These Are The Decade-Defining Words Of The 2010s
In the 2010s, the internet completely changed the way we talk.
When you start to think about the things that didn’t exist until the 2010s, you'll have that disorienting realization that many of the social apps, streaming services, dating platforms, ride-hail startups, and virtual assistants integral to our everyday lives are barely a few years old.
And as technology has evolved in the last decade, so has our vocabulary. The proliferation of new products and services has directly informed how we talk: The ’90s was the decade when photoshop became a verb; the ’00s were when we coined the term to google; and the 2010s were when we did the same thing to Venmo, Netflix (and chill), Uber, Postmates, and Shazam — activities that are so specific and new that we had to verb the proper name. Would the 2009 you understand anything you say in 2019?
The number of smartphone users in the US took a rapid jump in the last 10 years, and internet access has become nearly constant for most Americans. Online conversation has made it much easier for new voices to be heard, and for new slang to be adopted by the public.
In the past decade, the influence on our general lexicon from people of marginalized groups and communities of color — specifically black, queer, and drag cultures — has been particularly monumental. The 2010s might be remembered as an era when these voices were elevated to and recognized (or sometimes appropriated) by the mainstream.
It’s all a lot to keep track of! So in true BuzzFeed fashion, we decided to make a list of 33 words that defined this decade.
Your baby. Your sweetheart. Your honey. Some guy you saw sprinkle salt in a video. Usage of bae exploded in 2013 and 2014 — and the term was quickly adopted by advertisers, much to the chagrin of everyone and their baes.
Used in a meme: “Lol bae caught me slippin. Love him. Goodnight from us. ❤️”
To consume several episodes of a TV program in one sitting or over a short period of time. This iteration of binge is maybe the first time the verb has ever been used in a positive manner.
Used in a sentence: “In the same way that peak TV and streaming has led to a culture of bingeing shows, we're now in peak podcast — there are a lot of good shows, and not enough time to listen to them.” —Doree Shafrir
From the BuzzFeed Style Guide: bingeing, but hyphenate binge-watch.
A bop typically refers to a catchy, earwormy song. A hit, a banger.
Used in a sentence: “Closing Time” is a certified bop, but y’all aren’t ready to have that conversation.
The (often facetious, but sometimes deadly serious) public condemnation of someone whose behavior or belief system is so distasteful that the person is no longer relevant or desired. In the US, you're canceled — but if you do something repugnant in the UK or Canada, you're cancelled.
Used in a sentence: "Gritty is going to get himself canceled." —Remy Smidt
catfish (noun, verb)
Someone who adopts a fake persona online and targets, seduces, and deceives (or catfishes) a specific victim. While the term has been used in metaphorical ways for decades, it acquired a new meaning with the 2010 documentary about the subject and subsequent 2012 reality TV show of the same name, as well as the hoax that befell linebacker Manti Te’o.
Used in a sentence: “Avid viewers of MTV’s Catfish know that the motivation behind catfishing is either deep insecurity or vengeful manipulation — and usually some combination of the two.” —Louis Peitzman
dab (noun, verb)
To quickly extend one arm and hide your face in the crook of your other arm. A dance move or show of confidence that apparently started in the Atlanta rap scene. An in-depth study* we did showed that the dab actually died on Jan. 12, 2017, the day Paul Ryan dabbed.
*We watched a clip.
Used in a sentence: “On Thursday night, at a CNN town hall, Paul Ryan defended his record on knowing what a dab is. By dabbing.” —Julia Reinstein
deadass (adjective, adverb)
Used in a tweet:
dox (transitive verb)
To publish someone’s personal information — their name, photos, address, phone number, Social Security number, etc. — and share it with others to embarrass or imperil them. The act of doxing (its etymology is an alteration of docs or documentation) has been around since the ’90s — it used to mean just compiling documents on someone; in the 2010s, it meant sharing their personal information publicly.
Used in a sentence: “Shahak Shapira told BuzzFeed News that the stunt got him doxed by far-right supporters, but he believes he did the right thing.” —Rachael Krishna and Tobias Schmutzler
From the BuzzFeed Style Guide: dox, doxed, doxing (not doxx)
A monosyllabic abbreviation of family, but it can just as easily apply to a friend group.
Used in a sentence: “But it’s hard when you only got fans around and no fam around.” —Lil Wayne
When something is hot, extremely good, or attractive. Also expressed with the 🔥 emoji.
