Do you speak Generation Z’s Language?

By: Tim Elmore


It’s been over 50 years since the term generation gap was first coined by Life magazine editor John Poppy. During the 1960s, he noticed a gap between the young baby boomers and their parent’s generation, the Builders. Those boomers used new language the adults did not recognize. I am one of those baby boomers and, believe it or not, I remember when teens first started to describe things they liked a lot as “groovy” or “far out.”  


Wow. What a difference four generations make, right?


Today, the generational gap has widened. I’ve written about the reasons—chief among them is the fact that our screens have evolved from public to private. Consider this change over the decades. When I grew up, my family had only one screen in our home, a television. It was small, black and white, and stationed in our family room. We all watched programs together like I Love Lucy or the Dick Van Dyke Show or Andy Griffith. Later, families could afford more than one TV. At this point, parents would watch a show each week and their teenaged children could watch something different. Networks began to tailor the programming. 


Later, families got personal computers, which sat in the kitchen or den. Again, everyone knew what any family member was doing on that computer. It was still public. Eventually, family members came to own their own laptops or tablets, and the screens went private. Today, we all seem to have our own smartphone, which means a teen can experience totally different inputs than mom and dad do. Parents may know about their daughter’s Instagram account but have no idea about her five “Finsta” (fake Instagram) accounts where she’s created different personas and is posting and hearing from all sorts of strangers each week.


It’s a new day. 


How TikTok Has Accelerated the Language Gap

Now that TikTok has overtaken Google as the most visited platform in the world, it’s become a game-changer. It has taken the world by storm. And on it, teens from Generation Z are using terms that further widen the gap between them and the adults in their lives. It can feel like a cross-cultural relationship sometimes, complete with a new language. So, to help fill you in, I offer some common terms that Gen. Z will use on TikTok that may sound foreign. Allow me to attempt some translation for you.


  • Cheugy: Describes millennials who try hard to look trendy.
  • No cap: Means that you are not lying or exaggerating. 
  • Bop: Describes a song that you think is really good.
  • Ded: Means something is so funny that it killed you.
  • Stan: Means you’re a huge fan of someone famous. 
  • Living Rent-Free: When you can’t stop thinking about something. 
  • Vibe check: When you assess someone’s energy/personality.
  • Drip: A cool or trendy sense of style; a term for swag.

Let Me Be Clear

My purpose in sharing these terms is not for you to go use them with students so they’ll think you’re hip. Often, when we use them, they chuckle at us. My purpose in sharing these terms is for you to understand them so you can better connect with your students. 


My colleague, Steve Moore, recently asked Abby, a high school senior, how she enjoyed last week’s school assembly on campus. He specifically wondered if Abby had connected with the speaker. The teen hesitated. 


“What’s wrong?” Steve inquired. 


Abby smiled and then replied, “Well, what she spoke on was OK. But…she tried too hard to be one of us. She attempted to use language we use on TikTok, and I was embarrassed for her. She not only misused the terms, but we all felt she wasn’t real. I felt she was disingenuous.” 


Let this be a warning. It’s important for us to know the language of this emerging generation to better connect with them. But they don’t need us to be cool. They need us to be real.


Don’t be cheugy.  


Do you speak Generation Z’s Language?