January 31, 2021 | | , ,

Levelution of language 2021: a fool-proof guide

Levelution of language 2021: a fool-proof guide

Toward the end of summer 2020, I engaged in a text exchange with a relative who will remain unnamed, but let’s just say he/she/them/they were at least 25 years my junior. In response to one of my extremely brilliant, curiosity-inducing questions he/she/them/they replied: “DNC.”

Not understanding what the Democratic National Convention had to do with my question, I quickly scanned our text exchange to see if the creepy—and often inaccurate—auto spell misconstrued a word (“immigration” in place of “imagination”, for example). This was not the case. Thus, I did the next logical thing that any forty-something who is becoming less cool by the second would do: I pulled out my physical copy of “A Very Modern Dictionary” by one of my favorite, cheeky writers, Tobias Anthony.

But before I flipped to the abbrevs (this is cool-hand for “abbreviations”) section of the book, I re-read my text message AGAIN and did a brain scan of every possible acronym for “DNC” I could conjure up — “Do not chat? Damn near cryptic? Dilation ’n curettage?!”

Nothing made sense. Alas, I consulted the book and apparently whatever I’d said to this much younger person “Did Not Compute.” Sigh. 

“I really need to up my game,” I thought.

This sent me into a full review of Anthony’s book, and the results are definitely worth sharing. Due to my affection for brevity and organization, I’ve pared down 400 terms to under 60 most essential words and categorized them; then I created an entire section for abbrevs specifically to help level-up your outdated acronym game.


Part 1: Popular portmanteaus. Portmanteau is a blending or combining of two words to make a whole new word. These happen all the time in modern language. Think of the word “podcast” (iPod + broadcast) or “motel” (motor + hotel). We also do it a lot with celebrity power couple names because it’s fun to imagine them as fused objects instead of actual people: Kimye, Brangelina, etc. Here are just a few you may know, but if you don’t…you’re welcome.

Bafflegab: Baffle + gab = “pretentious verbiage” often found in politics and mostly referring to “bureaucratic speech.” (We won’t bring the 2020 election into this, because we are trying to move forward, but you get the point.)

Chillax: Chill + relax = the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon basically doing nothing at all.

Gormazing: Gorgeous + amazing = every person you probably secretly hate, but want to be. This could also relate to food at a high-end restaurant, or anything that’s basically out of this world.

Levelution: Level + evolution = “the process of increasing in popularity. As someone or something becomes more famous or popular, they progressively level up.” Basically Zendaya from 2018 to present.

Listicle: List + listicle = exactly what you are reading right now. Somewhat popularized by clickbait central BuzzFeed, it’s really taken off as a common way to quickly impart information in a digestible way.

Lumbersexual: Lumberjack + metrosexual = half the men living in large urban areas who secretly wish they knew how to use an axe instead of just throwing one at the equivalent of a dartboard. They often wear flannel and have beards, to boot.

Moblivious: Mobile phone + oblivious = the inability to be aware of anything going on around you because you’re glued to your damn phone.

Newsjacking: News + hijacking = “exploiting a breaking news story in order to advertise or promote a brand or product.” (In defense of my PR and marketing pals, this seems like a negative, but it’s actually very strategic and can have positive results if done well and on tone.)

Sadiculous: Sad + ridiculous = 2020. 


Part 2: Gender & culture-related words and phrases. This category is meant to provide relevant information for those trying to navigate the world of gender politics and also understand the broader culture we’re living in. However, it’s still all very confusing.

Apology tour: Generally played out on social media to save face, it’s used to describe the actions taken by a person in power/celebrity after a public outcry about something they said or did.

Bi-line: “The degree to which someone is bi-sexual.” Or as my niece would say: Everyone’s a little bit gay.

Cancel: In the olden days, this referred to an event or date that someone no longer wanted to or could not attend. Now, it’s generally about rejecting something or someone entirely. You don’t like your colleague’s opinion? Fine. Cancel them. Not too keen on your cousin’s political affiliation? No problem. Canceled! It’s newly minted meaning has led to the broadly used term “cancel culture.” 

Cis: “Those who identify with the gender that aligns with their birth sex.” So basically, if you’re a girl at birth you go on identifying as a girl, and vice versa for a boy. It has developed into a “thing” because it’s opposite meaning is transgender—and so to clarify that one is not transgender, he/she/them/they identify as cis-gender. Both cis and trans have Latin roots, and since no one speaks Latin anymore, this makes the entire thing even more confusing than it needs to be.

