Viral Words!

Morgan Baila presents The Viral Words You Need To Know:

Have you always been on top of all the new, viral words young people say?

Great. Of course you have. But even the trendiest among us now struggle to understand how words that definitely have real meanings don’t seem to be used properly anymore. It used to be enough to Google “What are the new slang words?” but slang itself is pretty irrelevant these days.

Are you ready to be relevant AF?

I hope you’re ready to be relevant AF, because she’s going to clue you in on all the new, viral words young people say! Needless to say, I am ever eager to be hep to the jive, so I dove right in. The first entry was cray ‘crazy’; as she says, “But you knew this one, right?” Right. Then comes Gucci, which “in slang means good, fine, or okay.” Cray! I did not know that! Squad goals is a statement of approval, Bible is an assertion of the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, turnt means “being really excited for some upcoming event” or “having fun because you’re drunk.” Whoopee! And “You can use ‘snatched’ where you’d use ‘on fleek'”: got it. But I confess I lost some lexicographic respect when I got to “A ‘plug’ is a shameless and blatant endorsement for a product, person, or brand by a celebrity” — come on, “plug” in that sense is decades old (anybody with OED access care to check first attestation?). Anyway, it’s all good fun. Bathrobe, who sent it to me, asked “Do you know anyone who talks like this?” The answer is no, no I don’t.

Unrelated but also good fun: Ads of Yesteryear (“Peppy jingles and catchy tag lines- they just don’t make ads like these anymore!”). Let Speedee take you back to a time when McDonald’s burgers were 15 cents and “crispy, tender, delicious FRENCH FRIES” only 12. And check out the classy guy with the Dr. Pepper. (Thanks, Jon!)


  1. Bathrobe says

    At MacDonalds: I don’t think I’ve ever seen “convenient hours” before.

    At Ponds there is a nice explanation that “blemishes” are “externally caused pimples”. Afraid of litigation, even in those days?

    “My fishnets were blah. So I zonked them up with Rit” almost sounds modern. In fact, all the 1970s ones seem up-to-date to me. Or maybe I’m just a relic from that era.

    What’s more, all the 1950s ones sound hopelessly out of date.

    Del Monte: “They’re packed in wax-wrapped cartons under the brand you trust for quality on so many foods.” This is definitely antiquated. I’m sure all modern writing advice would tell you to drop “on so many foods” (underwhelming, superfluous) and probably also “for quality” (if you don’t trust it for quality, what do you trust it for?)

    “Now satisfy your ‘Coffee Hunger’ with Nescafé’. What the…? “Tastier coffee made the modern way” — from an era when “modern” was unselfconsciously the best. “When guests are ‘played out’ after bridge or canasta…” Er…, that “played out” is really twee. “Put a teaspoon of Nescafé (more or less according to strength desired)” — I guess people weren’t used to these things yet.

    Texaco: “A gay collegiate group arrives in an ancient ‘jaloppy’ singing to the strum of a ukelele….” My, how times change. Putting ‘jaloppy’ in inverted commas (and note the spelling).

    7up: “One chilled bottle gives you brand new energy in two to six minutes”. You don’t say.

    Libby’s: “Let your grocer be your milkman”. Echoes of a by-gone age, both grocer and milkman.

  2. anybody with OED access care to check first attestation?

    Sure. I will include it in my annual job evaluation as a community service.

    Actually, Miscellaneous section for plug is such fun that I decided to reproduce all glosses:

    III. Miscellaneous other uses.
    †8. slang. A measure of beer. Obs. rare.
    9. slang (orig. N. Amer.).
    a. orig. and chiefly U.S. An incompetent or undistinguished person. Also, more generally: a bloke, a fellow.
    b. N. Amer. slang. An old and worn-out horse; (more generally) any horse. Also (Austral. and N.Z. slang): a slow and steady horse; a decent horse (now rare).
    c. Publishing. A book which sells badly; a remainder.
    10. U.S. slang. = plug hat n. at Compounds 2. Now rare.
    11. orig. Eng. regional (north.). A long pull; a steady, plodding route or course. Cf. plug v. 5.
    12. colloq. (orig. U.S.). A piece of (usually free) publicity for a product, event, idea, etc.
    13. Angling. A lure resembling a fish.

