8 Gnarly Slang Terms Made Popular by Generation X

Monday, March 252 min read

Born between the baby boomers and millennials, the members of Generation X are marked by unique cultural influences, a rebellious spirit, and distinctive language. Gen Xers are typically defined as folks born between 1965 and 1980, and they grew up under the effects of cable television, new musical genres, and a changing economy. Let's take a nostalgic journey into the radical world of Gen X slang.

As If

This phrase is a great catchall to demonstrate disbelief, skepticism, or dismissiveness, and it works especially well with an eye roll. The 1995 movie Clueless popularized “as if” for the masses, though director Amy Heckerling credits the slang to the LQBTQ+ community, and “thought it would be a good thing for teenagers to be saying.”

Chill Pill

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the phrase “take a chill pill” dates to 1981, as a slangy replacement for “calm down.” Essentially, Gen Xers advised their friends to pop a metaphorical chill pill to relax and stop stressing out.


Most Gen Xers remember the word “cowabunga” from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon of the 1980s or Bart Simpson in the 1990s. However, this exclamation (used to express amazement or enthusiasm) actually originated on Howdy Doody in the late 1940s, when writer Eddie Kean created the catchphrase for the character of Chief Thunderthud.


For Gen Xers, a “dude” can be anyone — it has evolved to be somewhat of a gender-neutral noun. Etymologists believe the word “dude” originally came from shortening the phrase “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” In that context, a dude was the type of guy who was overly concerned with his dress and appearance. In millennial slang, we might call that person a “hipster.”

Gag Me With a Spoon

To convey a sense of strong distaste or annoyance, a Gen Xer might say, "Gag me with a spoon!" Today’s teens will just call the situation “cringe.” The gag-inducing saying comes from the Valley girl-speak of California’s San Fernando Valley, which is, like, known for a lilting accent and a heavy use of “like” and “whatever.”


In the 1970s, the word “gnarly” was used by surfers to describe a dangerous wave. Gen X teens morphed it into slang to mean either “cool and excellent” or “nasty and unpleasant.” Someone could have both “gnarly skinned knees” and a “gnarly skateboard.”


Fans of heavy metal music were called “headbangers” because they would violently shake their heads in rhythm with the music. The fairly obvious term became most popular in the 1980s, but concertgoers were spotted headbanging years before, such as in this footage of Led Zeppelin performing “Communication Breakdown” in 1970.


This term for upwardly mobile workers who were moving into urban areas first appeared in print in 1980. Writer Dan Rottenberg described this group of Gen Xers as “young urban professionals rebelling against the stodgy suburban lifestyles of their parents. The Yuppies seek neither comfort nor security but stimulation, and they can find that only in the densest sections of the city.” What started as a neutral term quickly became a pejorative as the decade progressed.

Featured image credit: Maximum Film/ Alamy Stock Photo

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