Columbusing: Derived from Christopher Columbus’ sailing the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety two and “discovering” America (already inhabited), the person who is said to be “Columbusing” essentially takes credit for something that was already known or pre-existed. We all know these people, and they are usually pretty obnoxious.

Memephobia: The fear that something you do or say will be made into a meme.

Mx: A gender neutral pronoun that can replace Mr, Mrs, Ms; or, if you’re French, Monsieur or Mademoiselle. 

Othering: “To make a person feel alien and/or treat them as such.” This is a fairly common word in HR departments, and is often used when speaking about bias—unconscious or otherwise. 

Social justice warrior (SJW): A few terms come to mind: white, middle-class, university graduate, left-wing, privileged, Twitter abuser. The end.

White-knighting: “Involving yourself in someone else’s situation in a thoughtless and intrusive manner.” A common phenomenon which is inflicted by mothers-in-law across the globe.


Part 3: Common terms that now mean something totally different, and often make no sense or are extremely sarcastic. The title pretty much says it all.

Basic: To be called this word is a total insult, generally used by mean girls (or mean people) to describe someone’s lack of “interesting qualities.” Instead of being fashionable, highly intelligent, or talented, they are deemed “basic.”

Correct: Not only right, but right “beyond a shadow of a doubt” and “perfect.” This usually refers to how someone is dressed or how they look.

Double rainbow: “Intense joy, often coupled with extreme shifts in emotion.” From afar, this person may appear bi-polar, but when we create cute terms to define emotional instability, it feels so much better!

Irregardless: I didn’t know where to categorize this, but I had to include it. It’s not actually a real word, but then idiots started using it and other idiots decided to adopt it. The word itself cancels out its own meaning, and therefore it should be canceled forever—because it has no actual meaning.

Extra: Over the top, hyperbolic, embarrassing to teenagers, someone you wish would go away forever.

Fetch: In previous iterations this was a darling British word meaning to go get something and for dog lovers it’s what their puppy would do to a ball (hopefully). But now it means “cool” as in: “Did you see that dance move? She’s so fetch.” (You can blame Tina Fey for this, as this meaning of fetch originated in her breakout hit, Mean Girls.)

Ironic: Apparently in cool circles this word is used to describe an entire lifestyle in which the person does all this really crazy throwback stuff like “wearing Hawaiian T-shirts” or spends all day “playing his Game Boy.” I’m unclear as to why the word lame wasn’t enough here?

Literally: This word is now broadly used to mean “figuratively.” A close cousin of the non-word irregardless, literally doesn’t literally cancel itself out (one can hope!), but instead means the opposite of what it actually means. Thank you Kim Kardashian.

Question fart: Not quite a portmanteau, and not perfectly categorized here, I had to include it because it was funny by nature. This term is used to describe “passing wind where the sound ends in an upward inflection.” Don’t you feel smarter?

Tea: “Gossip.”

Thirsty: “Desperate for attention” or “experiencing or exhibiting an extreme thirst for fame.” Social media has exacerbated this phenomenon. Not judging, just sayin’. Apparently, according to some recent intel from a colleague, thirsty is also used to describe a certain type of guy who lurks on (mostly) female Instagram accounts and makes over the top complimentary comments: “Those eyes OMG.”

Troll: Someone who hides behind his/her/their computer and tries to wreak havoc by saying “inflammatory” things. As the author aptly states: “Essentially, everything that’s bad about the Internet.”


Part 4: Pan-relevant turns of phrase. The global pandemic has given us an entirely new vocabulary: Zooming, COVID-19, social distancing, and the list goes on. This category is filled with words that existed prior to the pandemic but are now relevant because of it. Hence, pan-relevant.

Nocialise: This word is technically a portmanteau of “no + socializing,” but it was a better fit here. It was originally coined to describe the anti-social behavior of someone who prefers engaging with a device over conversing with humans; but now, well, it seems normal.

Oxygen thief: “A person so worthless that the purpose of their existence seems solely to deprive those around them with vital oxygen.” Ouch. The reason I stuck this in here, is because it basically describes every major media pundit on the planet during the pandemic. Additionally, we all know people who can’t stop sharing their opinions even though everyone’s eyes have glazed over. Global crises seem to bring out the absolute worst in talking heads and opinionators.

Reboot: Usually meant to describe a Hollywood makeover or remake of an old fim, in short reboot means “do-over.” Enough said re: 2020.