    First attestation for 12:
    1902 G. Ade Girl Proposition 50 They were friendly to the prosperous Bachelor and each one determined to put in a few quiet Plugs for Sis.

    If this doesn’t seem to be directly on point, here’s the second one
    1929 Variety 10 July 1/5 Everything gets a Wrigley plug, for the benefit of his gum.

  3. Note also the A.A. Milne Capitalization.

  4. New Christmas bulb won’t chip or peel! [Westinghouse ad]

    I had forgotten about those bulbs that had colored liquid sprayed onto them (or applied by dipping) that dried as a thin film. The film tended to get flakey and peel off after the bulb had been hot, and then cooled down.

    This is a new-fangled analysis of the phenomenon. Back in the 50s it never occurred to me to think about flakey Christmas tree lights. That was Just The Way Things Are.

    Sellotape brand Christmas tape in 6 merry designs to brighten your gifts (gay ways to brighten your Christmas) [with little deer in Santa Claus hat]

    I remember those. For some reason this ad causes me painful nostalgia (as the word promises). I am accustomed only to proctalgia from internet squabbles over peanuts.

  5. David Marjanović says

    turnt means “being really excited for some upcoming event” or “having fun because you’re drunk.” Whoopee!

    I’ve been reading the subreddit [bæd lɪngʊɪstɪx] (ah! My eyes!), where over a year ago it was claimed that some versions of AAVE have word-final devoicing and we’re really looking at turned on.

    And “You can use ‘snatched’ where you’d use ‘on fleek’”: got it.

    That, interestingly, is claimed to come, via “sharply dressed”, from colloquial French flic “police(man)”.

    In fact, all the 1970s ones seem up-to-date to me. […] What’s more, all the 1950s ones sound hopelessly out of date.

    The 1960s in general and 1968 in particular constitute the greatest cultural break the West has had in a thousand years. Or at least in 500 years, since private feuds were forbidden.

  6. D.O.: Thanks, that’s great stuff! And 1902 is even earlier than I would have guessed (and if it’s attested then, it obviously went back to the 19th century).

    And yes, I too remember the Christmas bulbs and tape (and was stricken by nostalgia).

  7. The 1960s in general and 1968 in particular

    Ingo Cornils’s contribution to the quinquagenary points out that Americans remember it as the ’60s, Germans as 1968 and the French as Mai 68.

  8. “lɪngʊɪstɪx”???

  9. “Gucci” meaning high quality has been British army slang since at least the early 1990s, applied not only to clothing but also to weapons, radios, optics and so on.

  10. David Marjanović says

    Ingo Cornils’s contribution to the quinquagenary points out that Americans remember it as the ’60s, Germans as 1968 and the French as Mai 68.

    In the UK, 1965 seems to have been the annus mirabilis; there’s a book out there on how much happened in that year, and it’s astonishing.


    A deliberate self-illustration.

  11. [bæd lɪngʊɪstɪx] is bæd.

  12. As a meaningful time period I the U.S., the 1960s don’t end until ca. 1973, with the wind-down of the Vietnam War.

  13. That’s a pretty idiosyncratic point of view. I’d say they dribbled away with the collapse of the antiwar movement into squabbling and violence, the breakup of the Beatles (John Lennon sang “The dream is over” in 1970), and the general sinking in of the awareness that Nixon was really president and things were very different. Certainly to those of us who were there, it felt that the sixties were over by 1971 at the latest. I’m not sure what “meaningful” means in this context.

  14. I took two college-level history classes that covered twentieth-century America. In each class, the 1960s as a unit covered the time period up to 1972 or 1973. The PBS documentary series Making Sense of the Sixties covered 1970 heavily (with the Kent State shooting) and the years after that significantly. I also read a couple books about the time period (I was trying to make sense of the ’60s myself, wondering why that decade held such a fascination in the minds of Baby Boomers), and they always covered the early 1970s at least as much as the early 1960s.

