John-Patrick Thomas
John-Patrick Thomas

How Past Generations' Slang Became Today's Vocabulary

John-Patrick Thomas
John-Patrick Thomas

Boomers, Generation X, millennials—every 20 years or so we name a new generation. We characterize them by cultural shifts in fashion (bell-bottoms!), musical styles (grunge!), and food preferences (kale!). But generations can also be characterized by language, as seen in a new book by Allan Metcalf, From Skedaddle to Selfie, out in November from Oxford University Press. The expressions that rise to prominence at particular times often reveal surprising things about who we are.

When the nation was young, members of the Transcendental Generation (born 1792 to 1821) had a spiritual, authority-questioning bent. They brought transcendental into the general vocabulary. They also, writes Metcalf, “bequeathed to the country its greatest and most successful word”: OK. First used by a Boston newspaper editor as an intentionally misspelled, jokey abbreviation of “all correct”—similar to the publishing industry’s term TK to indicate material “to come”—the expression took off during the 1840 re-election campaign of Martin Van Buren, who was also known as Old Kinderhook. His supporters set up OK clubs, jauntily suggesting he was “oll korrect.” Detractors quickly turned the new word around to criticize Van Buren (he’s “orfully konfused!”) and his predecessor Andrew Jackson (so illiterate he couldn’t spell all correct!). Eventually everyone forgot where OK came from, and it became an all-purpose staple.

After the Transcendentals came the Gilded Generation (born 1822 to 1842). They were “gilded” since they would witness great economic expansion. During the Civil War, they coined skedaddle as a mocking description of an enemy beating a “hasty and disorganized retreat.” When the Union army was defeated at the Battle of Bull Run, Southerners referred to the retreat as “The Great Skedaddle.” Northerners threw the insult right back: A newspaper report called it “a phrase the Union boys up here apply to the good use the seceshers make of their legs in time of danger.” This made-up word with a silly sound brought a little levity in dark times.

Born around the upheavals of war, the Missionary Generation (born 1860 to 1882) became idealistic, politically active adults. They gave us sweatshop in their fight for workers’ rights. Not all new words were so serious: The Missionaries also gave us fan. In 1885, a sportswriter was compelled to explain that fan was “base ball slang” for fanatic. That explanation soon became unnecessary.

The Lost Generation (born 1883 to 1900) had to contend with World War I as they came of age. They seemed to have lost their way spiritually and, according to their elders, morally. They filled the Roaring ’20s with words like flapper, speak-easy, and jazz—and they were also the first to use sexy. According to Metcalf, “until the 20th century, nobody was sexy.” At first the word described risqué content or temptations—like “sexy” magazines, books, or plays—or the feelings they might inspire. Later it became an approving way to describe a person, and anything generally exciting.

The GI Generation (born 1901 to 1924) fought World War II or stayed home and rationed, scrimped, and saved to help the war effort. People started to smuggle home their restaurant leftovers to give to the family pet. “And so to prevent loss of napkins, or perhaps to encourage patriotic frugality,” restaurants started providing doggie bags.

Trick or treat came from the Silent Generation, born during the Great Depression. Characterized as sedate and ready to conform, they became bobby-soxers and wore gray flannel suits, but as kids they coined the common Halloween request, which was a bit more polite than the previous “Shell out!”

Tooth fairy took flight with the Boomer Generation (born 1943 to 1960), who also gave us hippie, yuppie, psychedelic, and groovy. They lost their baby teeth in a time of optimism, prosperity, Disney films, and Tinkerbell. A fairy-run cash-for-teeth scheme made perfect sense (the going rate then was 10 cents a tooth). A generation can also reinvent an old word. Fun was a noun long before the slackers and hackers of Generation X (born 1961 to 1981) existed, but their generation turned it into a full adjective, injecting it into “a fun time,” “a fun call,” “a fun concert,” and the wealth of other types of fun to be had.

Most recently, the so-called Homeland Generation (born 2005 and later) has been doing something different with wait, using it for statements and questions alike. Metcalf noticed his grandson saying things like, “Wait ... where are we going?” and “Wait ... I’m going over to the neighbor’s house.” It’s both a pause and a request for attention, and it’s “reminiscent of [Metcalf ’s own] Silent Generation’s thoughtful approach to the world.” Is the newest generation articulating a distinctive way of viewing the world? It’s too early to tell, Metcalf concludes: “We’ll have to wait.”

Sploot 101: 12 Animal Slang Words Every Pet Parent Should Know

For centuries, dogs were dogs and cats were cats. They did things like bark and drink water and lay down—actions that pet parents didn’t need a translator to understand.

Then the internet arrived. Scroll through the countless Facebook groups and Twitter accounts dedicated to sharing cute animal pictures and you’ll quickly see that dogs don’t have snouts, they have snoots, and cats come in a colorful assortment of shapes and sizes ranging from smol to floof.

Pet meme language has been around long enough to start leaking into everyday conversation. If you're a pet owner (or lover) who doesn’t want to be out of the loop, here are the terms you need to know.


You know your pet is fully relaxed when they’re doing a sploot. Like a split but for the whole body, a sploot occurs when a dog or cat stretches so their bellies are flat on the ground and their back legs are pointing behind them. The amusing pose may be a way for them to take advantage of the cool ground on a hot day, or just to feel a satisfying stretch in their hip flexors. Corgis are famous for the sploot, but any quadruped can do it if they’re flexible enough.


