CLARKSBURG, W.Va. (WBOY) — Language is constantly changing, especially with social media allowing words to be adapted to fit new functions and formats. But have you ever heard or seen a word or phrase and just thought, huh?
According to Britannica, slang is “unconventional words or phrases that express either something new or something old in a new way.” Slang is characterized by “its colourful metaphors” and “frequently impertinent social criticism” and is often “indecent or obscene.”
Time interviewed linguist and lexicographer Ben Zimmer to help explain why it’s hard to understand “what the kids are saying.” He explained, “Slang is notoriously difficult to track historically because slang is very often the kind of language that resists standard treatment.” Slang often gets spoken—or posted—before it gets written down, much less published and added to archives where it can be used professionally. Meanwhile, meanings shift, new words emerge and old words get reinvented in ways that are designed to be confusing for adults, outsiders and meddling authority figures. So if you have no idea what kids are saying or what’s being posted online, it’s probably intentional, and you’re not alone.
A lot of new slang words have emerged in the past few years, so here is a list of slang words that were popular in 2021 that you might not know.
What is it? At its most literal definition, based is an adjective describing someone who is addicted to crack cocaine, but that isn’t the meaning that is most often used on social media now. While the true connotative definition of “based” is pretty ambiguous, a lot of people use it to describe something that is original or the “opposite of cringe.” Whether the word is positive or negative depends on the situation because it is often used ironically.
Where’d it come from? According to the 2018 Dictionary.com definition, based is from the 80s slang word basehead which was used to describe people addicted to freebasing cocaine. However, Rapper Lil B changed it as a term for being yourself and not caring what others think of you—to carry yourself with swagger.
How is it used? “Based” is usually used on its own with no other words or context, which can make it hard to understand what the user intended. It can be used to recognize or support that someone is being unapologetically themselves, or it can be used ironically to mean the complete opposite. For example, if someone posted a TikTok, someone might comment, “based” to express either their support or criticism. In some political conversations, it can also mean that something is based in fact. If you still don’t understand, don’t worry; we don’t either!
What is it? Sus is a shortened way of saying suspicious.
Where did it come from? Sus became popular when people started playing Among Us in the summer of 2020 during the pandemic. Among Us is a multiplayer game where players have to figure out who among them is an imposter. Throughout the rounds of the game, the crewmates collect information about the other players and vote who they think the imposter or murderer is. Sus became a common way for players to communicate that other players were acting suspicious and might be the imposter.
How is it used? Sus is commonly used to say that something is not cool or questionable. Common phrasing of the word is simply saying “sus” or “that’s sus.”
What is it? Bussin is an adjective that would be used to describe something really good or something that “hits different.”
Where did it come from? “Bussin'” is a 2019 song by Tay Money that has been popularized by TikTok users.
How is it used? Bussin is commonly used to describe food that is really good, but it can describe other things. Many users of the word use incorrect grammar alongside it, such as saying “this food be bussin’,” instead of “this food is bussin’.” No one really knows why.
Cap, no cap
What is it? Cap is a lie. And on the other side, no cap is used to express that something is true.
Where did it come from? According to Dictionary.com, to cap comes from Black slang from the early 1900s meaning “to brag,” “to exaggerate” or “to lie”. No cap was popularized in 2017 when Future and Young Thug released a song with that name. In the song, saying “no cap” is a way of saying “no limits.”
How is it used? When using cap and no cap, the articles that would typically be used are often dropped. For example, if someone wanted to say that something was a lie, they might say “that’s cap” instead of “that’s a cap.” The phrase “no cap” is used in place of “no joke” or “for real”.
Rapper and musician Soulja Boy uses no cap regularly on his Twitter.
Just wanna thank y’all no cap 🧢 I appreciate y’all 💯— Soulja Boy (Big Draco) (@souljaboy) December 8, 2021
The National Women’s Soccer League claimed no cap on a video on an incredible defensive play.
What is it? Tea is another word for gossip.
Where did it come from? Tea or spilling the tea is not a phrase that’s new to 2021, but it is definitely still prevalent. While the exact origin of tea is ambiguous, it became popular online after a meme of Kermit the frog drinking Lipton tea circulated. The picture of Kermit is captioned “but that’s none of my business.” The meme dates back to the early 2010s.
How is it used? The word tea can be used to mean gossip directly by saying, “what’s the tea?” The phrase “spill the tea” can also be used to ask someone to tell you the latest gossip or details about something personal.
Kim Kardashian’s recent use of “tea” on Twitter.
