I’ve said it before and I’ll almost certainly say it again, but the evolution of language fascinates me — all the more so when that evolution happens in the proverbial blink of an eye. I mean, the ‘90s weren’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things; but even so, the years since then have seen the arrival of countless now-common phrases that would have meant nothing in the ‘90s. We might have been able to make a few guesses about what they meant… but we would have been wrong. So very, very wrong.
As much as humanity frequently worries me (just, y’know, in general), our capacity for innovation can also still surprise and delight me. And not just in the realm of, say, technological advancement or what have you — we can get pretty creative when it comes to our vocabularies, too. If we don’t have a word to express what we mean, a lot of the time, we’ll invent one — and even more impressive is the fact that those invented words often catch on and become the linguistic norm. Sure, they may not end up in the actual dictionary (although sometimes they do); but even without an official entry in a reference book like Merriam-Webster or the OED, their cultural reach can still extend across an astonishing distance.
These 12 words and phrases? They would have meant absolutely nothing to us in the ‘90s — but they mean so much now. How remarkable is that?
1. “Want to Netflix and chill?”
Forget the euphemistic meaning of the phrase; even taken at face value, "Netflix and chill" would have made us go “…?” during the ‘90s. Netflix subscriptions didn’t launch until the very end of 1999, and the ability to stream movies online instantly wouldn’t come along until 2007.
2. “My iPod is on shuffle.”
“…The heck is an ‘iPod?’” is probably how I would have responded (although possibly with stronger language); it’s kind of the modern equivalent of the Dowager Countess’ glorious “…What is a ‘week-end?’” moment on Downton Abbey. Apple released the first generation of the now-ubiquitous device in 2001.
3. “Kylo Ren is bae.”
To be fair, this one still doesn’t make a ton of sense — “Kylo Ren is before anyone else” is an extremely poorly constructed sentence, grammatically speaking — but at least we know today that “before anyone else” means, roughly, “this thing that I adore above all other things.” Back in the ‘90s, our reaction to the expression likely would have been the blank look that accompanies all nonsensical utterances.
We also would have had no idea who Kylo Ren was, but that’s OK.
4. “Ugh, I have such FOMO right now.”
We probably would have understood the feeling of FOMO — the concept of being afraid that everyone is hanging out without you has obviously existed for ages and ages and ages — but the actual phrase “fear of missing out” and its accompanying acronym didn’t start making the rounds until the early to mid 2000s.
5. “I’ll just call an Uber.”
As far as most of us would have known in the '90s, “uber” was merely the German word for “over” or “across,” often colloquially used to mean “super” or “mega” when pegged to an English word. The idea of “uber” as a noun, let alone a noun capable of driving you home at pretty much any hour of the day or night, would have gone right uber our heads.
Sorry not sorry.
6. Three words: “Kim Kardashian West.”
Kim didn’t really arrive on anyone’s radar until 2007. Kanye’s big break came around a little earlier, but it was still the early 2000s before his name began being recognizable. Not only did we have no idea who either of those people were in the ‘90s, but perhaps even more notably, we would have had no idea the power those names strung together would yield.
7. “Hang on, let me check Google Maps.”
At least we could have explained this one to our bewildered friends as, “It’s like MapQuest, but better.” Google Maps first hit the scene in 2005, whereas MapQuest — whose company was originally founded in 1969, by the way — had arrived on the Internet almost 10 years prior in 1996.
8. “OMG, you have so many Instagram followers.”
“Instagram?” “Followers?” I mean, you make the fact that I have so many sound like a good thing, but… it’s a little creepy, no? Context is everything. Although Instagram is one of the Big Three in terms of current social networking sites (the other two being Facebook and Twitter), it’s also one of the most recent: It didn’t launch until 2010.
Gibberish. Pure gibberish.
10. “Best. Tweet. Ever.”
I didn’t know you found birdcalls that interesting. For the curious, Twitter launched in 2006.
11. "There's an app for that."
At the time, I probably would have assumed "app" was restaurant lingo for "appetizer."
12. “Donald Trump is running for President.”
What? Wait… what?!
Images: Allison Gore/Bustle; Giphy (12)