WHAT’S COOL THESE DAYS?

A great AskMetaFilter question asks “What’s the new word for ‘cool’?”

As a Gen-Xer, I usually find myself pseudo-ironically using “rad” or “awesome” whenever I think something is totally killer. When a friend asked what word college students use now-a-days (he’s going to be teaching undergrads), I had to admit that I’m officially an out of touch old fogey. I know “cool” has spanned decades of continued usage, but what are the real generation-defining phrases of today’s 18-year-olds, in the same way that “cat’s pajamas” or “solid” are tied to an era?

There are plenty of answers from actual college and high-school students; executive summary (by the original poster; I’ve added italics for clarity):

Sweet, awesome, nice, hot, and to a lesser degree sick, through the miraculous preservative powers of irony, have managed to maintain their coolness from 80′s surf/skate culture. Bitchin’, gnarly and rad? Totally bogus.
Tight and dope have survived from 80′s hip-hop culture, while def, phat and fresh are not-so-fresh anymore.
Shiny, official, pimp as an adjective, and possibly clutch have definite potential, and I hope to see more of these brash newcomers.

Sweet!

Comments

  1. Um, it’s actually shweeeet.

  2. I hear Stephen Fry in an interview, recently, remarking that he’d discovered that the word for ‘cool’ among kids using txt msgs is ‘book’, as that is the 1st word the predictive type finds when ‘cool’ is entered. Apparently, young people’s lives are so hectic that they don’t have the time to select the word they actually meant, and so a new argot is born…

  3. Are we only accepting adjectives here? Because the/da bomb, the/da bomb-diggety, the shit, the shiznit, and t3h r0x0r (the opposite of t3h sux0r) are all nouns, but they serve exactly the same purpose, in that you could never use them other than attributively.
    I’ve also heard fabu (short for fabulous), but only from one specific person; it might be something specific to her group of friends.

  4. A few years back, I worked at a company where most of my co-workers were half my age. That would be about 1998. At that time, I first heard “sweet” being used with real frequency. At first, I thought it was just strange. Now I use it all the time.
    My, how life changes. ;)
    Steven List
    Co-Founder, Back of the Room

  5. “Teh awesome” also has fairly wide currency. And in my experience “legit” has survived, “through the miraculous preservative powers of irony”. :-)

  6. Oh, and also “teh hotness”.

  7. Chris T: I haven’t heard “legit” since the 80′s, and it sounds really odd to me.
    Ran: Nope, I’ve heard other people saying “fabu”.
    I do use “nice” a lot, as well as “awesome”. “Sweet”, “tight”, and “dope” sound really annoying. Sorry, guys.
    Interesting to know that “bitchin’” and “rad” are out, since they were still okay when I was in high school in the late ’90s. (Colorado)
    I have NEVER heard “shiny”, “official”, “pimp”, or “clutch” and they sound totally bizarre to me, which shows how out of touch I already am.
    For the record, I’m 24 and left university a couple of years ago.

  8. Among my friends, at least, fabu was inspired by Animaniacs.
    Whenever I hear 80s slang in adds for kids toys I think “Are kids actually buying this? Surely no one says these things anymore!” but apparently I’m wrong.
    And yes, the proper enunciation of “sweet” not only involves an extreme extention of the [i] (and frequently a palato-alvealarization of the [s]), but also a high tone, and perhaps a bit of creaky voice ;)

  9. “shiny”, as far as I know, comes from the TV show “Firefly” and its accompanying film “Serenity”. I don’t think the cultural reach of that particular show is wide-ranging enough to penetrate the popular culture at large.

  10. Don’t forget “hott” with two t’s, which allows one to use the word and distance oneself from it at the same time (in the same manner as “teh awesome,” I guess).

  11. But how do people say “hott”? Or is it just a text thing?

  12. “blingin’” is pretty popular, from the noun “bling”, and generally means something really nice and new looking. “Hot” (or hott or haat) is probably the one I hear most often. “Rockin” is also good. Around here (Montreal) you’ll also sometimes hear “flye” (there’s supposed to be an acute accent on the e) which is of course from Quebequois French.

