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Teenage text-speak translated: slang words you need to know

Do you understand the phrases your kids use? Lisa Salmon asks an expert to decode some of the more perplexing terms

Changing world: language is ever-evolving
Changing world: language is ever-evolving
Expert Jennifer Dorman

By Lisa Salmon

If you have teenage children, chances are they litter their speech with words and phrases you just don't understand. And then there are the acronyms they use to seemingly speak in code, leaving parents assessing different word combinations to see if they can work out what's being said.

But while it may be perplexing for mums and dads, young people attaching their own meaning to words is nothing new. Take the word 'cool', for example. Most people nowadays accept that if something is 'cool' it's laid-back or stylish, although before 'cool' became the keyword of the 1950s Beat generation, it usually meant something was on the chilly side.

"Slang is just informal language," says Jennifer Dorman, from the language app Babbel (www.babbel.com). "Adolescents are the primary drivers of language change - they're more daring and creative with regards to language, and they innovate much more than speakers in other age brackets."

Dorman explains that such language creativity is part of a teenager's cognitive development, which sees them asserting their independence from their family and forging strong social connections with peers. So, when a teenager uses a slang term in the correct context, it shows their affiliation with a specific group.

"Peppering their everyday speech with slang terms known primarily or exclusively within the peer group helps to solidify the social bonds," says Dorman.

But if you're not part of the gang and are 'just' a parent, you may need help translating teen-speak, so here Dorman shares some of the most popular slang words and their meanings...

POS: Parents over shoulder

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Today's teen will use the POS abbreviation to signal that a parent is near and can see what's being typed on a device. Other abbreviations include PWOS (parents watching over shoulder) and PWOMS (parents watching over my shoulder).

Skrrt: Rapidly leaving/expression of excitement

The easiest way to understand is to think of the sound a car makes as it's driving away at speed with its wheels screeching. It's pronounced similarly to 'skirt', but usually in a high-pitched tone, and was popularised in rap songs - to convey the rapper trying to get away from something.

Finsta: Fake/fun Instagram

This term is another attempt by teens to deceive parents, and was originally used to refer to a fake Instagram account that would be used for posts they didn't want parents to see. The meaning has since grown to include any secondary or fake thing, like a second Twitter account, or a secret phone.

Cancelled: No longer relevant

Spotted by the New York Times a year ago, this one has since made its way across the pond. It's frequently used when speaking about celebrities who're considered no longer relevant, or have said or done something unacceptable, but it can also refer to other things - from a fashion trend through to an emotion. It's thought the term is a direct result of 'subscription culture', where anything can be cancelled at the click of a button.

OBNR: Open, but not responded

This typically refers to a message that's been seen but not responded to. You might be surprised by how many text abbreviations there are, but the reality is teens are addicted to their phones - a Babbel survey found that in the UK, 44% of teens use them on the toilet.

Tea: Juicy gossip

This is one of many slang terms that originally came from black LGBTQ ball culture, eventually co-opted by Gen Z. When someone asks you to spill the tea, they're asking for juicy gossip.

Mood: Something that's relatable, or a form of agreement

Surprisingly, this doesn't refer to teenagers being moody. Instead, it's used to confirm something is relatable. For example, commenting 'big mood' on a meme of a sad Keanu would mean that you agree with the image and feel the same.

Flex: Showing off

If you're flexing, you're showing off. And your 'flex' is your power move, whether you've earned the right to make one or not. Hence the phrase 'weird flex, but okay'.

Shook: Shaken, surprised

If someone is 'shook', they're shaken (or shooketh) to their core - and they're probably exaggerating for dramatic effect.

Stan: To approve or endorse

To 'stan' something or someone is to endorse or approve of them. This is actually a reference to the Eminem song Stan, about an overly committed fan.

Bare: Very

'Bare' is used to add emphasis. If something is described as 'bare good', you'd assume it's very good or excellent. It can also be used to imply there's a lot of something. You might say 'bare people'.

Beef: To be engaged in an argument/have a disagreement

To 'have beef' is to have an argument with someone, or to be holding a grudge against them. If someone's fallen out with a friend, they might say they 'have beef' with them.

Allow: Stop it, don't do that/I don't want to

Contrary to the standard definition of 'allow', the slang version is used to express a negative opinion or an unwillingness to do something. The phrase 'allow that' is often used to say no to something, or express annoyance. For example, if you ask a teenager to come to the supermarket, you'll probably get 'allow that' as a response, indicating they don't want to.

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