Used in a sentence: “And I'm not exaggerating when I say Danai Gurira’s dress is fire. I mean, look at it! It literally IS FIRE.” —Shyla Watson
A guy you find on dating apps (or in real life) who is tepid about the idea of a serious long-term relationship. His Tinder bio probably says something about “just tryna chill.”
Used in a sentence: “Archie Andrews was officially crowned ~fuckboy of the year~ when he kissed Betty.” —Hanifah Rahman
ghost (transitive verb)
To cut off all communication and disappear from someone’s life with no notice.
Used in a sentence: “And while we all know that ghosting has become a kind of modus operandi for those who mediate much of their human interaction through technology, we have yet to truly grapple with the void that ghosting leaves unfilled.” —Lam Thuy Vo
hot take (noun)
A topical observation about a recent event or cultural phenomenon, often dissenting from the established normcore opinion.
Used in a tweet:
humblebrag (noun, verb)
To make a statement that’s seemingly self-deprecating but the subtext of which alludes to one’s success or triumph. Popularized by the late Parks and Recreation writer Harris Wittels in 2010.
As illustrated in a tweet:
A personality with several hundred thousand followers on a social media platform, typically Instagram, who leverages their photogenic lifestyle for clout, content, and money.
Used in a sentence: “Influencers say they’re not pressed about Instagram testing hiding likes in the United States starting this week, despite what some headlines would lead you to believe.” —Tanya Chen
When you (a man) explain something everyone in the room already knows about, particularly when those in the room are women — as described in Rebecca Solnit’s classic essay “Men Explain Things to Me.”
Used in a sentence: “Someone tried to ~mansplain~ the name of Chrissy Teigen’s own dog to her, which, like, is a gutsy move to say the least.” —Krystie Lee Yandoli
To capture something iconic and hope it goes viral online. Unless you have a degree in semiotics, you likely didn’t use the word meme before this century; its modern usage has evolved into a verb (in addition to a noun) and become more commonly associated with viral tweet templates and images uploaded to r/AdviceAnimals.
Used in a sentence: “Keanu Reeves, America’s most memeable actor, is back in John Wick: Chapter 3, a movie that’s in on the joke of our obsession with Keanu.” —Alison Willmore
From the BuzzFeed Style Guide: memeing, memeable, memeufacturing. Avoid phrasing like giant meme or viral meme, which are redundant and often hyperbolic; OK as a verb, e.g., Hurry, meme this cat picture!
milkshake duck (noun)
A once-beloved person or character whose seedy history or belief system is unearthed and blights their short-lived virality and charm. Coined in 2016 by Twitter personality @pixelatedboat, this term exploded in popularity and even appeared as a Jeopardy! clue in 2018.
Used in a sentence: “The potential for Jeff Goldblum to go milkshake duck on all of us is still there, as it is for every man.” —Bim Adewunmi
From the BuzzFeed Style Guide: milkshake duck is two words, but as a verb — to milkshake-duck — it’s hyphenated.
A trivial dead end of a purported controversy or overhyped event, too insignificant to bother looking into. Politicians and pundits often use the term to quash a debate.
Used in a sentence: “I’ve read the reports, and let me just tell you — it’s a nothingburger.” —Rep. Mark Meadows
on fleek (adjective)
Another way of saying on point — super good, stylish, and enviable. Popularized by Peaches Monroee on Vine. Use of the phrase quickly became an ironic meme in itself; it’s a great case study in the rapid rise and fall of slang in the internet age.
Used in a sentence: “We have Vine to thank for ‘eyebrows on fleek’ and the eternal question ‘What are thoooose?’” —Stephanie Lee
ratio (noun, verb)
When the replies far outnumber the faves and retweets for a bad tweet.
Used in a sentence: "Twitter knows we treat each other terribly on Twitter. We dunk, ridiculing friends and strangers via quote-tweets. We ratio, piling on replies to bad tweets." —Alex Kantrowitz
From the BuzzFeed Style Guide: ratioed (for the past tense of ratio)
An emphatic endorsement, usually of a song, album, mixtape, or piece of pop culture that's of top-shelf quality. It prompts an emotional reaction when it hits you, much like a physical slap.