Smize: Ever done crazy things with your eyes while wearing a mask, the intention being to let people know you’re pleased with something or happy to see them? This word means “smiling with your eyes” and comes to us compliments of Tyra Banks, former supermodel and host of America’s Next Top Model.

Staycation: Typically means taking a vacation close to home or in your local area; but during the pandemic could have even applied to pitching a tent in the backyard!

Trigger warning: Originally a mental health term in “relation to patients suffering from PTSD,” this turn of phrase has been co-opted to apply to all sorts of things that may set off a series of bad feelings or thoughts. Trigger warnings are “put in place to avoid discomfort.” For example, Trigger warning: this news clip shows graphic images of police brutality. 


Part 5: Up your cool factor. If you’re a middle-aged person attempting to relate to a much younger person, here are some phrases that may help. Don’t actually use them, because you’ll sound ridiculous. This exercise is merely to increase your understanding: by knowing what the phrase means, and responding appropriately, your cool factor will exponentially increase.

…and then I found fifty dollars: “Can be added to the end of any pointless, boring story to indicate your awareness of how pointless and boring your story turned out to be.” The thing is, a snarky, cheeky younger person may ACTUALLY tack this phrase on to YOUR story, so beware. But if they do, you can simply reply: “It was actually a hundred.” This will negate their attempt to patronize you, and means you’ve essentially beat them at their own game.

Chastain: This is an ode to Jessica Chastain and her meteoric rise to fame, despite average acting talent. It simply means one is “overrated yet highly visible,” i.e., not a compliment.

Double-click (this one was not in the book). Okay so I slid this one in for those of you lucky enough to work in tech. When someone says “let’s double click on that for a minute,” what they mean is: “I want to focus on that and learn a little more about it.” The irony is, it’s meant to sound cool, but it’s really kind of pretentious and moronic, IMHO (in my humble opinion).

Dumpster fire: A disaster of epic proportions. For example: 2020 was a total dumpster fire. Word to the wise—this is not to be confused with the term “dumpster hot,” which basically means attractive in a trashy way. 

Game recognize game: “A proverbial doffing of the hat.” If your nephew says this after you’ve beaten him at his favorite video game, just smile and nod. 

Globalian: Any person who “calls planet Earth their home.” So basically, any human.

Put on blast: This basically refers to calling someone out, usually done in a critical manner. So if you ask your kid to take out the trash, because you’re too tired to do it, they may say: “Dad, I’m gonna have to put you on blast right now…you’ve had the whole day off and have just been sitting around.”

Slay: To win or succeed, but in a way that means total domination.

Squad: Basically a “Tribe 2.0,” this word simply means someone group of tight knit friends or confidantes. 

Upvote: “The act of giving online content a positive rating.” In other words, to “like” a Facebook post, or to “retweet” a Tweet. Another hint: When someone types “+1” next to something, that means they approve or like it.


Part 6: Abbreviations JTLYK. Old acronyms die hard, but the reinvention of 21st century language has given them a whole new life.


Boring term: That machine you get money out of, or (less frequently) deposit checks into

Hip abbrev: At the moment


Boring term: Democratic national convention

Hip abbrev: Does not compute


Boring term: End of day

Hip abbrev: End of discussion


Boring term: Estimated time of arrival

Hip abbrev: Edited to add


Boring term: A small female human

Hip abbrev: Guy in real life


Boring term: North Carolina

Hip abbrev: No comment


Boring term: New Mexico

Hip abbrev: Nevermind/nothing much


Boring term: As in the Paris, France airport

Hip abbrev: Oh really?


Boring term: A yummy bread that pairs well with hummus

Hip abbrev: Pain in the ass


Boring term: Um, afternoon and nighttime

Hip abbrev: Private message


Boring term: Point-of-sale

Hip abbrev: Parent over shoulder (in some circumstances can also mean “piece of s**t”)


Boring term: Something one should avoid doing or receiving as much as possible

Hip abbrev: Sounds like a plan


Boring term: Ultra-violet (they type of sunshine rays to avoid)

Hip abbrev: Unpleasant visual.


Last word…

Now that you’re up to speed and armed with some new terms and phrases—most of which are entirely useless, but good to know regardless (note: NOT irregardless!)—you can waltz into 2021 feeling much better about your modern vocabulary. 

Rest assured, within three months you will fall behind and another slew of words will make their way into our otherwise uncool loves. But your younger acquaintances will no doubt admire your willingness to try.

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