Teens say they cringe when brands use these 11 outdated slang words — here's what Gen Z is saying instead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 those are 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 looking completely silly.

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 racked 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 11 words that 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 the 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 name, 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


Now, YOLO is very much out. There’s a trendier rap-originated slang that Gen Zs prefer: DJ Khaled’s “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


Teens say you should go with “looking snatched” instead. It means basically the same thing as “on fleek.”

Matthew Eisman/Getty

Source: Urban Dictionary, Business Insider survey


“Sick” was the cool slang in the 1980s all the way through the 2000s. But teens today say it’s passé.

Getty Images

Source: Oxford Dictionaries, Business Insider survey


To express that something is really great, go with “slay” — as in, “She slays.”

Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Source: Urban Dictionary, Business Insider survey


Hopefully you weren’t considering using “coolio” around Gen Zs, but it hasn’t been trendy since at least the early 2000s.

Don MacKinnon/Getty Images

Source: Google Books, Business Insider survey


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

Jason Miller/Getty Images

Source: Bustle, Business Insider survey


Dabbing was born in the summer of 2014 and peaked about a year later. But if you’re still talking about your dab in 2018, teens are going to be seriously disturbed.

Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Source: DJBooth,Business Insider survey


“Yeet” also originated as a dance move, but it’s still an acceptable word to use around Gen Zs. The word has many meanings: the word yes; throwing an object over a long distance; or just as an exclamation.

Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Source: Urban Dictionary, Business Insider survey


“Groovy” was cool in the 1960s. Gen Zs will probably think you’re just weird if you say it nowadays.

AMC

Source: Mental Floss, Business Insider survey


The better way to say something is cool to Gen Zs is “Gucci.” It could mean something is highly coveted, but you could also say “it’s Gucci” or “sounds Gucci” to convey that something is going well or ok.

Facebook/Gucci

Source: Quora,Business Insider survey

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