebook Twitter

Can you talk the latest talk? How slang divides and connects generations

Report says boomers and Gen Z don’t always understand each other; millennials learn slang to fit in at work

SHARE Can you talk the latest talk? How slang divides and connects generations

Zoë Petersen, Deseret News

Because of her FOMO, the teen ghosted her slammin’ gramp to chill with her lit bff. Later, her disappointed parents not only found her explanation sus; they couldn’t see her POV.

Say what?

Slang has likely existed as long as language itself. But it comes with a generation gap, as the company Preply found when it decided to sniff out the most and least popular vintage and new slang terms, based on locations and generations.

“Slang stickiness is unpredictable. Some take off and some have a very short shelf life,” Sylvia Johnson, head of methodology at Preply, told the Deseret News. She likened trends in slang to trends in fashion, “falling out of style for one generation and then being used again years after.”

Preply is an online language learning marketplace that connects tutors with students who want to learn one of 50 languages in more than 180 countries. That love of language helps explain why it studied generational slang. The company says it checked out 100 slang terms on Google Trends to see how they did in the past 12 months, 70 of them vintage and 30 modern slang. They also looked at the search volume of the words in each state and in the 50 biggest U.S. cities, before asking 1,043 Americans how they use slang.

Of those questioned, 12% were baby boomers, 25% Gen X, 52% millennials, and 11% Gen Z. If the generational monikers confuse you, boomers were born between 1946-1964. Those born between 1965-1980 are Gen X, while millennials were born 1981-1996. Gen Z includes those born in 1997-2012. The group that came after that is tentatively called Generation Alpha, but like slang, the generational designations don’t always stick. And there’s a little squishiness around exactly when each generation begins or ends.

Preply found that different generations are taking steps to bridge the language gap. For instance, while more than half of baby boomers say they’re not always sure what their grandchildren are saying, they’re willing to learn in order to strengthen the bond. Both boomers and Gen X ask younger relatives to explain popular new slang. When Gen Z is having trouble understanding, they consult TikTok, which might be a natural evolution from millennials, who most often turn to YouTube.

Additionally, millennials report they not only learn the younger generation’s favorite phrases, but they use them at work to fit in.

“While young adults are hip enough to know new slang before older generations, rarely do people know how or when the words came to be and often enough those words become just part of the regular vernacular,” Johnson said. “Then younger individuals use slang around older family members or friends, leading the older generation to naturally become familiar with and adopt some of these terms with somewhat mixed results.”

Johnson joked that “attempting to ‘slay’ with new terms can produce raised eyebrows from the younger generation.”

Some phrases become part of the common lexicon. If someone says “ghosted,” there’s no explanation needed across generations. Same with “FOMO” — maybe because every generation had a fear of missing out.

The keepers

In its exploration of slang terms, Preply discovered that each generation had a favorite bit of slang. For boomers, it is “bummer.” They also like “mellow” and “wannabe.” And there’s some overlap.

Gen X likes “chill,” “lame” and “bummer.” Millennials are big on “OMG,” “chill” and “lame,” while Gen Z likes “selfie” (Boy, do they!), “OMG” and “ghosted.”

Each generation wishes it could bring a bit of slang back. For boomers, the top choice is “far out,” to which Gen X replies, “right on.” Some millennials — though not a huge number at just 17% — wish there were more “cool cats,” while more than 1 in 5 members of Gen Z would most like YOLO to boomerang back into popularity.

Language barrier?

The report also notes that among the generations, Gen X has the hardest time understanding their colleagues, with 30% saying that. But Gen Z’s not far behind; 1 in 4 say they “often struggle” to understand older co-workers.

There are words the different generations don’t like, too. No one’s surprised to hear that the big one for boomers is “woke,” with 68% saying that. The other generational dislikes are far less adamant: “thirsty” for Gen X at 23%, “slay” a non-fan favorite for 26% of millennials. And 15% of Gen Zers don’t like “savage,” per Preply.

Based on the number of searches in the past 12 months, the Preply report includes a list of popular slang terms, with “FOMO” at the top, then “chill,” “totes,” “dope” and “swinging” rounding out the top 5.

They also came up with popular slang by state. For example, “all that and a bag of chips” is popular in Wyoming, while Utahns prefer “ghosted.” “Swag” is a California keeper, while Idahoans like “bogus.” In parts of the Midwest, “totally tubular” is popular. And “Daddy-O” is popular in too many states to name here. I’d do it, but I have FOMO.

Hawaii is the most interested in modern slang, while Washington most cherishes vintage slang.