You always have the best tea, solutions for every situation and will beat someone’s ass if it came down to it! You are the most loyal and biggest cheerleader and the glue to our girls chat! Happy Birthday I love you @tracyromulus 🦇 ♾ pic.twitter.com/JYOwlSNfHK— Kim Kardashian West (@KimKardashian) December 18, 2021
Chicken restaurant Zaxby’s also called for customers to spill the tea over a chicken sandwich.
it’s the most wonderful time of the year (to get Zaxby’s with your bestie and spill the tea about Rebecca who keeps spreading lies about you and Jason)— Zaxby’s (@Zaxbys) December 19, 2021
What is it? A simp is defined as a silly or foolish person, but the internet slang definition is a slight variation of that. A simp is someone, usually a male, who shows way too much sympathy or does way too much for the person they like romantically. A simp will change their whole personality when they’re around the person they like, who in many cases does not feel the same way.
Where did it come from? Simp is originally a shortened version of the word simpleton, but again, the internet has morphed that into an acronym for “suckers idolizing mediocre…”—inappropriate word that starts with “p”. Like many slang words that are popular in 2021, its current meaning is originally from Black slang.
How is it used? Simp can be used as both a noun or a verb, so saying that someone “is a simp for” a girl and that someone “is simping for” a girl are both common phrases.
What is it? Lewk comes from the word look, meaning appearance. It refers to someone’s fashion or style, in particular how someone is different from the norm and other people. Lewk is not a new word and dates back over 10 years. Merriam-Webster has not given lewk full word status, but it was on the dictionary’s Words We’re Watching page in 2019 with the definition, “In the world of fashion, a lewk is more than just a look, but a style unique to the person sporting it.”
A lewk can also be a style or outfit that has had special time and effort put into it. If someone paid special attention to making their prom dress, shoes and jewelry all match perfectly, it might be called a lewk.
Where does it come from? One of the original explanations of the word lewk seems to be from Véronique Hyland’s The Cut article from January 2015.
A lewk is a personal style signature so individual it’s almost indivisible from you. It connotes something noticeable: wearing jeans every day isn’t a lewk, but wearing a Schiaparelli lobster hat might be. It might be something you wear every day, but is not the same thing as a uniform. It’s not about saving time and brainpower by cutting out frivolity; it’s about embracing a particular brand of it, one that is yours alone.Véronique Hyland, The Cut, 6 Jan. 2015
The slang was originally popularized by queer designers and television shows such as Brad Goreski on the reality show The Rachel Zoe Project in 2010. Other queer stars shows have continued to carry the lewk usage torch, such as RuPaul and other drag queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Fab Five on Queer Eye.
How it is used? Lewk is most often used in place of the phrase “signature style,” but online, it often uses the alternate definition, meaning an outfit that took special care. If someone was wearing an especially bright and colorful skirt, you might tell her “it’s a lewk” as a way of saying that not just anyone could pull it off, but she definitely is. Lewk is also not pronounced like look, so if you’re planning to add it to your vocabulary, you should be saying it like the name “Luke” rather than the actual word look.
Nestle recently used lewk to describe this recyclable candy box costume.
Paper packaging is by far the hottest lewk of 2021 and we’re not over this @SmartiesUKI fan’s brilliant ensem 🌈🔥 What an homage to Smarties becoming the first confectionery brand to use recyclable paper packaging! Great work @sullys_mama19 👏 pic.twitter.com/d6EVkLCP4s— Nestlé (@Nestle) December 13, 2021
This 2018 Tweet praised Rihanna’s Met Gala lewk.
A list of hot slang words wouldn’t be complete without the addition of some COVID-inspired words. Words like “long COVID,” “super-spreader” and “vaccine passport” were all newly added to the Meriam-Webster, but what COVID slang words are all over the internet?
What is it? Rona and vid are shortened versions of coronavirus and COVID, but they usually are used during jokes and funny situations.
Where did it come from? Rona and vid emerged from the internet during 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic caused mass shutdowns, illnesses and death across the world.
How it is used? Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has caused thousands of deaths and is a very serious subject, the words rona and vid do not have the same seriousness. Instead, people on the internet use the words ironically or as a kind of dark humor to make light of the serious virus. If someone was to cough in a public place, someone might yell out “rona.” It is meant to be funny but in a dark humor, we-all-could-die sort of way.
What is it? Maskfish is a play on words from the word catfish—someone who pretends to be someone else online. Catfish has been adapted to include people who look totally different without makeup or even a beard. Maskfish is someone who only looks attractive while wearing a mask, or when half their face is covered. If someone only posts pictures when they are wearing a mask, they might be a maskfish.
Where does it come from? Mask fishing emerged during the pandemic, and according to Forbes, it can be dangerous.
Mask mandates aimed at keeping us all from spitting viruses all over each other hide our faces from each other. Those criminals and liars are now using those tools of both doctor sand bandits to hide their real identities and commit the new deception called “maskfishing.”John Scott Lewinski, Forbes
How it is used? While the concept of maskfishing can be dark and predatory, most people who use it are referring to hiding physical flaws under a mask. Someone who has really beautiful eyes and hair might look traditionally attractive with a mask on; but when that person removes their mask, if they have a traditionally unattractive feature like a double chin or a lot of acne, they might be considered a maskfish.