- Thanks to stan culture, devoted to intense adoration of certain celebrities and artists, internet slang terminology went mainstream in 2019 alongside the rise of the VSCO girl, associated with phrases like “sksksk” and “and I oop.”
- Linguist Michael Adams told Insider that some stan culture slang is tailor-made for the internet, and some of it even “challenges the very nature of English.”
- He also pointed out that terminology like “and I oop,” “wig,” “tea,” and “periodt” have roots in Black slang, which follows a cycle of slang appropriation.
- While some VSCO girl slang like “and I oop” has a clear origin – in that case, a video of drag queen Jasmine Masters – other slang like “sksksk” has a few possible origins.
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The VSCO girl trend, a contemporary rehashing of “valley girls,” rose almost as quickly as it fell, but the phrases popularised alongside the Hydro Flask and the scrunchie still resonate online. Stans will argue that they were the ones to use “sksksk,” “and I oop,” “wig,” “periodt,” and “tea” in the first place, and the language is still widely used in their current internet vernacular.
But linguist Michael Adams says that neither stans nor VSCO girls are the true originators of many of the internet’s most commonly used phrases. Not only are some of the terms more dated than their contemporaries may realise, but many of them originate in the Black community.
“You see something that is very typical of American slang, which is that it draws a lot on African American slang in the same way that American music draws very heavily on jazz and blues and African American music traditions,” Adams told Insider. “In a sort of cultural appropriation typical of white Americans, it doesn’t even seem to be African American anymore.”
So-called stan culture and VSCO girl terminology like “tea,” “wig,” and “periodt” actually originate in Black gay slang
Adams, who teaches English at Indiana University and has been studying slang for around 30 years, says “tea,” which means gossip, as an example, originated decades ago in the Black gay community. It’s understandable that terms like “tea,” and “wig,” which signifies being shocked (it stems from “wig flew” or “my wig flew off”) would enter stan culture, since there’s heavy overlap between the two communities.
Stan culture and “stans” refer to online fan communities, such as those that praise k-pop groups, musical artists like Ariana Grande and Beyoncé, franchises like Marvel movies, TV series, social media stars, and so on. “Stan” itself is internet slang, inspired by the Eminem song “Stan” about an obsessed fan who becomes increasingly unhinged. But “stanning” is a point of pride for the online communities who skew young and queer.
Stan culture flourishes across platforms, and once primarily existed on Tumblr, but has most recently centered itself on Twitter. There, stan accounts also directly draw inspiration from Black Twitter, which influences the rest of the platform in the same way that Black slang inspires mainstream slang terminology.
Obsessed fans are nothing new, even if the term “stan” is relatively modern. Adams started studying internet slang at the time when “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was airing and inspired online communities and forums. He said that some of the more modern-seeming terms like “periodt,” used to emphasise a statement and signal the final word, reminded him of “Buffy” slang, or “Slayer slang,” where fans would interject letters or spellings that only made sense in an online context.
“It does come out of a web culture that made it, through its meaning, available to a very broad subculture, a very large number of people,” Adams said. “So ‘periodt,’ ‘sksksk,’ those are very much typeable things that belong on the internet, sort of tailor-made for the web.”
Adams told Insider that the classic study of words involves morphology, which involves morphs, or parts of a word that can’t be further broken down. But the “t,” in “periodt,” spelled that way for emphasis and to mimic a black speech pattern is not a morph.
“It challenges the very nature of English, the very nature of language, by saying I can include meaning in this word, not with the addition of a morph, but by the addition of this ‘t’ that carries information that speech would not convey,” Adams said. “You get a big payoff just for introducing that one letter.”
Relatively recent terminology like “and I oop” and “sksksk” are more directly inspired from online subcultures
Even more than “tea,” “wig,” and “periodt,” VSCO girls – the TikTok-using, Hydro Flask-carrying, scrunchie-wearing teenage girls that were branded as such in 2019 – were associated with “sksksk” and “and I oop.” The latter is directly inspired by Black gay culture, since it’s pulled from a viral clip of drag queen Jasmine Masters.
Masters’ original YouTube video “Jasmine Masters handle your liquor” was uploaded in 2015, but the “and I oop” moment, which became the no. 1 GIF of 2019, became popularised by stan accounts and Black Twitter in early 2019, then was incorporated into the VSCO girl trend.
“And I oop” was Masters’ response to, in her own words, “I just hit my balls.” It’s colloquially become a reaction to something unexpected or noteworthy. Masters is best known for appearing on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a series with its own standom that has assisted in the introduction of many of the Black gay stan terms into stan culture.
“Sksksk” is more difficult to trace than other stan terms. It’s most commonly used to express laughter, similarly to the keyboard smashes (something like “ASDKLJDASL” in place of “LOL”) that were popularised on stan Tumblr and in instant messaging.
BuzzFeed News reports that “sksksk” also originated in the Black community, citing a 2014 tweet about how “aunties dress for Thanksgiving dinner” that was followed by “SKSKSK. LOOOOOL.”
But before that tweet, “sksksk” had been well-established in the ASMR (“autonomous sensory meridian response“) community as a speech pattern that triggers the relaxing “tingles” that inspire the ASMR phenomenon.
In December 2013, one of the then-most popular ASMR creators Heather Feather ASMR explained what“sksksk” was and why it was used in ASMR. But the “sksksk” employed by stans and VSCO girls has an entirely different connotation, so it’s unclear whether it was inspired by ASMR or is more a product of key smash expressions.
Regardless of the exact origin of “sksksk,” it’s been popularised by Black Twitter and stan culture over the past two years, along with “and I oop” and “periodt.” Joined with “tea,” “wig,” and other so-called VSCO girl terms, they signify the way Black culture and Black vernacular is appropriated into other subcultures, and then the mainstream.
“African Americans come up with their language and it gets appropriated away from them, so then they come up with new language, so African Americans are a never ending stream of slang input in American English,” Adams said. “These terms are part of that story.”
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