  13. People actually sometimes say “hot-t-t” (something like [ha?t?t?] to specify that you’d spell it with more than one T. Or sometimes “Hot – two Ts.” But like so many, this usage is pseudo-ironic.
    To my ears, sweet, nice, hot, and awesome are all pretty common, as is cool still. At least among my age group – admittedly NOT teenagers, but also under 30 – I think “cool” still comes out as the default expression for when one is being sincere rather than exaggerating one’s excitement and/or exaggerating the farce of one’s excitement.
    I also sometimes hear clutch, choice, sick, and ill. And, thought not quite the same, word seems to have picked up steam lately (again?). As in, you could either say:
    “Check out my new sneakers.” -”Cool.” (or “Nice,” “Sweet,” etc.)
    or
    “Check out my new sneakers.” -”Word.”

  14. Whoah. Excuse typos. Not sweet.

  15. “Blingin’ or mingin’?” seems to be the happening way to present a dichotomy. I must admit that the first few times “minging” impinged on my consciousness I wasn’t sure whether it was describing a good thing or a bad thing. And in fact, I’m still not always too sure, as it seems to me it’s sometimes used in the reverse so-bad-it’s-good meaning à la “wicked” and “sick”. But I am quite certain, however, that I know a minger when I see one!

  16. As a college student, I feel I should contribute to this discussion. Up here in the Massachusetts area, there is a current trend to abbreviate everything. Word that mean something like ‘unbelievable’ in their extended form seem to take on the meaning of ‘cool’ in their abbreviated form. For example, “ridiculous (or redonkulous)” becomes “ridics/redonk”, and that indicates something similar to ‘cool’ or ‘crazy’. Also, “mad” is added before descriptors to indicate an increased level of the property described. ie- “this shit is mad sweet”. Oh, and here in MA, as well as in Maine, the “sh” sound is not ever used in the word ‘sweet’, unless you are stuck in the 90s.

  17. sisteray says:

    In New York the new word for cool is “Ghetto” as in “Ghetto Chic” or “Ghetto-fabulous”.

  18. As far as “Firefly” not having enough cultural reach, that may actually make “shiny” more likely to be accepted. If one goes by Allan Metcalf’s criteria for word acceptance, unobtrusiveness is a major factor. Hit shows (like Seinfeld) may make everyone aware of a coinage right away, but that coinage has trouble breaking away from the context of the show and survives as nostalgia/cultural reference. All “shiny” needs is a few hardcore fans who keep using the term. Eventually it might break out to a wider audience who are unfamiliar with the original “Firefly” context.
    (Actually, “shiny” got its start on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” another Joss Whedon show. But in that show it was restricted to things that were literally shiny: “Ooh, shiny!” Buffy said as she spotted a nice-looking sword sometime in season six. It took “Firefly” to be applied more generally.)

  19. Like, totally tubular discussion. It’d be good to see all this collated and presented in a timeline.

  20. I really think “cool” and “awesome” are the only things my friends and I use often. I had one friend who used “sick,” although that may have been something she picked up from listening to a lot of rap. I do hear “sweet” used somewhat regularly. My friends and I also say “rockin’” sometimes, but not very seriously.
    I find it hilarious how Rachael Ray ruins her bleached-blonde, big-earringed attempt at a young image by using outdated slang.

  21. For Noetica’s timeline: I’m reading D.Hammett and in Red Harvest he uses dope strictly as a noun, meaning “compromising material on somebody for police’s use”. In The thin man it’s a characteristic of a person, and not very favourable where that person’s cleverness is concerned. No adjectives present.

  22. Gnarly, Tat. Nouns and adjectives. Kyool!

  23. Don’t forget ‘standard’, ‘disgusting’ and ‘murking’.
    BBC Radio 1 and 1extra are excellent sources for ‘cool’ words…

  24. Murking?? Anybody else know that one?

  25. The interesting thing to me is that “cool”, unlike “keen” or “hip” hasn’t really dated after 50 years, and is still really the standard word. I would hardly even consider it slang at this point. All these variants people cite tend to be specific to sub-groups and cliques and never have any real staying power.
    Anyone have insight into other languages? When I lived in Nuremberg in the 1980s kids used “geil” as equivalent to “cool”, is that now obsolete? Do kids in Moscow still say “klyoviy”?

  26. *vanya, look into Live Journal: half of it in Russian and half of that are kids in Moscow and Piter. Good hunting!
    re: timeline-I omitted crucial info: Red Harvest was written in 1929, The thin man-in 1934

  27. michael farris says:

    “When I lived in Nuremberg in the 1980s kids used “geil” as equivalent to “cool”, is that now obsolete?”
    Not if German TV (I have four or five channels including German MTV) is any indication.