    In addition to the end of the Vietnam War (the biggest American debacle of the Cold War) in the early 1970s, the same time period marked the end of the Apollo program, which was perhaps the most visible American victory of the Cold War period. While the acme* of the space program certainly came in 1969, the subsequent moon missions were still of considerable importance.

    *”Acme” is probably a bad metaphor here, since the space program was actually based of feats of altitude. The literal acme of the 1960s Apollo program came with Apollo 13, which carried its crew farther from the Earth than any other mission.

  15. Isn’t it a distinction between an inflection point and a time when the 60s were well and truly over?

  16. Huh. So not “idiosyncratic” so much as “the view of later historians.” Well, I defer to their historic judgment, but it sure didn’t feel that way at the time.

    But I guess everybody, or every group, had their own sixties.

  17. By the same token, the Sixties didn’t start in 1960 or even ’61, more like a year or two later.

  18. Yeah, they took a while to get going; I suspect that’s even more dependent on people’s individual experiences. For me, I guess they started when the Beatles craze reached Tokyo in ’64 (?) and kicked into high gear a few years later when I started getting hip to the war and the civil rights movement. The expat communities are always years behind the homeland — or were, back before everybody was constantly up to date about everything everywhere.

  19. Bathrobe says

    The 60s ended with disco.

  20. I suppose Kent State isn’t a totally unreasonable marker for the end of the ’60s, just as the shooting of Benno Ohnesorg (in June 67) could be the start of 1968.

    view of later historians

    We are maybe just about ready to start to test Hannah Arendt’s prediction to Gertrud and Karl Jaspers, “Mir scheint, die Kinder des nächsten Jahrhunderts werden das Jahr 1968 mal so lernen wie wir das Jahr 1848.”

  21. J.W. Brewer says

    Arendt’s prediction seems more likely to pan out for Kinder of the current century whose history classes are taught in German than for those whose history classes are taught in English. Although 20th century, schoolchildren in the US, at least, already probably primarily associated 1848 with a different set of events (e.g. the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo) than Arendt did.

  22. J.W. Brewer says

    It seems suggestive that the US-related photos accompanying are primarily from years other than 1968!

  23. I certainly learned about the T. of G. H., but I confess to not remembering exactly what its year was, whereas 1848 meant, and means, ‘failed revolutions’ to me. Such is the life of a red diaper baby, Trotskyist division.

    But I cannot agree that the 60s, even the Long 60s, continued until 1977.

  24. David Marjanović says

    whereas 1848 meant, and means, ‘failed revolutions’ to me.

    Well, 1968 did cause a rather successful backlash in the US, with the reintroduction of the death penalty (on the federal level and in many states), the election of Ronald Reagan and the reelection of Ronald Reagan…

  25. J.W. Brewer says

    Here’s a brief “That-Was-the-Year-That-Was” summary of 1968 from the POV of a US rock star writing circa 1979:

    They were rioting in Chicago;
    Movement in L.A.
    ’68 it broke the Yardbirds.
    We were broke as well.

    This is an oddly US-centric digression in the middle of a song otherwise about a very specific foreign event of that year (the Soviet invasion and resubjugation of Czechoslovakia) and its impact on the lyricist’s Prague-born bass player Ivan Kral.

  26. quaelegit says

    As an American student of this century, I associate 1848 more with protests/failed revolutions in the Europe (though I’m vague on the details) than the Treaty of Guadelupe Hidalgo. I had heard of the latter, but had to google it, and was then very embarrassed that I’d forgotten it. I definitely knew that the Mexican-American war ended around then and resulted in Mexico ceding lots of territory to the US (including everywhere I’ve lived), I just hadn’t connected that to the treaty, somehow.

    So I at least do associate 1848 with the stuff Arendt is talking about (I think?).

