what were the 2010s?

An A-Z of Words That Defined the Internet in the 2010s

Photo: Jasmine Masters/YouTube

Where did “sksksk” come from and why can’t we stop saying it? The why is surprisingly simple: “Humans interact with each other and they’re social and when they find something funny, they repeat it,” says Gretchen McCulloch, internet linguist and author of Because Internet: Understanding the New Rules of Language. But since internet words are often so new, their origins are hard to pin down. Some, like “milkshake duck,” come from very specific tweets. Others are brought over from the real world. “You get a lot of words that are appropriated from African-American English, which is not a phenomenon that’s specific to the internet,” McCulloch explains. And, like most things we have to be thankful for, the teens and ever-inventive stans are often responsible for making them cool. (Thinking fondly of “Ok boomer.”) “Words related to internet phenomenon have been shifting over the past couple decades or so from being associated with the technical implementation aspects of the internet to being associated with internet as a cultural space,” says McCulloch, adding that internet culture and youth culture go hand in hand now. As the stans’ online reign continues, who knows what the 2020s will bring? Here are some of the phrases we couldn’t stop saying this decade and that our grandchildren will undoubtedly make fun of us for in the next few.

@Me: Literally, it means to include someone’s Twitter @ (“at”) name in a tweet, but it’s often used to say someone should speak to you directly. Oppositely, “Don’t @ me” means you don’t wanna hear it.

And I Oop (or Anna Ou): Comes from a video by drag queen Jasmine Masters and was appropriated by VSCO girls. Used to express sudden surprise or to throw shade (see below).

Bae: Evolved from African-American Vernacular English (or Black English) as a shorter version of “babe.” Someone on the internet also decided it means “Before Anyone Else.”

Basic Bitch: Someone who follows trends a little too closely. Similar to a local (see below), it evolved from Black English where it meant boring or unsophisticated. Now, it’s associated with white women, Starbucks, UGG boots, and more.

Bop: A really good song.

Burner: Anything that cannot be traced or is a secret. For example, a burner Twitter account cannot be traced back to you.

Catfish: Someone who isn’t who they portray themselves to be online. Can also be used as a verb. The term was coined by Nev Schulman of the film and TV show, Catfish.

Canceled: Used facetiously, it describes when someone is shut down or deplatformed, à la a television show being canceled. It originated with warring stans (when a star does something problematic, their rivals will throw hashtag parties on Twitter — for example #ArianaGrandeIsOverParty). It’s linked to callout culture, a form of public shaming.

Chef’s Kiss: A brief description of the finger kiss that chefs are depicted as doing when they complete a dish. It’s a sign of approval.

Clout: Influence or power, especially on the internet.

Corncobbing: Corncobbing gets its origins from a Dril tweet. It essentially means to be so stubborn that you don’t admit when you got owned. It was popularized in 2017 when politicians misunderstood it as a homophobic term.

Cursed: Originated from the Tumblr Cursed Images. Then it became a Twitter account. Now it’s used more generally for anything uncomfortable, unsettling, or ridiculous.

Dead: When something is so good or so bad, it has simply rendered you lifeless.

Do It for the Vine: Came from a rap track about using the app. It originally meant to do something for the purpose of going viral on Vine (eventually, more and more dangerous stunts). Now that Vine is dead, “Do it for the Vine” is just a dare.

Extra: When something or someone is more than necessary. A fancy outfit and an overexcited friend can both be “extra.”

Fam: Your loved ones. A Black English term.

Feels: You have a lot of them.

Finsta: Fake Instagram. Often an alternative or secret Instagram account where users post whatever they want for a select group of people.

Flex: To show off.

FOMO: Fear of missing out.

Galaxy Brain (or Expanding Brain): Like many visual memes, this began on the subreddit r/dankmemes. Initially used to denote intelligence, most of the time, it’s used ironically to deride an unpopular or even radical opinion.

.GIF (or .JPG or .PNG): A file extension adds irony to any phrase or can be used to reference a specific meme.

GOAT: Greatest of All Time. Pronounced phonetically.

Go Off: From Black English, to go off is to really show off. Alternately used when someone insults or verbally attacks another person.

Highkey: Can be used when something is obvious or when you’re passionate about something. For example, “Highkey, it’s a bad show, but I highkey love it.” (But don’t actually talk like that.)

Hot take: An unpopular or provocative opinion. Often used ironically.

