“YOLO!” “I can’t even…” “Epic!”
For international students, learning a new language like English can be tricky, especially American slang. You may hear dozens of slang words around your college campus. You might even hear some current trendy words and phrases at your internship or job. Our guide to college slang and American slang 2022 will help you better understand new slang words and how to use them.
What Is Slang?
Slang words are specific words or phrases that have a cultural definition that is different from the literal definition. For example, when you “keep your cool,” you are not talking about the temperature. You are saying that you will stay calm under pressure.
Cool slang changes constantly. Some phrases, like “what’s up?”, have been around so long that they have become idioms, or common expressions where the meaning of certain word combinations are really different from their literal meaning. An example of an idiom is “out of the blue” to indicate something that happened without warning.
Other slang words are trendy, or come from current music, TV, or movies, and are only used for a short time. For example, try saying Wazzzup to one of your classmates and see how they respond. (They might laugh, and not in a good way.)
Knowing how and when to use slang words or college slang will help you connect with and better understand American students. As a general rule, you can use current trendy words and phrases with your friends and classmates, but should use more formal English when speaking to professors and coworkers. If you use current slang in more formal settings, like at work, people might see you as rude or unprofessional.
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Origin of Slang Today
Pop culture and youth culture tend to create new slang words and trends. Historically, that meant that the TV shows, pop and hip-hop music, movies, and video games popular with kids, teens, and young adults influenced current slang. While those forms of media still shape new slang words and cool slang, young people now tend to spend more time online – and with that shift, the internet, and especially social media, drive the majority of American slang in 2022.
So, if you want to get a sense of the most up-to-date and trendiest American slang, it’s all on the social media platforms that young people use the most: Get a sense of the latest cool slang and college slang by watching how TikTok and Instagram creators speak. Note which hashtags are used frequently. Pay attention to the context in how slang words are used online. Nowadays, most current trendy words and phrases get their start – and take off – on social media.
American Slang by Region
While the internet and pop culture have created common American slang around the country (and often the globe), keep in mind that different areas of the country may use different slang words. This means the Northeast, South, Midwest, Southwest, Pacific Northwest, and West Coast will likely have their own local cool slang.
So, for example, if you go to school at the University of the Pacific in California, you may hear slightly different college slang from current slang at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. Or, sometimes, the same slang word may have slightly different meanings in different places – so a college slang word that is cool at Adelphi University may not be at Louisiana State University, or vice versa.
For examples of regional slang words, you may hear a student in Boston say something is “wicked good” (which just means something is very good). A student in Texas or South Carolina may say “y’all should come to the game later” (meaning you or the group of you). And in Philadelphia, “jawn” can be substituted for almost any noun (“we’re taking this jawn to the bank”).
Wherever you decide to study, you’ll quickly hear the local current slang – and it may even become part of your own vocabulary!
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Of course, there are always American slang words that will be used across the country. Here’s a list of just a few college slang words you’ll hear, no matter where you go.
Top 10 American Slang Words in 2022
Adjective - Rich, luxurious, special, fancy.
Example: “She’s so boujee with that Louis Vuitton bag.”
Adjective - Amazing, really good.
Example: “Those potato chips are bussin’.”
Adjective - Stylish, sophisticated clothes or appearance.
Example: “Li’s shoes and belt are dripping today.”
Adjective - Dramatic, attention-grabbing, too much.
Example: “You don’t have to be so extra about it!”
Adverb - To become an obsession, to dominate someone’s thoughts.
Example: “Since I saw Shang-Chi, Simu Liu is living rent-free inside my head.”
Adverb - To overreact.
Example: “He got so salty after I didn’t text back right away.”
Adjective - Stunned, shocked.
Example: “That Oscar slap has me shook.”
Verb - To make sure someone is having a good time.
Example: Sanjit: “Hey, Amir, vibe check!”
Amir: “Vibe all good.”
Adjective - Socially conscious, culturally aware.
Example: “After his Modern Perspectives in Poetry course, he became woke to different points of view.”
Other Common Slang Words
Our list of American slang includes some of the more common slang words along with their definitions. If you are not sure about whether you should use these slang words, you can check with a friend or research specific slang phrases online using a site like UrbanDictionary to make sure it is OK for the setting.
All the ___ (phrase)
An exaggeration to show strong feelings, usually in a positive way.
Example: “This song gives me all the feels.”
Example: “I’m so amped for tonight’s basketball game!”
An insult that means something or someone is boring or uncool.
Example: “Let’s get out of here. This party is basic.”
Blow off steam (phrase)
Get rid of extra energy, stress, or anger.
