What Happened with Slang in 2016?

One of the great side effects of the massive breath of the English language is the slang to which it has given birth. As English has become the language of the world, the slang works its way into cultures and countries everywhere. Cool, kinky, crazy slang words of course. Hang out, chill out, freak out have traveled a long way around.

Sometimes old gems come out of odd places: ‘hold your horses’ a middle-aged women once yelled at me in Dubai, ‘That was it, he spilled all the beans’ was the punch line to a joke on a bus in Israel. ‘You are gotten under my skin’ I heard a mother tell her son in Ghana.

GIF via Giphy

So within our rich tradition of slang, I found looking at what has developed in 2016 underwhelming to say the least. Contemporary slang always emerges at the meeting point of technology and populist trends. A hundred years ago, when the first V8 engine was produced, running on all eights was as good as something got.

In 2016, and at least the decade preceding it, slang was driven by social media, specifically by apps like Twitter that demand short and to-the-point reactions. From this demand what we end up with is a lot of acronyms. YOLO states the most obvious with the most brevity. TIL, Today I Learned, another Reddit-sourced tag. SMH, Shaking My Head, is just what it says. 

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All social media-based slang wasn’t so dead obvious. A few memes appeared with a modicum of humor. Headdesk for extreme frustration and facepalm for exasperation are both solidly vivid expressions. I particularly like ELI5 (Explain it Like I’m five, which most of this slang does already) and apparently BAE ( either Before Anyone Else, or to shorten the laborious word babe) was so popular it inspired a song by Miley Cyrus which had the effect of changing it to being a negative. Somewhat like Schrodingers Cat. Is the cat dead or alive? Only by reading will we know.

Photo via Flickr

Much of what came out of 2015 has been replaced and not necessarily for the better. Fleek, preach, and shade are dead. What has filled their hot spots doesn’t quite hold up to previous years’ standards. A short list includes:

Lit – as in a candle: “This party is lit” or “I’m feeling lit.”

Trash – something bad: “This book is trash.”

cancel – to reject: “I cancelled that person faster than the speed of light.”

drag – as in over the coals.

Woke – to be aware of: “You need to stay woke with politics.”

savage – bad ass: “That show is savage, man.”

Replacing bad ass with savage? Why not take it one step further and just make it uncouth? “Snatched” was apparently the “fleek” of last year. “Sus” took a leap through the literary ring of lazy to mean suspect. They say “Bro” was turned into “Sis.” Oh, and “extra” means too much fun, as in extra fun.

The slang turn over from 2015 was quick and tame so let’s hope 2017 eradicates much of what happened in 2016 with a bit more zeal. There is a lot of material starting the year off to work with. President elect Trump alone is worth a column. The British already use his name to refer to severe flatulence, which is a fine start.

This is in no way either an exhaustive list or discussion of the morphing of slang over the past year. If anything it was a mere side glance at what happened in a small corner of our changing language. Did I miss the coolest, most on point words? Leave it as a comment and keep the discussion going.