When my 12-year-old came home from school complaining that his friend had flamed him, I quickly racked my brain for an explanation. Flamed could have so many meanings — celebrated him, injured him? Painted his face red? Actually burned him? I was at a loss. My kid rolled his eyes and explained, “Mom, it’s like roasting. He roasted me, okay?”
Scenes like this are a daily occurrence in our house, with one sixth grader and twin fourth graders who seem to inhale new slang at the same rate they inhale food during this epic growth spurt. Sick of constantly typing, “What does ___ mean in slang?” into my search bar, I decided to convene a three-person focus group of Gen Z and Alpha kids and get their opinion. (I offered some digital game coins as a thank you, of course.)
First and foremost, they let me know it was “cringe” that I was even asking them this. Cringe means embarrassing — that’s our first lesson. I had already deduced this based on context clues whenever they tell me I am cringe, but it was kind of them to reiterate it.
Here’s a little run down of my education:
I thought we were starting off with an easy one. I told them I knew this phrase, but they quickly corrected me. I was under the impression that it meant “Are you serious?” My son’s friend told me, “Ok, so I guess it technically does mean that. But we would never say that’s what it means.” No cap as a statement means, “This is legit.” As a question, it means “Are you for real?”
This is one slang word I’ve tried to work into my own vocabulary: “Come downstairs and eat some dinner! It’s bussin!” It’s usually met with more eye rolls, but I am using it correctly. Bussin means something is good or amazing. Whether or not my kids think my dinner is bussin, I don’t know.
I’m still not sure I totally understand this, even after they explained it to me. A simp, according to my kids and their friends, is someone who is acting foolish or trying too hard. The root is likely the word “simpleton,” but the meaning has changed a bit. They also say someone is “simping” when they are trying too hard. I was probably simping the entire time I conducted this slang focus group in my minivan.
The first time a peer told my kid to, “Go touch grass,” I cackled. It sounded just like me lecturing him to get off his desk chair and go outside and see some sunshine — but cooler. This one pretty much means just what you would expect. Get up, go outside, live in the real world for a bit.
This is one of my favorite slang phrases my kids taught me about, and I’ve now adopted it as part of my vernacular. “It’s giving” is a way of describing the vibe. Use it in a sentence? “Those soaked and tattered flared jeans and cropped sweater? It’s giving major late-1900’s.”
When I found out “rizz” was short for charisma, I was hooked. Rizz was Oxford’s Word of the Year in 2023, so chances are you’ve heard your kids use it, too. As a kid I always wanted to have a horse named Charisma. I was a Horse Girl™ in my youth, but never got to name any of our horses. My kids say someone’s “got the rizz” when they are super cool. They’ve not said that I have the rizz — yet.
This may be my kids’ most commonly used slang word. As tweens with many opinions, they are sus — or suspicious — of everything: The ingredients in a smoothie, a teacher’s feedback, a friend’s excuse for not meeting up at the park or in Roblox.
I can only imagine how many new words our kids will bring home, especially given how texting and streaming fuel the use of these new adaptations of old phrases. When we were kids, we had to wait for the cool slang to trickle down from cool older siblings or cousins, but today’s kids are drinking pop culture through a fire hose, no cap.
Meg St-Esprit, M. Ed., is a journalist and essayist based in Pittsburgh, PA. She’s a mom to four kids via adoption as well as a twin mom. She loves to write about parenting, education, trends, and the general hilarity of raising little people.