Person holding Marnie the dog.
Emma McIntyre, Getty Images for ASPCA

Unlike most items on this list, the word derp isn’t limited to cats and dogs. It can also be a stand-in for such expressions of stupidity as “duh” or “dur.” In recent years the term has become associated with clumsy, clueless, or silly-looking cats and dogs. A pet with a tongue perpetually hanging out of its mouth, like Marnie or Lil Bub, is textbook derpy.


Cat laying on desk chair.
PoppetCloset, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If you’ve ever caught a cat or dog poking the tip of its tongue past its front teeth, you’ve seen a blep in action. Unlike a derpy tongue, a blep is subtle and often gone as quickly as it appears. Animal experts aren’t entirely sure why pets blep, but in cats it may have something to do with the Flehmen response, in which they use their tongues to “smell” the air.


Mlems and bleps, though very closely related, aren’t exactly the same. While blep is a passive state of being, mlem is active. It’s what happens when a pet flicks its tongue in and out of its mouth, whether to slurp up water, taste food, or just lick the air in a derpy fashion. Dogs and cats do it, of course, but reptiles have also been known to mlem.


Very fluffy cat.
J. Sibiga Photography, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Some pets barely have any fur, and others have coats so voluminous that hair appears to make up most of their bodyweight. Dogs and cats in the latter group are known as floofs. Floofy animals will famously leave a wake of fur wherever they sit and can squeeze through tight spaces despite their enormous mass. Samoyeds, Pomeranians, and Persian cats are all prime examples of floofs.


Dog outside barking.

According to some corners of the internet, dogs don’t bark, they bork. Listen carefully next time you’re around a vocal doggo and you won’t be able to unhear it.


Shiba inu smiling up at the camera.

Speaking of doggos: This word isn’t hard to decode. Every dog—regardless of size, floofiness, or derpiness—can be a doggo. If you’re willing to get creative, the word can even be applied to non-dog animals like fennec foxes (special doggos) or seals (water doggos). The usage of doggo saw a spike in 2016 thanks to the internet and by the end of 2017 it was listed as one of Merriam-Webster’s “Words We’re Watching.”


Tiny kitten in grass.

Some pets are so adorably, unbearably tiny that using proper English to describe them just doesn’t cut it. Not every small pet is smol: To earn the label, a cat or dog (or kitten or puppy) must excel in both the tiny and cute departments. A pet that’s truly smol is likely to induce excited squees from everyone around it.


Hands holding a puppy.

Like doggo, pupper is self-explanatory: It can be used in place of the word puppy, but if you want to use it to describe a fully-grown doggo who’s particularly smol and cute, you can probably get away with it.

10. BOOF

We’ve already established that doggos go bork, but that’s not the only sound they make. A low, deep bark—perhaps from a dog that can’t decide if it wants to expend its energy on a full bark—is best described as a boof. Consider a boof a warning bark before the real thing.


Dog noses poking out beneath blanket.

Snoot was already a dictionary-official synonym for nose by the time dog meme culture took the internet by storm. But while snoot is rarely used to describe human faces today, it’s quickly becoming the preferred term for pet snouts. There’s even a wholesome viral challenge dedicated to dogs poking their snoots through their owners' hands.

12. BOOP

Have you ever seen a dog snoot so cute you just had to reach out and tap it? And when you did, was your action accompanied by an involuntary “boop” sound? This urge is so universal that boop is now its own verb. Humans aren’t the only ones who can boop: Search the word on YouTube and treat yourself to hours of dogs, cats, and other animals exchanging the love tap.

From Camreigh to Kayzleigh: Parents Invented More Than 1000 New Baby Names Last Year

Look out Mercedes, Bentley, and Royce—there's a new car-inspired name in town. The name Camreigh was recorded for the first time in the U.S. last year, according to Quartz’s take on data released by the U.S. Social Security Administration.

The name was given to 91 babies in 2017, making it the most popular of the 1100 brand-new names that cropped up last year. However, the Social Security Administration only listed names that had been given to at least five babies in 2017, so it's possible that some of the names had been invented before 2017.

An alternate spelling, Kamreigh, also appeared for the first time last year, as did Brexleigh, Kayzleigh, Addleigh, Iveigh, Lakeleigh, and Riverleigh. Swapping out “-y” and “-ey” for “-eigh” at the end of a name has been a growing trend in recent years, and in 20 years or so, the workforce will be filled with Ryleighs, Everleighs, and Charleighs—names that all appeared on a list of the 500 most popular names in 2017.

Following Camreigh, the second most popular new name, appearing 58 times, was Asahd. Meaning “lion” in Arabic, Asahd was popularized in 2016 when DJ Khaled gave his son the name. The American DJ is now attempting to trademark the moniker, which is an alternate spelling of Asad and Assad.

Other names that were introduced for the first time include Iretomiwa (of Nigerian origin) and Tewodros (Ethiopian). The name Arjunreddy (given 12 times) possibly stems from the 2017 release of the Indian, Telugu-language film Arjun Reddy, whose title character is a surgeon who spirals out of control when he turns to alcohol and drugs.

Perhaps an even bigger surprise is the fact that 11 babies were named Cersei in 2017, or, as Quartz puts it, "11 fresh-faced, sinless babies were named after the manipulative, power-hungry, incestuous, helicopter parent-y, backstabbing character from Game of Thrones."

Below are the top 20 most popular new names in 2017.

1. Camreigh
2. Asahd
3. Taishmara
4. Kashdon
5. Teylie
6. Kassian
7. Kior
8. Aaleiya
9. Kamreigh
10. Draxler
11. Ikeni
12. Noctis
13. Sayyora
14. Mohana
15. Dakston
16. Knoxlee
17. Amunra
18. Arjunreddy
19. Irtaza
20. Ledgen

[h/t Quartz]


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