A Massachusetts high school teacher keeps a spreadsheet of slang words so he can figure out what his students are saying

Twitter/@lhs_sociologyMassachusetts high school teacher James Callahan’s Gen Z dictionary.
  • On Tuesday, a Massachusetts high school student tweeted out images of her sociology teacher’s dictionary of words popular with Generation Z.
  • The list quickly went viral, with many lauding teacher James Callahan for making an effort to understand his students’ slang.
  • Callahan later tweeted out a copy of his dictionary, which includes definitions of popular terms like “finna,” “bops,” and “extra.”
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

A 43-year-old Massachusetts high school teacher has become an internet sensation for the dictionary he created to keep up with his students’ slang.

On Tuesday, one of Lowell High School sociology teacher James Callahan’s students tweeted out pictures of his Generation Z dictionary.

“My sociology professor keeps an alphabetic list of new slang terms he learns from students and I will never get over it,” the student wrote.

The brief four-page dictionary includes the definitions of such popular slang words and phrases such as “bops” (a modern enjoyable song), “spill the tea” (gossip), and “snack” (a person who looks good).

The tweet quickly went viral, being retweeted more than 152,000 times and liked more than 500,000 times, a count that Callahan’s classclosely followed.

Some lauded Callahan for trying to keep up with teen slang, while others petitioned to add other popular terms to the list.

The following day, due to popular demand, Callahan himself posted the full document to his Twitter page, free of charge, but did ask that if anyone was “feeling philanthropic,” that they could donate to a scholarship fund at UMass Lowell, or to a fellow teacher’s DonorsChoose.org campaign to buy new laptops for her class. As of Thursday, that campaign had reached its $US647 goal.

Callahan told INSIDER he’s been learning new words from his students ever since he started teaching in 2004, but only started compiling a list of the terms at the start of this year.


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Callahan said he’s been making an effort to learn the slang terms his students use in order to relate to them.

“The typical teacher/student dynamic involves a rigid power structure, but in my experience, I’ve found that students are more engaged and perform better if I am able to reach them where they are,” he said.

He added: “If I work at understanding some of the nuances of their language, then it makes me a much more effective communicator with my teenage students, and ultimately (hopefully) a better teacher.”

When asked what his favourite word on the list is, Callahan said it’s probably one he learned the most recently, “snack.”

“It’s amazing to me how words generate new meanings depending on the generation,” he said. “To a Gen X’er like myself, a snack is a small portion of food one would have between meals, like maybe a handful of Cheez-Its or some peanuts. However, to Gen Z, a snack is an attractive person or someone who looks good – it is used as a compliment. I find that fascinating, but hilarious as well.”

To read Callahan’s full dictionary, visit his Twitter page ยป

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