Teens say they cringe when brands use these 7 outdated slang words — here's what Gen Z is saying instead

Hollis JohnsonHere’s how to talk the talk to impress Generation Z.
  • You might think you know what slang words teens are using these days, but there’s a good chance it’s already out of fashion.
  • “YOLO,” “swag,” and “bae” are out, teens told Business Insider.
  • Here’s how to use the slang that Gen Z is actually using without seeming completely uncool – or should we say not lit.

In May, Subway Canada ran a poll imploring Twitter users to vote on their favourite bread. Or, as they put it, their “bread bae.”

No one voted on it. Subway Canada has 135,000 followers.

To be fair, some theorised that the poll, which ultimately wracked up 13,000 retweets, was fake and simply a PR scheme to troll for tweets. Either way, the internet wasn’t having it, with many saying that the use of “bread bae” sounded more like it was aggressively concocted by an out-of-touch marketing employee.

Tons of other brands have tried and failed to pander to teens by using their vernacular. Gen Z slang has appeared in various marketing ads over the years, often drawing the ire of the very consumer base these companies are trying to attract.

In a recent Business Insider survey of 104 teens nationwide, Generation Zs shared insight about how they communicate today. Here are seven words make them cringe, and what they’re opting to use instead.


“Swag” describes a person who is cool or enviable, or someone can “have swag.” But it hasn’t been trendy since 2012, teens say.

Source: Urban Dictionary, Business Insider survey


Now, teens are more likely to express something that’s cool as “lit.” It’s slightly different than swag in that it’s not typically used to describe a person; a situation or thing is more likely to be described as “lit.”

Donald Bowers/Getty Images for Samsung

Source: Urban Dictionary, Business Insider survey


“Bae” comes from African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) pronunciation of “babe.” It used to be the ultra-popular way to refer to your significant other, but teens say it’s now overused.

chainarong06/Shutterstock

Source: Urban Dictionary, Business Insider survey


There isn’t a trendy word to use instead of “bae,” actually. But if you want to call a friend something other than their names, teens recommend “bruh.”

Radiokafka/Shutterstock

Source: Urban Dictionary, Business Insider survey


Drake popularised “YOLO” in his 2012 song “The Motto.” It means “You only live once,” and became trendy as a phrase to justify seizing the day.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Source: Urban Dictionary, Business Insider survey


DJ Khaled takes the credit for 2018’s rap-popularised slang: “key” or “major key.” This can be used to describe anything that’s essential or important.

Sergi Alexander/Getty

Source: Urban Dictionary, Business Insider survey


“Rad” is yet another synonym for cool, and teens say it’s totally out-of-touch. In fact, it hasn’t been trendy since the 1990s.

YouTube/Paramount Pictures

Source: Reddit, Business Insider survey


A better way to say something is cool is “chill.” A person, situation, or thing can be chill, and it doesn’t necessarily mean relaxed or calm.

Sergi Alexander/Getty Images for Get Schooled Foundation

Source: Urban Dictionary, Business Insider survey


Teens also picked “gnarly” as a word that no one should ever use. It’s another synonym of “cool” that dominated in the 70s and 80s.

www.fanpop.com

Source: Reddit, Business Insider survey


Use “dope” instead.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Source: Urban Dictionary, Business Insider survey


“Savage” refers to someone who acts ridiculously and without restraint, but it’s usually at least somewhat admiring. They often do what everyone else wants to do if they weren’t scared.

Source: Urban Dictionary, Business Insider survey


But savage is out. If you want to express sympathy with a friend who is in an unfortunate situation or got hurt (perhaps by someone who is savage), teens recommend “oof.”

Hollis Johnson

Source: Reddit, Business Insider survey


“On fleek” describes something that’s perfect. It also came from AAVE, and was popularised by a 2014 Vine video where the user brags about her “eyebrows on fleek.”

Source: Merriam-Webster, Business Insider survey


A trendier word to describe something that’s perfect is “GOAT.” That’s “greatest of all time.”

Source: Bustle, Business Insider survey

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