A 43-Year-Old High School Teacher Has Been Keeping A Personal List Of "Gen Z" Slang Terms He Overhears His Students Using
"When I think of 'snack,' I think Cheez-Its," James Callahan told BuzzFeed News. "It wasn't until a month ago that I learned that an attractive person is a 'snack.'"
James Callahan, a 43-year-old sociology teacher at a high school in Massachusetts, has been keeping a running list of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) slang terms he believes is representative of the Gen Z generation that he overhears students using at school.
His list is so impressive and comprehensive that when he finally shared it with a class, one of the students snuck a photo and posted it online. It's gone super viral (over 165,000 retweets since Tuesday).
"I love learning the words that their generation comes up with — both the unique ones as well as the ones where they take an existing word and give it a completely different meaning," Callahan told BuzzFeed News.
"For example, when I think of 'snack,' I think Cheez-Its," he went on. "It wasn't until a month ago that I learned that an attractive person is a 'snack.' I'm laughing again just thinking about my students explaining it to me."
Callahan has made a conscious habit to ask his young students to define slang he overhears over the course of 15 years he's been teaching, but it wasn't until recently that a student suggested that he actually start writing them down.
Some of the alphabetized terms on his ever-growing Google doc include "tea," "Take the L," "Secure(d) the bag," "slaps," "[a] real one," and "periodt."
While Callahan has characterized them as general "Gen Z slang," many of these terms that have been attributed to the Gen Z generation at large are derived from black culture, and specifically black internet culture.
The 17-year-old student who made the list viral, and who wished to be identified as "Mew," told BuzzFeed News they learned about the list one day in class when "someone said something stupid and [Mr. Callahan] asked 'What does that mean? It’s not in my dictionary.'"
Students, of course, then prodded him about this personalized "dictionary."
Mew said she and the class were instantly amused and impressed when he pulled the document up. "It’s so long," she said, laughing. "Most of it is right because he asks us to confirm or deny its accuracy before it is officially added."
Callahan confirmed this, and said he's not shy about asking a student in his class or in the hallways to explain to him what a word or term means when he overhears something he doesn't understand. It's also part of his job as an educator.
Slang is ever evolving, and fast.
"The interesting thing is that there are many more Gen Z terms that exist but are not on the list because they aren't used anymore by teens. Almost as if they know the term and the meaning, but its usage is no longer popular, so it is not worthy of inclusion on the list," he said.
His thesis and observations of Gen Zers are that they're "creative and funny."
"It is interesting to see how Gen Z kids use social media and memes to not only communicate with each other, but also to share and spread cultural information," he said. "Case in point: this list! I never, ever, ever thought this would see the light of day outside of my laptop, but here we are."
He said Mew taking a photo of his list to share with others on the internet is no different than "taking a picture with a film camera, getting it developed, making copies of it, and handing them out to friends in person while telling a funny story or anecdote about the picture."
"It's just much more immediate and widespread," he said.
Since becoming the subject of ~viral fame~, he's made his document accessible to the public.
Mew said Callahan has even implemented some of these terms in his actual curriculum.
"It’s really funny because he uses the slang in his lesson plans and life is never the same after you see a PowerPoint where John Locke says 'what’s moves,'" she added.
She provided BuzzFeed News with the following slides Callahan presented recently to the class showing off all that he's learned thus far.
This post has been updated to acknowledge that many of the terms Callahan characterized as "Gen Z slang" are derived from black culture, and specifically black internet culture.