  28. People actually sometimes say “hot-t-t” (something like [ha?t?t?] to specify that you’d spell it with more than one T. Or sometimes “Hot – two Ts.”
    That pronunciation makes me think of Jimmy Durante! There’s nothing new.
    For me, “sweet” is pronounced suh-WEET.

  29. I await the return of “nifty”.

  30. Aleksander says:

    I don’t hear “клёвый” often.
    “круто”,”крутой” and “супер” (as adverb)

  31. Anna Marie says:

    As far as I’m concerned, “nifty” never really went away. But then again, neither did “spiffy”, which has also been extended to “spiffilicious” in certain over-the-top scenarios. My usage might have something to do with a personal fondness for understatement, and a televisionfree life, though. Oh, and “spiffy” can also be used in its noun form–”spiffiness”–as an interjection.
    “Hey, I got a pair of plaid leather pants!”
    “Spiffiness!”
    (And for what it’s worth, I’m 22 and graduated from college last year.)

  32. I actually heard someone say “groovy” unironically less than 5 minutes ago.
    P.S. I didn’t know “cool” was out. I thought it was spelled “kewl”.

  33. Around these parts, there isn’t a real word to describe something “cool” without a hint of irony. Well, perhaps cool, and perhaps awesome.
    Cool, nice, very cool, f*cking awesome!
    That’s about it, really. Oh, and I’m 20 and in college.

  34. Paul Lucic says:

    Just curious … do these sort of slang words make it into dictionaries? If so, do they have to survive some length of time (like, ‘cool,’ maybe) before they are officially recognized? Do dictionaries give timeframes (say, 1996-1999) for relevence? I’m kind of wondering how someone a 100 years from now will be able to figure out what ‘sick’ meant if they come across a scrap of this web site or a rap CD or TV program.

  35. I presume you’re asking about “regular” dictionaries like Merriam-Webster and the OED rather than slang dictionaries, which of course eagerly include as much slang as they can find; each has its own policy, but I imagine they all wait long enough to make sure the word isn’t ephemeral. Most dictionaries drop words when they are no longer in use (the OED being a major exception), but of course a hundred years from now anyone interested in period slang will consult the Cassell Dictionary of Slang or the Historical Dictionary of American Slang, which give periods of use and (in the latter case) copious citations, rather than a regular dictionary.

  36. I can think of three people who have used the phrase ‘that’s the gubbins’. But because I’m inland, and gubbins was formerly associated with the fishing industry, I suspect that there might be wider use of the phrase in places like Newcastle.

  37. the word is “chirg”.
    m.

  38. Hello Languagehat, I know that it is a late post, so I have also written an e-mail to you.
    Thank you for calling my attention to the site where the discussion took place.
    I have tried to make my own comment on it here:
    http://hattori.newsvine.com/_news/2006/04/24/175869-cool-20

  39. akshita says:

    i think dat d words ‘cool’ ‘awesome’ ‘sick’ ‘hott’ ‘ sexy’ r in nw a days. n by d way im in d 8th grade n live in india.

  40. Hey just to let yall know im 15 and i normally hang out with the seniors instead of idiot freshmen. Now i use “sweat” when typing soem some shit like that i tend to say “WTF” what the Fuck then BTW bye the way awsome is a good one that will stay for a while hot cool pimp. clutch thats new to me but i really want to say that lol OH YEAH lol laughing out loud and umm LMAO laugh my ass off LMFAO Laugh my fuckin ass off now all yall old farts got ne more question hit me up and what exactly is a url

  41. ok my band is tryiing to thnk of soem names and you shuld be samrt enough to most of these words ill put definitions for htose who dont know ok here they are:
    Band name options:
    A.) Righteous Sunday
    ( 1. Morally upright; without guilt or sin: a righteous parishioner.
    2. In accordance with virtue or morality: a righteous judgment.
    3. Morally justifiable: righteous anger. See Synonyms at moral.)
    B.) Rise of the Righteous Army
    C.) Toxic Insanity
    D.) S.Y.N.
    E.) Sinacal Revenge
    F.) Vulgar Display of Agression
    G.) Center of Opression
    H.) Righteoous Reverence
    I.) Bleed to Insanity
    J.) Xiphoid Umbra (xiphoid — shaped like a sword umbra — darkest part of a shadow)

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