If you’re the kind of person who is forever on social media, your vocabulary probably changes on a fairly rapid basis. Squad goals, on fleek, and savage we might not use all that regularly today, for example because these words have already or are falling out of favor; though we’re still dead at the thought of a celebrity following us, ship couples we both should and really shouldn’t, and get salty at networks who cancel our favorite shows.
Tomorrow there will be new words, but it’s important to take a step back from all our favorite sayings and think about where these words came from, not only so we know we’re using them correctly, but also to show respect to their heritage. So without further ado, here are some of today’s favourite words; their origins may surprise you!
Homage where it’s due
And to reference the first of the dues that should be paid: the inspiration for this article can be directly attributed to Wired’s article, “How RuPaul’s Drag Race Fueled Pop Culture’s Dominant Slang Engine“. To any of you fans out there, sit back and think about how so many words, expressions, and culture seemingly starts here. Where would we be without the RPDR terms when speaking with and about our friends and acquaintances? Planning on throwing shade or spilling the tea at your next kiki? Can’t stop calling everyone “girl” or “she”? Although we are aware that there are other forces at play, you probably do owe it to this culture phenomenon (borderline revolution) that RuPaul has instigated for giving you the vocabulary to do that. The same goes for someone telling you to werk it, and the rousing sound of a thousand yas, queens every time Beyoncé so much as blinks.
Here are some more phrases you have likely either heard or used, that can trace their popularity back to this show. Eleganza references a genre of fashionable attire and for the gods means something that is done perfectly, of which you should be proud. If you’re dusted, you have destroyed the competition (as in, the opposite of being busted, which means being unkempt). And to show realness is to be accurate or authentic—though its original meaning was for those drag queens who were passing, or able to perform within a society that normally would reject them. But really, *Vanjie*:
But it isn’t all down to RuPaul’s Drag Race. Although, after ten years on our screens, it’s fair to say we owe RuPaul so much for this language we have all come to know and use. Many of the phrases you might hear on the show are borrowed from the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning, which looked at New York City’s ball culture and specifically the Black and Latino LGBTQQ+ communities involved in it. To read someone is to expose a person’s flaws, for example, and this is a phrase directly from the documentary.
These words that have become a staple of our pop culture can be traced back further and wider still, with many finding their origins in Black gay culture. Yas is attributed to Paris is Burning, because it is a word used in those balls attended by the communities it was busy documenting! And when we say something gives us life, that, too, is a phrase rooted in Black gay culture—though this phrase in turn some would also argue hails from a biblical verse.
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Expanding your vocabulary
You might be surprised at what you already know! To clock someone is to be onto someone or to point out their flaws. To serve is to present yourself in a certain way. To slay, well, we’re sure you know what that means by now! And if something is sickening, it’s not a bad thing, but actually something incredibly amazing.
Mug you might already know as your face, and to paint it is to put on make-up. Though beating your face might be a new one, meaning to apply the perfect amount of make up—her mug is beat for the gods, as an example. Others we love are feeling the fantasy, which is the excitement you feel in the moment of doing the thing you love, and let them have it, meaning to to impress people (with your fabulous drag).
No tea, no shade, means no disrespect, and to turn the party is to captivate and overwhelm an audience by being fabulous. The library is open means that, well, tea is about to be spilled all over the place because people are about to be read for filth.
Whichever you use, and however you say them, is of course, up to you. But we wouldn’t be the language lovers that we are without shining a light on the origins of some of the English slang that is floating so beautifully around us. Go on and share with us some of your favorite terms!