Slang itself is nothing new, but as Gen Z enters adulthood and offices worldwide, their older colleagues struggle to keep up with a raft of new terms in the workplace. Slay (good); sus (bad); stan (love) – but just because you understand them doesn’t mean you need to use them. Following the devastating news that middle-aged office bods are trying to emulate their fresh-faced colleagues, I feel duty-bound to intervene. Slang is the preserve of the young: if you’re older than 25 and feel alienated by Gen Z’s lingo, it works perfectly.
Gen Z slang might be just the latest iteration of a recurring trend, but it inevitably has its own quirks. With many phrases gaining traction on the explosively popular social media platform TikTok, young users from every corner of the globe are exposed to the same – ever-evolving – array of idioms at warp speed. Then, the speed and scope of its spread are unprecedented – but in other ways, Gen Z slang is nothing new; like any subculture, their sound bites are meant to delineate an out-group as much as signal an in-crowd.
Just a few years younger than me (though it feels like centuries), Gen Z writers and content creators have made much of the gulf between their generation and everyone else’s, hurtling around and declaring vast swathes of pop culture irredeemably uncool (or in their terms, cheugy). And if I’m struggling to keep up at 29, God help the poor boomers trying to pull the latest slang on like a too-small coat: I’m afraid your drip (fashion) is fooling no one, and you look sus (crap).
As the new kids on the block, it is Gen-z’s prerogative to baffle their elders – and on many fronts, their sweeping pronouncements have been for the greater good. First, they came for our side partings, and then for our skinny jeans; they did away with Millennial Pink and washed everything with abrasive Gen-Z Green – the colour of nickelodeon slime, tennis balls and highlighters. Having somehow made everyone care about horoscopes and revived all of y2k’s ugliest clothes, it was only a matter of time before Gen-Z yassified (augmented) the English language; facts (that’s the truth).
While speech is usually meant to aid communication, consider teen slang more of a secret code. Desperate to fit in with their peers but practically retching at the idea of people their parents’ age, millennials might find it helpful to think of Facebook circa 2007, i.e., before our mums found and thereby ruined it, to understand how infuriating it must be for Gen Z to see their favourite in-jokes co-opted by people as ancient as we are.
As soon as Kevin from accounts talks about holiday pay ‘hitting different’ (feeling better than usual) or how his boss is ‘sleeping on’ (ignoring) his talents, no self-respecting cool kid will ever utter the phrases again, no cap (I’m being honest). But beware – even the sharpest cutting-edge gets blunt over time. With their natural internet habitat gaining older followers and the generation edging ever closer to fully-fledged adulthood, Gen Zs will be Kevins themselves before they know it. Hard to countenance, I know – but true nonetheless.
However impossible it seems, Kevin probably had his own window of cool. If it was the 80s in the UK, he probably relished flummoxing his teachers and bosses with words like “bevvy”, “dodgy”, and “daft” that make me cringe so much I can barely sit still on the chair as I type, but that would have signalled his up-to-the-minute trendiness at the time. Ah, the circle of life – as brutal as it is beautiful.
The instinct to distinguish oneself from a status quo is nothing new – practically every generation has indulged the idea that they are unprecedented, expressing their uniqueness via modes of communication from fashion to music and attitudes to language (I am personally very fond of the defunct Victorian phrase “got the morbs”, expressing a passing sadness). As the latest cohort to troop out of education and into the big wide world, Gen Z’ers do not ‘hit different’. They’re just the most recent. Let them have their fun; the fact that older office workers are cottoning on to their terms is a sign that the end is nigh. Kevination comes for us all in the end.