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A Guide Into Gen Z Slang

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Nanyang Tech chapter.

When my professor was hilariously confused by our explanations on what different emojis mean when we were talking about Gen Z culture, it hit me that there really is a significant gap between us, the Gen Zs, and the generations before, whether Millennial or Boomer. 

If you live under the rock and would love to understand your peers better, or you’re a parent, that has been redirected here by your child because they want you to understand them better, here is a list of some of the most iconic traits of Gen Z slang: 

  1. Emojis 

Dark and ironic humour is a constant in Gen Z conversations and even attitudes. Using 💀 or 😭 to express laughter is definitely not foreign to any of us, but it is strange to our parents. Additionally, as part of the irony we love to incorporate into our daily lives, the comeback of “Boomer” emojis like 🤣to express sarcastic humour is indeed interesting. Another way to express sarcasm is ​​😍, to show feigned interest or favour for something. 

Another experimental thing we have done with emojis is to attach sounds to them. When you see this 👉🏻👈🏻what do you hear? It is, for sure, the “uwu” koel sound. 

  1. Slay

On the topic of attaching sounds to emojis, “slay”  is often preceded or followed by 💅. Slay, honestly, has begun to become overused. It is an affirmation between peers and can generate rapport and solidarity amongst people. Using “slay” or 💅instantly connects you to a group of people who probably think and feel akin to you, and are interested in the same matters as you (like social injustice, political issues and more). 

  1. Gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss

I may be biassed to this one, but any girl, woman or feminist who is chronically online, or has a social circle that is constantly watching Tiktok would know this motto. The number of IG bios that have this phrase is astounding. 

To break it down, it is really a satire of the phrase “manipulate, mansplain, malewife”, which calls out misogynistic behaviour. Particularly, the inclusion of “malewife” is exclusive to our generation, where the incoming wave of misogynists act “wife-like” (this description is, itself, misogynistic) and are incapable of being independent. “Gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” is the toxic rendition of feminism, and how women have to protect themselves and be dominant in relationships. 

While this stems from a pretty heavy topic, it certainly has evolved to something a lot less serious. Anything is “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss bae!”, as a form of solidarity and support between women. 

  1. How to live laugh love in these conditions? 

Dark humour is indeed a strong suit of Gen Z. Irony, again, is very characteristic of us. This phrase compounds both of these variables into one. If you are unaware, “Live, Laugh, Love” was a major motto created by Boomers, and Gen Zs have let it make a comeback by using it as a way to express suffering in depressing and difficult situations. 

  1. Drag Culture 

Rupual’s Drag Race, available on Netflix, is a long-standing reality competition show for Drag Queens, most of whom are gays. It is one of the biggest reasons for putting LGBTQIA+ into mainstream media, giving its rights movement a platform to speak up on the issues the community faces. 

Many phrases spoken in the show like “queen”, “work”, “yas”, and “gagging” have influenced pop culture slang. In a generation where the meme culture is strong, Drag slang thrives in the same way emojis do, as it is evocative, funny and carries a certain depth. Viewers and participants in conversation need to understand the context and usage of these words in order to communicate and connect. 

Drag culture doesn’t get quite enough credit for creating the foundation of the meme culture that we have today. Drag is a fun way to express sexuality, particularly for gays, but it also carries heavy notes of homophobia and having to hide oneself from family, friends and the public. I think it reflects a little of what Gen Z is: on the surface we seem like a hilarious bunch, who don’t take anything seriously, and that is often a point of criticism from older generations. Yet, underneath the surface, we are all holding in some form of pain, whether it be childhood trauma, the emotional burden of constant wars, conflicts and living costs and more. 

Now, I don’t know about you, but taking a step back and looking at the depth of the culture and slangs we have created, and the incorporation of societal issues like feminism has certainly made me proud to be a Gen Z. Live, laugh, love everyone, you never know the next time you won’t get to.

Emmy Kwan

Nanyang Tech '25

The embodiment of a "material gworl" but with no money, if she isn't complaining about capitalism, the economy or the patriarchy, you can find Emmy in the aisles of a clothing store, ironically selling her soul to the corporations she often critiques.