Don’t Be ‘Catfished’ by These Reality TV Words and Phrases

Tuesday, June 284 min read

Reality television has undoubtedly influenced the way we communicate by introducing us to creative slang words via classic on-camera moments. Sometimes these terms might be real words cleverly repurposed and other times our favorite reality stars coin new words of their very own. Not always, but every-so-often, one of these slang terms surpasses their reality TV roots and becomes part of the cultural lexicon. From Tyra Banks’ “smize” to MTV’s Catfish series, let’s look at some of the reality television terms that are here to stay.


Of course “bible” had been around for centuries before the Kardashian-Jenner troupe landed on screen, but the ladies of Keeping Up With the Kardashians started using it as a way to say “I swear.” It traces back to the use of a Christian Bible in court and lets viewers know when members of reality TV's most famous family  are being serious.


The Real Housewives franchise has given us some of the sassiest reality TV vocabulary to date. NeNe Leakes of Atlanta uses the term “bloop” as a filler to mean basically whatever she wants, especially during an argument, or to add emphasis at the end of a statement. During  the Season Three reunion in 2011, NeNe added a dramatic three “bloops” to the end of her argument, to let everyone know she was done speaking. The dictionary’s definition of “bloop” is a little different than NeNe’s. Officially, a “bloop” is a mistake, as in a “blooper,” but dictionary definitions often catch up later to what slang and people have been doing for a while in their speech.  


A catfish is a type of fish with barbels (a sensory organ near the mouth to detect food) that resemble cat’s whiskers. This idea of one animal resembling another species turned “catfish” into one of the greatest reality-TV slang terms of all time. A “catfish” is someone who uses a false identity, usually online, to trick someone into a romantic relationship. This scenario played out in the 2010 documentary Catfish, starring Nev Schulman revealing his real-life situation, in which he developed a relationship with a woman who falsified her entire online profile. MTV turned the idea into reality TV gold by casting Schulman to host the series Catfish: The TV Show in 2012. It usually takes some time for new meanings of slang terms to catch on with the public and especially with lexicographers, but the new usage of “catfish” was officially added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2014, thanks to the proliferation on online dating apps.


Original American Idol judge Randy Jackson might not have invented the spelling or pronunciation of “dawg,” but he gave contestants an easy letdown with the catchphrase. “It’s a no for me, dawg” was Randy’s way of softening the rejection and “check it out, dawg” was his way of getting the audience’s attention to share some music-industry knowledge. Randy might not have known the etymological history of his catchphrase, but “dawg” has been used as slang to mean “buddy” or “dude,” and also as a facetious way to spell “dog” (as in a cheating or lying boyfriend) since at least 1898.


The “Mayor of Flavortown” himself, Food Network star Guy Fieri, is surprised that the phrase has garnered so much attention. In a 2019 interview, Fieri admitted that he coined the phrase by accident while talking about an extra-large pizza on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. He made a comment that the pizza looked like “a manhole cover in Flavortown,” and now, there are signs, T-shirts, banners, and memes advertising the fictional town with the larger-than-life, platinum-haired chef as its leader.


The summertime residents of Seaside Heights taught viewers all there was to know about The Jersey Shore lingo, most memorably the acronym “GTL” — Gym, Tan, Laundry. This essential list was the backbone of the daily activities on the MTV reality show that ran from 2009-2012.


This re-spelling of “look” retains a similar meaning, with some added flare. According to stylist Brad Goreski from the Rachel Zoe Project, “A ‘lewk’ is like, ‘I’m wearing a lewk today,’ it’s something that everybody will notice. It’s like you’re out of the pages of a magazine, that’s a lewk.” The celebrity stylist coined the term around 2010 and also made “werking” (an exaggerated form of “working”) popular. The term “lewk” became so popular that Merriam-Webster featured it in its “Words We’re Watching” series in 2019.


This word originated with the most famous “momager” in reality TV: Kris Jenner. A portmanteau of “mom” and “manager,” it describes anyone who plays both roles. In 2017, Kris Jenner won the right to trademark the word, proving once and for all that she really is the ultimate momager.

Sashay Away

RuPaul’s Drag Race could have a dictionary of its own, but perhaps the most popular of its meme-worthy terms is “sashay away.” The term “sashay” itself means to glide nonchalantly. When RuPaul uses the phrase “sashay away,” contestants know that their time on the show is over — it’s code for “you’re eliminated.” (The opposing, good-news phrase, given to a queen who has survived elimination is "shantay, you stay.) The phrase has been turned into a playful way for friends to tell each other to “go away,” typically in meme form, featuring the drag queen herself.


Tyra Banks explained to would-be models on her hit reality show, America’s Next Top Model, how to “smize,” that is, smile with their eyes, during 2009's Season 13. The supermodel taught her trademark pose to her contestants who then competed in a challenge to see who could perform the best smize. "Smize" is a portmanteau, a word that is a combination of two words (such as smoke and fog to create “smog”).

Featured image credit: BrAt_PiKaChU/ iStock

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