Listen, I'm getting old. I get it. Because every single time I figure out the slang "kids" are using these days, the vernacular shifts all over again. Making it even more confusing is the fact there are so many old words and phrases that are making a comeback. What's new is new and what's old is new again — no wonder I have no clue what I'm saying half the time. The silver lining to the retro slang up-tic, though, is that a '90s kid like myself is pretty comfortable using some of the slang that is back in vogue. And thank God for that, because I feel far less like an imposter saying something is rad rather than "on fleek."
Interestingly, recent language studies show that word and phrases from as far back as the early 1900s are been slowly rising in popularity once again. While it seems like this trend would be driven by a slightly older demographic (think late twenties to mid-thirties), there's evidence to suggest the spike in vintage language is back in style in large part dude to today's young hipsters or so-called "nostalgia miners." You know — all those fresh faces currently obsessed with throwback culture who just so happen to drive consumer trends.
Either way, I gotta be honest with you: I don't care whose responsible for old words and phrases making a comeback; I'm just glad they are. Here are a few I've already added back to rotation (OK, let's be real, I never really stopped using some of them).
Definition: A person who is unusually aware of and receptive to new and unconventional trends and patterns of thought.
This is a major buzzword these days, so it's worthwhile to note its etymology dates back as far as the '40s — today it is often used to describe people who wear wayfarer frames, grow facial hair like an art form, and dine at cool underground eateries or, like, cat cafes. But back in the day, it was used by authors like Eugene Burdick to describe the Beat generation as "hipsters suddenly rising and roaming America, serious, curious, bumming and hitch-hiking everywhere, ragged, beatific, beautiful in an ugly, graceful way."
Definition: "Very appealing," "cool."
Technically, this stretches waaaaay back, considering the term radical was used in the 1600s to describe someone or something reformist or unconventional. However, it was shortened to "rad" and adopted into slang meaning something cool in the '80s and '90s before being added back into circulation today. Just another thing to thank the current '90s renaissance for!
Definition: "Cranky," "feisty," "sassy," etc.
Here's a fun one with a surprisingly backstory. We all clearly know what salty means in terms of meal preparation, but did you know that the slang form meaning "cranky" or "irritated" dates back to 1938? It's been linked to descriptions of sailors as tough or hotheaded. These days, it's what you call yourself (or someone else) when you're over it.
4. "Good to go"
Definition: "All set," "mission accomplished."
This idiomatic expression may have started back in the '60s when a brand of baked goods was advertised as "snacks and cakes, they're good to go!" It seems to be on the upswing again, and is a common response. For example, "Hey, Jules, have you finally figured out Snapchat filters?" "Yep, good to go."
Definition: "Badass," "ballsy," "fierce."
Somehow, I imagine that when this word was used in the mid-thirteenth century, it wasn't used in the same context as it is today. Sure, it meant "fierce or ferocious" back then, but now people have taken to using it again to mean fierce. You picking up what I'm putting down? It's definitely a compliment if someone says you're savage or you did something savage.
Definition: "Excellent;" "disgusting."
Uh, how can one word mean two such entirely different things, you might say? Well, blame it on the '80s. Prior to that point, the world gnarly meant "knotted and rugged." Then, it was picked up by teens in the early '80s, who started using it to mean both "excellent" (i.e. "Gnarly car, man!") and "disgusting" or "terrifying" (i.e. "That was a gnarly wave you got caught in, dude.") Now, it's being used with increasing frequency for much the same.
7. "May the force be with you"
Definition: "I wish you well," "good luck," "good fortune."
With the recent reboot of the Star Wars franchise courtesy of J.J. Abrams Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it's no surprise there's renewed fascination with all things Star Wars related ... including the slang. Teens today may not realize it, but this phrase dates all the way back to the '70s, when the OG versions of this iconic franchise first released. Now we've got entire holidays built around it.
Definition: "Bro," "buddy."
It's pretty much a sure bet this slang term started in Hawaii as part of the local slang vernacular known as "Pidgin," and very likely in the '60s when it emerged as a shortened form of "braddah," meaning friend. It's often used differently than "bruh," a similar slang term that has been popular the last few years but often used as an expression of frustration ("Bruh, do you even lift?"). "Brah" is a friendly greeting or term of endearment.
Definition: "Rich," "luxurious," "custom-made."
Damn, I love a distinguished sounding slang word. Bespoke, which dates all the way back to the year 1600, technically means "custom or custom-made." But it's on the rise in modern vernacular, especially in the hipster crowd, as a way to describe someone who looks like a million bucks.
Definition: "Potent," "really good," "awesome."
When I was growing up, there was only one use for this term and it had to do with describing the quality of weed. Turns out it's still used for that same purpose, but it's also being used more and more to as a word for anything of superior quality — a burrito, a party, a person.
11. "Hella" or "Hella Cool"
Definition: "Really," "very," "a lot of."
If the good people of Urban Dictionary are to be believed, the slang term "Hella" originated in the streets of San Fran's Hunters Point neighborhood, where it was used as an adjective meaning "really" or "very." According to the Online Etymology Dictionary — I was surprised to learn this little tidbit — it traces back to college kids in the '30s, who used it as a shortened form of "hellacious."
Definition: "Squad," "friend," "bestie."
Obviously the word family has been around for ages, so it's not a huge stretch that it's been awhile since it was shortened to "fam" when being used as slang. What's interesting, though, is the way it is now being used in reference to one person. While kids these days still use it loosely to refer to their "squad," they also often use it as when addressing just one friend. Think "Hey, fam! What's up?"