    As for 1968 — well this may have been an idiosyncrasy of my (American history) textbook, but the emphasis for that year was “the Democratic National Convention was mess!”


    Oh and on the topic of the post, I don’t spend much time on social media, but I definitely have seen “cray”, “squad goals”, “turnt”, and (most commonly) “AF”, mostly in meme pages or quote pages where college students are deliberately mimicking (or perhaps mocking) trendy internet-speak.

  27. Rodger C says

    I think American journalists tend to define the 60s, in the media-event sense, as stretching from the JFK assassination to the Nixon resignation.

    I certainly share Hat’s feeling, though, that the 60s were essentially over by 1971. I entered the US Army (not my own idea) in 1969 and returned to “the world” in 1971 expecting to pick up right where I’d left off, beads and all. Thus began a rough couple of years for me.

    I think the 60s definitively died, though, in 1973-74 (the Ice Storm period). The oil-shock-driven tanking of the economy; the end of US involvement in Vietnam combat, taking the steam out of protest; the Watergate unraveling, which put so many of our parents on the same side as us regarding Nixon; the replacement of the old green Mexican “grass” with that ten-times-stronger brown stuff out of Colombia, which fundamentally changed the social experience of dope smoking–it was the perfect storm.

  28. That fits with D.O.’s “distinction between an inflection point and a time when the 60s were well and truly over.”

  29. J.W. Brewer says

    People in the market for a convenient symbolic marker located conveniently close to the arbitrary numerical point where the odometer turns over seem to conventionally pick Altamont (Dec. 6, 1969). “The Woodstock dream suddenly turned into a nightmare” and narrative blah blah blah like that. Of course, the just-deceased Tom Wolfe ended his narrative of one version of the Sixties (Kesey + Merry Pranksters) much earlier, in October 1966, at which point it appeared that that particular vision was no longer sustainable – although of course that was just the end of one chapter and the beginning of the next, wherein some bastardized or diluted version of that vision (or at least the purists might so claim) expanded from the avant-garde margins to the suburban mainstream.

    Maybe I shouldn’t have specifically said “Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo” above, because remembering the actual name of the treaty is sort of an extra-credit question. I was thinking more that “Mexican War ends – U.S. acquires lots more territory including California, as shown on that map the teacher had on the wall” is probably a more conventional US-history-class simple association than “inconclusive turmoil in Germany leads to even more German immigration in the ensuing years.” Plus that aspect of 1848 is a key part of the set up for 1849 (Gold Rush) and 1850 (Compromise Of).

  30. For some reason I’m reminded of this immortal dialogue:

    Trautman: It’s over Johnny. It’s over!
    Rambo: Nothing is over! Nothing! You just don’t turn it off!

  31. (In my dialect that would have to be “You don’t just turn it off,” but I’m not about to argue with Rambo.)

  32. “Rambo’s Elements of Style – a Usage Guide You don’t Want to Argue with”

  33. Honestly, I am not entirely convinced that he even really is the three man, the he man, the tree man, or the me man.

  34. Lars (the original one) says

    Why can’t just be in either position, with change in meaning?

    Just turning it off — you don’t! vs. Turning it off — you just don’t!

  35. In my dialect that would have to be “You don’t just turn it off,

    Either is acceptable.
    “Shutting down this boiler is a long and complex process involving careful monitoring of the fuel flow and ventilation to prevent flashover or build up of combustible gasses: you don’t just turn it off”.
    “Starting the boiler up again is an even more complex process that I don’t have time to teach you right now, but you don’t have to worry about that if you just don’t turn it off.”

    But in context, yes, Rambo should say “you don’t just turn it off”.

  36. David Marjanović says

    the he man

    Rambo better not be He-Man.

  37. Indeed, for American male of my age, it is probably impossible to encounter “he man” without thinking of Castle Greyskull. In my case, it’s much more the original toys than the television show, since I never watched afternoon cartoons.

  38. David Marjanović says

    Oh, in my case it’s just the toys one or two of my friends had and talked about. I know Greyskull only from TV Tropes!

