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Gen Z slang: your one-stop, no-judgment guide

A recent cringey SNL sketch is a reminder it’s time for a refresher course in Gen Z vernacular.

Gen Z slang: your one-stop, no-judgment guide
[Source photo: Fast Company]

“Is ‘the way I ate this up’ a compliment because it was nom-nom delish and had you gagged?”

So asked guest host Pedro Pascal in a recent Saturday Night Live sketch. As a baffled high school teacher, Pascal led an assembly of Gen Z students and attempted to understand their barrage of slang terms—or rather, the SNL writing team’s best attempt at replicating Gen Z slang.

You may have found yourself feeling like Pascal lately. As Gen Zers become more and more prominent in the workplace, so does their unique brand of communication. Gen Z slang can sound like a foreign language to older coworkers—and often, when people attempt (and fail) to use it correctly, it can be more embarrassing than ingratiating.

Most Gen Zers are self-aware enough to know that these terms won’t be easily comprehensible to older coworkers, so they’ll just avoid them altogether (at least until they’re comfortable enough in the workplace to speak more naturally). Also, calling this vocabulary “Gen Z slang” is a misnomer. Most of these words and phrases didn’t originate with Gen Z, or with so-called internet culture. Many of them derive from Black and queer vernacular that’s spread in popularity on social platforms, and this proliferation has sparked conversations of cultural misappropriation

But these terms are now in wide use, both on and offline, so understanding their definitions can’t hurt.

Here’s a no-judgment guide to some of the most widely used (and most widely misunderstood) Gen Z slang, so that the next time your fresh-out-of-college coworker drops one of these words, you can avoid being cringe.

In your “blank” era

In the sketch, the high schoolers say Pascal is in his “assembly era,” and it’s one of the few terms SNL uses correctly. To be in a “blank” era is to be in a period of your life defined by whatever that blank is—and that period can be as short as a moment or as long as a lifetime.

I’ve had salad for lunch every day this week. I’m in my salad era.


To be “gagged” is to be shocked, amazed, et cetera. It’s essentially synonymous with being at a loss for words, and it can be used with positive or negative connotations.

What did you think of the plot twist in that movie? I was totally gagged.

Ate (and left no crumbs)

If you “ate” something, it means you executed it extremely well. Things can eat, too: if you love someone’s clothing, for example, you could say, “Those jeans eat.” And by extension, if you really knock something out of the park, you’ll eat and “leave no crumbs” — y’know, because you ate so much that not a speck of food was left.

Luis did so well in that presentation. He ate it up and left no crumbs.

Sending and giving life

These terms are similar, but slightly different: If something “sends” you, that means it amuses you. If something “gives you life,” that means you love it.

Ellie’s jokes in that meeting were sending me.

Lydia’s outfits always give me life.


This one’s pretty straightforward: someone is “mother” if they’re an iconic feminine figure, and an act is “mother” if it contributes to that icon status. It’s most often used to refer to pop stars, actresses, or other celebrities, but it can be applied in everyday life, too. And “mother” may be a feminine word, but Gen Z isn’t about binaries, so the term can apply to someone of any gender. And yes, it is an adjective.

Kathy really killed that negotiation. She’s so mother for that.

Say less

This one can sound super rude if you don’t know the meaning. “Say less” doesn’t mean “shut up.” Rather, it means, “I understand,” as in, “You don’t have to say anything more, because I already get your point.”

I need you to make 10 copies of this.

Say less!


“Rizz” is short for charisma (read: cha-rizz-ma), particularly when it comes to flirting. If you have “rizz,” it means you’re smooth, or you’ve got game. Hopefully, this one doesn’t come up at work too often. (If this one’s popping up at work too much, your office may have bigger problems than slanguage barriers.)

David has no problem getting dates—he has so much rizz.


“Mid” is basically short for “middling.” To call something “mid” is to call it of average or poor quality.

I’m not a big fan of the office snack supply. It’s pretty mid.


Normally, “based” means well-founded or correct; you’d call an opinion based if you agree with it, especially in political contexts. But be warned—ironic usage of “based” is also common, and it means the exact opposite. It’s normally used as a stand-alone reply to someone else’s statement, not as an in-sentence adjective.

Unpaid internships are a scam.



One common usage of “slay” (meaning to kill a challenge, to succeed) has been around for awhile, but slay now is also used as a neutral affirmative, akin to “gotcha” or “okay.”

I’ll be back in 15 minutes.


A note on emojis

If you’re communicating on Slack, Gen Z emoji usage will come into play, so here are some common points of emoji misunderstanding. For Gen Z,joyand joyboth represent laughing, not crying or literal death. A standard smiley face joy comes off passive aggressive, and a crying-laughing face joy will get your point across, but looks very dated. Check out our full guide to Gen Z emoji usage.

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