Sorry to burst your babble, but Gen Alpha has new slang - Hindustan Times
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Sorry to burst your babble, but Gen Alpha has new slang

BySukanya Datta
Jan 13, 2024 02:40 PM IST

Why ‘mother’ for iconic? What does it mean to ‘eat’, ‘snatch’ or ‘serve’? Fresh twists come via gaming, K-pop, TikTok and, surprisingly, ballroom culture.

A new generation is drawing its slang from sources old and new: Korean pop culture, rap, TikTok influencers, the gaming world, and, in a bit of a surprise, ballroom culture, which has its roots in 1960s and ’70s New York.

A scene from the Netflix series Pose, which explores ballroom culture of the ’80s and ’90s. Led by queer black and Latinx people, this subculture was meant to counter the inherent racism in the American drag community of the time, which was predominantly white. (Getty Images) PREMIUM
A scene from the Netflix series Pose, which explores ballroom culture of the ’80s and ’90s. Led by queer black and Latinx people, this subculture was meant to counter the inherent racism in the American drag community of the time, which was predominantly white. (Getty Images)

Read on to see how delulu, so popular with the under-27s — that’s Gen Z (born 1997 to 2011) and Gen Alpha (born 2012 to 2025) — has its roots in Korean fandom. And how TikTokers are taking new terms to the world.

But why does ballroom culture dominate, contributing a rash of terms that include mother, served, snatched, and ate and left no crumbs?

Led by queer black and Latinx people, this subculture was meant to counter the inherent racism in the American drag community of the time, which was predominantly white.

It has been more visible in the mainstream in recent years, with series such as RuPaul’s Drag Race (2009-) starting the trend, and Pose (2018-2021), which explores ballroom culture of the ’80s and ’90s, furthering it, says music writer Bhanuj Kappal.

“Mainstream culture is finally catching up and giving credit to queer artistes too,” Kappal adds. Beyonce’s Renaissance album (2022) and 2023 tour included nods to legendary queer Black artistes such as Moi Renee and Pepper LaBeija. In February, Apple teased Rihanna’s performance at the Super Bowl with a short video featuring drag performers from New York’s ballroom scene, including celebrity stylist Yusef Williams of the House of Miyake-Mugler. “When icons refer to or feature drag artistes, they are making them a part of the conversation. And the youth is tapping into that,” Kappal says.

Pepper LaBeija at a drag ball in Harlem, in 1988. (Getty Images)
Pepper LaBeija at a drag ball in Harlem, in 1988. (Getty Images)

So why “mother”? What do the other terms mean? Which one’s your favourite? (We at Wknd have grown particularly fond of “snatched”.) Take a look.

Mother (n.; iconic): The ballroom community was organised into “houses” or “families”, which competed to win grand prizes. Each house was led by a mentor called a mother.

Today, the tag is used to describe someone who wields a powerful and fundamentally feminine energy to influence the lives of others for the better. It has been used to describe Madonna, Beyonce and Nicki Minaj.

Drag queen Crystal LaBeija, who co-founded the House of LaBeija — one of the first ballroom houses set up in 1970s New York — is generally considered the first mother.

In its current form, the term has acquired a rather watered-down usage too. It can be someone who simply has a lot of cultural capital, and queer or non-conforming appeal. Mother breaks norms; mother makes you feel seen; mother slays.

“Mother is Mothering” is now used in place of “slay”, popularised by Taylor Swift fans.

Served (v.; put together an outrageous but aesthetic look): This term was used to describe drag performers who had succeeded in communicating their personality through their attire, in ways that were particularly iconic.

Today, Beyonce’s Renaissance Tour outfits are said to have served.

Beyonce in an Agent Provocateur catsuit, described as a look that served. (Instagram)
Beyonce in an Agent Provocateur catsuit, described as a look that served. (Instagram)

Ate and left no crumbs (v.; so perfect as to need no notes): If something eats, it is really good. But to eat and leave no crumbs is to knock it out of the park, seemingly without effort.

Snatched / snatched my wig (v.; so perfect as to be astounding): A previous generation used fleek. An older generation, fierce. In the New York drag ballrooms of the 1970s, snatched was a reference to the hair weaves worn by drag performers of colour. If a performance or an outfit was truly outstanding, they might snatch your wig or weave, or simply be snatched.

“The co-opting of these words does run the risk of appropriating a language born out of a specific context and history,” Kappal points out. For better and worse, that’s a sampling of the terms drawn from ballroom culture. Now on to the rest.

Cheugy (adj;. trying too hard): The term is attributed to LA-based software developer Gaby Rasson; it was popularised by TikToker Hallie Cain, who first used it in a post in 2021. Still gushing over your hustle-and-hype girlboss life? That’s cheugy (pronounced chew-gee), Cain declared.

Instagram and TikTok now hold thousands of videos on cheugy and un-cheugy vacation looks; accessories; inspirational messages. (“Live.Love.Laugh” has understandably been cancelled).

Gucci / gooch (adj.; anything that feels good): Attributable to rap culture, it entered the mainstream via the lyrics of Atlanta-based rapper Gucci Mane aka Radric Delantic Davis. “It’s Gucci” is a common refrain in his tracks, including the recent Now It’s Real (2023):

I know we all gon’ make mistakes, this shit make or break (a brick)

I spent a million dollars on it but still lost the case (what the f**k?)

I got a loyal fanbase, they won’t go away (my fans)

These folks still listen to me, each and every single day (it’s Gucci)

Delulu (adj.; delusional): Delulu was born in the K-pop fan communities of South Korea, to describe a sasaeng or obsessive fan who was so delusional that they truly believed they might end up with their idol.

It was popularised via TikTok, as shorthand for a kind of unrelenting confidence.

By 2023, it was one half of a fresh term: delulu is the solulu. This is the idea that sometimes, in a crazy world, it is the most radical dreamers that find a way out. Think you can find a way to make seaweed actually replace all plastic? There’s a third term ready for that too: May your delulu become trululu.

GirlyPop (adj.; cute; feminine): Attributed to YouTuber Haley Pham, it is used to describe someone who is basically one of the Plastics from Mean Girls, minus the meanness. The term dates to a post from the early Aughts, but has been popularised on TikTok amid the Gen Z and Gen Alpha drive to embrace ultra-feminine aesthetics such as cottagecore and mermaidcore.

A GirlyPop girl, then, is one whose vibe, look and life are quite literally peachy.

Gyatt (adj.; somehow short for “Goddamn!”): Credited to Twitch streamer YourRage, this is an exclamation used to celebrate a curvy shape, or big body, in a person of any gender. YourRage, in his videos, can be seen screaming “Gyatt!” at images of curvy women. He doesn’t seem to appreciate how the term has been appropriated by women like the ones he ogled. “Gyatt is being destroyed, abused” all over the internet, he shouted, in a recent post.

Broke my scale or BMS (v.; immeasurably attractive): Derived from the idea of the 1-to-10 scale for attractiveness, the phrase is used widely on TikTok and Instagram. Variants include “she / he / they broke it”. Compliments are invited with the command: “Rate my BMS”.

Mid (adj.; so mediocre as to be worse than the worst): Derived from “middling”. Office coffee, a new shoe drop, and the last season of The Crown have all been described as mid. The word has been in use since at least the early Aughts, originally to describe poor grades of marijuana, and music. Drake’s album Certified Lover Boy was derided as mid in 2021. The fundamental idea being that bad can be so bad it’s good, but mid is just disappointing.

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