  39. About “I am ever eager to be hep to the jive,” I recently looked up early newspaper uses of “hep,” and, if I may, mention a possibility not in OED nor Green’s Dictionary of Slang (online) nor HDAS.

    There is no consensus on the etymology of “hep” (adj.) “in the know, etc.” other than that it originated in US slang. Hep seems to have come before hip. The earliest so-far reported uses of hep in this sense are from 1899. One of OED’s suggestions for a possible origin is Joseph W. Hepp, a prominent agent for circus companies in the 1870s and 1880s. Apparently, one is not born hep but becomes hep, initiated, is made hep, is put hep, gets hep. In southern US dialect hep (and he’p) is often help and hept or hepped for helped. So I thought maybe hep (and hept) came from dialect for help (and helped). Still, OED was justified in declaring the etymology “uncertain and disputed.” After looking for help in help, I was hepped to the fact that Gerald Cohen, in Comments on Etymology, “Hep/Hip Again,” May, 2018, pp. 43-45, had already proposed this origin.

    In a race track scheme story with “slang.” It’s open access (Chronicling America, Library of Congress), so I’ll type only a little. Here, “man of mines” is a long-shot bettor rich from lead and zinc mining.

    The Republic, St. Louis, MO, Friday, January 3, 1902, page 6, col. 2. [1]

    The understanding that Fessenden had was that he was to get $800 of the plunder for putting the man of mines “hep to the good thing.”

  40. The earliest so-far reported uses of hep in this sense are from 1899.

    Again I am surprised it goes back so far. Thanks for the research and ideas!

  41. I’m curious whether people believe AF was/is lexicalized and heard as “ay-eff”. My guess is that everyone hears it in their head in full — “as fuck.” That’s mostly because of my sense that ay-eff isn’t mellifluous or easy to say. It’s in fact harder to say than as fuck.

    Also, though I’m neither young enough to know, nor cray-cray enough to attempt to find out, it would be interesting to know how many of these actually survive two years later. Checking a few for recent usage on twitter, trill seems to survive only in the relict handles of those who joined in its brief heyday, and hundo p looks to be in an extinction spiral, with insufficient prominence to attract new users.

    Are they really words if they only pop up for 6 or 8 weeks in a small group? Perhaps they are. Here was my take on a related issue, where a word came to symbolize a single month, and that month completely circumscribed the usefulness of the word.:

  42. I hadn’t heard of Ograbme. Of course, another such term of the moment was “chad.”

  43. You had to bring that up. I work in an election office. If not “the” election office, one that was pretty close in prominence. I even felt it was our chads that sealed the deal, diminishing the initial reaction by allowing people to believe that this wasn’t some freak occurrence in Florida worth fixing, but instead just a commonplace background issue in elections.

    I had looked into “falloff” previously, but only in reference to the difference between ballots cast and lower-level offices, which can be quite large. It had never occurred to me to look at Presidential falloff, unfortunately, or we might have taken steps to correct it before that.

    But yes, most mention of chad today would at minimum include an ironic wink back to that moment.

  44. I immediately associated turnt with the normal pronunciation of turned in the vernacular of people I work with. If you search twitter, you’ll find most usages are just that – not the mot nouveau, but just a normal spot for the word turned.

    As a viral word, I don’t think it’s synonymous with “turned on,” which is a very specific metaphor, like a light switch, and is most often sexual. That’s present in turnt, but you’ve also got “turned up,” meaning fired up.

    I would expect there’s an interesting Venn diagram to be drawn between one’s belief about the start and end dates of the 60’s and one’s judgment of the 60s — liberation from oppressive norms, and political hope and the possibility, nearly realized, of incredibly positive social transformation; or self-indulgence inevitably leading to anarchic and self-defeating violence from those who hadn’t learned the restraint and patience that would have brought them decent outcomes.

    For several months, I’ve been wishing someone would do a retrospective that presented memories of the 60s from a broad sampling of Clinton and Trump voters. The Big Chill goes 28 Up.

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