Used in a sentence: "I don't know what made me think the new Lion King was gonna slap." —Scaachi Koul
To overpower, to win. This term, which dates back to, uh, before the 12th century, had a second wind this decade. In the 2010s, it came back as a word meant to dominate, to succeed, to twirl on them haters. A minute into Beyoncé’s “Formation” music video, released in 2016, Big Freedia shouts “I came to slay, bitch!” and Bey repeatedly punctuates lines with “‘cause I slay.” (“To slay the violence of white supremacist heteropatriarchy, we must start, Beyoncé argues, with the proper formation,” wrote Zandria Robinson.) The term is no longer just for knights killing dragons — it's now often used ironically, and it's huge in drag culture.
Used in a sentence: "The former ad man, with long, grungy hair, a coarse beard, and a thick band on his ring finger, forged from a Mexican peso, would absolutely slay in a Dave Grohl lookalike competition for CEOs." —Venessa Wong
stan (noun, verb)
An overzealous fan, as coined in an Eminem track from 2000.
Used in a sentence: "Pop fandom has historically been embodied by the screaming white girl. But the rise of queer men stanning for pop divas signals the growing power of fan perspectives outside the straight white norm." —Pier Dominguez
swipe (as in left or right) (noun, verb)
A snap judgment on whether someone/something is good (right-swipe) or bad (left-swipe), as per the format of dating apps like Tinder, Bumble, and OkCupid.
Used in a sentence: “He got 100 swipes within 20 minutes of creating Tracy’s account. And almost everyone who swiped right on his photo messaged him.” —Tanya Chen
The gossip. The truth. The best information. Like a lot of slang, tea (sometimes just T) originated in black drag culture but has seen increasingly mainstream usage over the past few years. You can sip it, spill it, and call it weak. That’s tea.
Used in a sentence: “The screenwriter behind the 1994 film Forrest Gump has spilled the tea on what would’ve gone down in the film’s proposed sequel and why it was ultimately scrapped.” —Michael Blackmon
That feeling when. FWIW, TFW dates back to Polish memes in 2009, according to Know Your Meme, and the first known usage of “that feel” was in May 2010, when an illustration of two bald men hugging was posted on the German image forum Krautchan with the phrase “I know that feel bro” above it. After this, the meme reached 4chan in January 2011. Then the r/datfeel subreddit formed in 2012.
Used in a sentence: “TFW your body starts to unravel.” —Phil Jahner
the singular they (pronoun)
A gender-neutral pronoun used for a single person. In no small part due to the growing visibility of gender-nonconforming folks, it feels like over the past few years the term has become accepted by linguistic gatekeepers — finally. The nonbinary definition of they was added to Merriam-Webster in October.
Used in a tweet:
From the BuzzFeed Style Guide: They is acceptable (and preferred!) as a singular stand-in when gender is unknown or irrelevant, e.g., "If someone is knocking at your door and you don’t know who they are..." It should also be used when it is the pronoun with which someone identifies. If it is unclear what pronoun a person uses and it’s not possible to ask them, use they/themself.
thirst (noun), thirsty (adjective)
Desperate, overeager, horny. It can be used in terms like thirst trap, a genre of Instagram posts that are fishing for likes. You may have seen BuzzFeed’s video series in which celebrities read thirst tweets.
Used in a sentence: “It’s true that there’s an element of queer liberation in the ability to publicly thirst over whoever we so choose, gay or otherwise, with relatively little repercussion.” —Grace Perry
To have an acute awareness of social justice issues and how certain people are perceived and treated in society. In the years after the term was popularized with Erykah Badu's song "Master Teacher," and later the Black Lives Matter movement, its meaning was appropriated, diluted, and became loaded with ironic baggage, as Maya Binyam wrote in her 2016 essay "Watching the Woke Olympics.”
Used in a sentence: “If there was such a thing as a woke TV show in the late 1960s, Star Trek was it.” —Adam Vary
yaaass (queen/kween) (interjection)
An emphatic affirmation, which started in ’80s drag ball culture and resurged in the ’10s with shows like Broad City and the podcast 2 Dope Queens, the hosts of which shortened the common variation “yaaass, queen, yaaass” to simply YQY. An episode of the Reply All podcast dug into the phrase’s origins.
Used in a GIF:
A word that lacks an agreed-upon definition, though akin to hitting the eject button. Since no one can apply a definition to it, we’re left with cringey signs like this, evidently written by Steve Buscemi’s character in 30 Rock.
Used in a sentence: “Just yeet me into oblivion, please.” —Salvador Hernandez