Horny on Main: To post sexually explicit content on your public accounts online. IRL (see below), it’s generally being open about your horniness. Fun fact: It was popularized by Furries. Thanks, guys!

I—: To be so shocked you can’t express yourself.

I Can’t: When you have a lot of feels (see above) and don’t know what to do with them.

It me: Used when something is relatable to you.

It’s a Vibe: “Vibe” describes a good energy or mood. It can also describe something almost inexplicably cool, since that thing typically has a good energy or will bring good energy.

IRL: In real life.

Lit: Another way of saying cool.

Local: A social media user who only interacts with people they know in real life (locally) and doesn’t participate in stan culture.

Lowkey: Used when something needs to be kept secret or subtle, or to regard something with low intensity.

Milkshake Duck: Someone (or thing) is a Milkshake Duck when they reach online popularity, but are quickly revealed to have an offensive past. Coined on Twitter.

Mood: How you’re feeling. Often used in response to something or accompanied by an example.

Mutuals: When you and another social media user follow each other, you are “mutuals.”

Ok Boomer: A response to something out of touch said by a baby-boomer, most often used by Gen Z. Popularized by a SoundCloud rap song on TikTok.

On Fleek: Vine star Peaches Monroee created this term in a video she posted celebrating her eyebrows. Anything cute, on point, and looking good can be on fleek.

OOMF: One of my followers. It’s a way to subtweet (see below) another user without explicitly calling them out or being too vague.

Periodt: An accentuated form of “full stop”; meant to add emphasis.

Red Pill: Inspired by The Matrix, it originally meant to accept a hard truth. In recent years, it’s evolved into a verb meaning to be radicalized to the conservative right and is often linked to misogyny and white supremacy.

Salty: A Black English term meaning someone is bitter or petty.

Shade: Typically a backhanded compliment, throwing “shade” is to insult someone. Originated from drag culture.

Shitpost: A Reddit term meaning a spammy, random or troll post. You can shitpost on other social media too. Depending on the audience, it can be funny or disruptive.

Shook: To be rattled, whether out of excitement, fear, or disgust. Popularized by drag queens.

Side-eye: To look at someone from the side, as if suspicious or questioning.

Sksksk: A form of key smash (for example: “asdfhjkl” or just “wiviwefbovsvdkjv”) popularized by VSCO girls and other people making fun of VSCO girls. “Sksksk” can reflect laughter (sometimes mean-spirited laughter), embarrassment, an emotional incoherence, nothing, or everything. The keys “S” and “K” are actually the most convenient keys for thumbs to smash on iPhone keyboards.

Skinny Legend: An honor given by stans to a public figure. The person’s weight doesn’t actually matter.

Smol: Cute. Doesn’t necessarily have to be small.

Snack: Someone can look like or be a “snack” when they’re attractive.

Snap: Often used in the past tense form, “snapped,” it means to do exceptionally well, usually at dancing or singing.

Stan: A passionate fan. While many say it combines “stalker” and “fan,” it’s origin is credited to the Eminem song “Stan,” where he raps about an obsessed fan.

Subtweet: To talk or tweet about someone without explicitly mentioning them, usually in a negative context.

TBH: To be honest. Can also be a way to agree with someone.

That’s the Tea: “Tea” has been around for decades, developed in the drag ballroom scene. It grew popular as drag culture did, thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race. “Tea” is gossip, secrets, or exciting news.

Thicc: A meme version of thick, meant to signify an elite level of thickness.

Thirsty: To be desperate for something (or, oftentimes, someone).

Toxic: An adjective describing unhealthy behavior.

Wig: Used by itself, “wig” expresses shock, amazement, and respect. “Wig” can be “thrown,” “snatched,” or any other verb that means your wig is gone. Another one to thank drag culture for.

Woke: To be aware of the societal issues that affect marginalized communities. Originated in Black English.

Yeet: Popularized on Vine, “yeet” can be onomatopoeia for throwing something (see: this popular Vine) or, less popularly, a verb meaning to move something, even yourself (“I’m yeeting across town”). “Yeet” can also be used like a cheer.

Your Mind: A way to compliment someone for being clever.

Zaddy (or Daddy): A very attractive man, regardless of whether he’s old enough to be your father (although it doesn’t hurt). “Daddy” comes from the BDSM community and “Zaddy” was popularized by a Ty Dolla $ign song, One Direction stans, and horny internet users everywhere.

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An A-Z of Words That Defined the Internet in the 2010s