Slang-slingers are the norm in America. Eight out of ten Americans use slang. However, half of those who use it don’t know what the meanings are.

These findings come from a recent survey of nearly 2,000 adults across the U.S. for online language learning platform Preply. 

Many of us incorporate slang into every conversation; about 22% of those surveyed said they do. Only 10% said they rarely use slang.

Why would you use a slang term if you don’t understand its meaning? “I think there is another segment of the population that doesn’t want to seem hip or uncool for not understanding the latest batch of popular slang words, so they simply so just go along with using the term instead of asking someone to define it or Google its meaning,” Daniele Saccardi, campaigns manager at Preply, told USA TODAY.

These are the top slang phrases. The word most would use in a sentence – according to half of those surveyed – was “ghosted,” which means to quit communicating with someone without an explanation. This is followed by “salty,” which refers to being extremely bitter or angry, “on point,” which means exactly what you mean and “goat,” which stands for the greatest of all times.

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Slang can be confusing. Some is annoying. The slang phrases most disliked – 29% agreed on this – were “OK, boomer,” a response to someone out of touch, and “bae,” a term for a significant other. How does that term of affection get no love?

Next most annoying phrase, according to survey respondents: “Bye, Felicia,” a dismissal spoken by Ice Cube’s character in the 1995 comedy “Friday,” followed by “on fleek,” meaning very good; and “woke,” also a popular term as mentioned above. 

The coronavirus pandemic led to “an uptick of slang words,” Saccardi said, with the most popular ones being “rona,” an abbreviation for the coronavirus; “jab,” for vaccine shots; “quarantine and chill,” a romantic time during the shutdown; “quaranteam,” your limited circle of friends seen during the shutdown; and “covidiot,” someone who ignores COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.

Many times, slang leads to new words being included in the dictionary. For instance, among the 455 words added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary in October were “amirite” and “FTW.” Two COVID-related additions: “super-spreader” and “vaccine passport.” 

Different generations use different slang terms. “Woke” was most common among boomers, with “ghosted” most popular for Gen X (those born 1965-1980); “salty” was tops among millennials (born 1981-1996); and “low-key” for Gen Z (born after 1996).

What is the worst slang term for each generation? “Mansplain” for boomers; “bae” for Gen X; “Bye, Felicia” for millennials and Gen Z. 

Our research showed that slang usage increases with age, increasing from 65% in the baby boomer generation to 77%, 83%, and 92% respectively for Gen X, millennials, as well as Gen X.

The majority of respondents said that slang should be used sparingly on dates. Nearly two-thirds (63%) said it would be a dealbreaker if slang were used regularly on a first date. However, even more (64%) said it was OK to use slang even on an intimate date.

Over half of those polled (54%) said they think slang is unacceptable at work. This includes when the boss is present (58%). That’s good business sense, as 56% said they wouldn’t hire someone who used slang in an job interview.

Perhaps we should rethink how we dispense slang, because as the survey found, our use of wordplay is savage – a popular slang term for not caring about the consequences – and suggests we may be so thirsty (a slang term for needing attention), we don’t care if we misuse a term.

And to be completely honest, that could make us sound more over the top than they actually are.

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Follow Mike Snider via Twitter @mikesnider



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