As hesitant as we are to appear “cringe” by trying to explain Gen Z, without actually being Gen Z, we can't help but be fascinated by the linguistic changes brought about by this generation. One defining hallmark of Gen Z — which encompasses people born between 1997 and 2003 — is that they are the first generation to live entirely under the influence of the internet and in front of the glow of smartphone screens, and their language reflects that. Moreover, they look outside of their immediate age bracket and toward cultural groups, including the BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities, for inspiration. Here are some terms embraced by Gen Z that you might want to know — but tread carefully in using, unless you are indeed a member of Gen Z.
Ate and Left No Crumbs
Who doesn’t love to eat? When you hear that a person “ate” something, it means they did an extremely good job. If you “ate and left no crumbs,” then you clearly astonished all of us with your talent and skills. When Pedro Pascal hosted Saturday Night Live in 2023, he starred in a sketch called “Fancam Assembly,” playing a teacher who “ate [students] up and left no crumbs.” (That sketch might help give some context clues for some other super-trendy Gen Z terms that haven’t made it to the dictionaries yet.)
In My ____ Era
The Napoleonic era. The Victorian era. The Atomic era. Traditionally, an era is “a long and distinct period of history with a particular feature or characteristic.” But for Gen Z, an “era” can describe a moment in time, no matter how short. Watching Bridgerton on repeat? You may be in your Lady Whistledown era. Stopping at Starbucks every morning? Enjoy your iced oat milk latte era.
“Say less” isn’t an order to be quiet. Gen Z is all about acknowledging and amplifying the message. Think of it as shorthand for “say no more.” In other words, Gen Z gets you. They understand, and you don’t have to offer further explanation.
The online multiplayer game Among Us was published in 2018, but it really exploded in popularity in 2020 as people looked for ways to stay connected at home amid the pandemic. In a nutshell, the game allows groups of people (crewmates) to play together to solve puzzles in various space-themed settings. Some players are randomly assigned to be “impostors,” and during gameplay, crewmates have to identify the sabotaging impostors in each round. The game helped popularize the term “sus,” which stands for “suspicious” or “suspect.” Players can communicate in-game over text chat (though some go outside of the game to voice chat over Discord), and “sus” developed as common shorthand for determining the identity of the impostors. In 2022, Merriam-Webster officially added “sus” to its dictionary.
“Tea” (or “T”) is another word for “gossip.” Folks can “sip the tea” (hear all the news) or “spill the tea” (share secrets), but this usage predates Gen Z. The saying originated with LGBTQ+ culture, and specifically with Black trans women and drag performers. In John Berendt’s 1994 book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the Lady Chablis refers to “T” as an abbreviation for “my thing” or “my truth.” Thanks to the popularity of RuPaul's Drag Race, “tea” entered the pop culture mainstream and Gen Z vocabulary. Where would we be without the GIF of Kermit the frog sipping a steaming hot cup of tea?
Understood the Assignment
Just as in school, if you “understood the assignment,” you followed the instructions, understood what was required of the situation, and likely received an “A.” Did you make a reservation at your spouse’s favorite restaurant, show up looking dapper, and bring a gift for your anniversary dinner? You understood the assignment. Rapper Tay Money popularized the phrase in her 2021 song “The Assignment.”
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