Example: “She’ll be OK after she blows off some steam.”
Break a leg (phrase)
A way to wish someone good luck, often before a performance of some kind.
Example: “She’s so nice, she told me to break a leg on stage tonight.”
Short for “brother,” “bro” is used instead of first names among friends, typically men.
Example: “What’s up, bro?”
Chill or chill out (verb)
Relax, calm down, or be easygoing.
Example: “We’re done with exams, so let’s just chill tonight.”
Cray or cray cray (adjective)
Shortened version of crazy – something wild or out of control.
Example: “The new Beyoncé album is cray.”
Curve ball (noun)
Something tricky or unexpected, like trying to hit a curve ball in baseball.
Example: “I wasn’t expecting that assignment to be so hard.” “Yeah, it was a real curve ball.”
To leave a place or person unexpectedly, or to not show up to prior plans.
Example: “I had to ditch study group because my dad called.”
A casual greeting used instead of first names.
Example: “Hey dude, how’s it going?”
Especially awesome, big, strong, or incredible.
Example: “Did you see that movie? So epic.”
Someone who really likes a particular thing. Short for fanatic.
Example: “All the college football fans must be excited for the big game.”
For real (phrase)
To agree with someone, emphasize a statement, or ask if someone is serious.
Example: “This is my favorite class so far!” “For real?”
Get off my back (phrase)
When you want someone to stop bothering or pressuring you about something.
Example: “Get off my back about wearing my pajamas in the dining hall. They’re really comfortable!”
Greek life (noun)
The collection of campus social organizations for male (fraternities) or female (sororities) students. Each fraternity or sorority is named with Greek letters, such as alpha or beta.
Example: “I heard the Greek life on campus is pretty fun.”
Hang out (verb)
Spend time or do something with friends.
Example: “I’m going to hang out with my best friend this weekend.”
Hit the books (verb)
To study. Can also mean to do homework (or assignments meant to be done outside of class).
Example: “The big test is coming up. Time to hit the books.”
I can’t even (phrase)
Expression of being overwhelmed with something, usually in a somewhat joking and positive manner. Short for “I can’t even handle…” or “I can’t even deal…”.
Example: “I can’t even with these French fries. So good!”
I dunno (phrase)
The short form of “I don’t know.”
Example: “Where are my sneakers?” “I dunno.”
I’m down (phrase)
You agree or are interested.
Example: “Want to go to the movies tonight?” “Oh yeah, I’m down.”
K or KK (abbreviation)
Short for “okay.” Pronounced “kay.” A way to agree with something or to confirm what someone asks, without showing too much excitement.
Example: “Want to go to the mall later?” “K.”
Keep your cool (phrase)
Staying calm in a stressful situation.
Example: “I know you’re worried about the test, but you’ll do better work if you keep your cool.”
Something that is good or worthwhile. Short for legitimate (meaning authentic or real).
Example: “That 65% off sale at the campus store is totally legit.”
Short for magazine.
Example: “Have you read this sports mag?”
A mistake or misunderstanding that causes confusion.
Example: “There was a mix-up and I accidentally grabbed the wrong book for today’s class.”
No problem or no worries (phrase)
A way to answer when someone says thank you. It reassures the person that whatever you did was not difficult.
Example: “Thank you for holding the door.” “No worries.”
Abbreviation for “Oh my god.” Pronounced oh-em-gee. Often used to express surprise, excitement, or disgust.
Example: “OMG, I got an A on my final exam!”
Finished, all done.
Example: “I don’t want to hear another word from you, periodt.”
With friends, many US students call their professors “prof” – but calling professors “prof” to their faces is typically considered too informal.
Example: “My economics prof checks our attendance every single day!”
An outdoor gathering space surrounded by buildings, often on a college campus.
Example: “Meet me after class on the quad so we can play soccer.”
Example: “My roomie and I are going to the concert tonight.”
Root for (verb)
To cheer for or support something or someone, such as a sports team.
Example: “I can’t go to the football game this Saturday, but I’ll be rooting for them anyway.”
A picture you take of yourself, either alone or with other people.
Example: “Did you see the cute selfie Emma posted to Instagram?”
Third wheel (phrase)
Someone who is not needed or wanted in a situation, typically with a romantic couple.
Example: “Why is your friend on this date with us? He’s kind of a third wheel.”
Short for “totally” and often used to agree with someone.
Example: “I should finish my reading assignment before we play video games.” “Totes.”
Used to describe something that is ordinary, boring, or uninspiring. Based on vanilla ice cream being seen as a very normal flavor.
Example: “Last week’s class lecture was really exciting, but this one was a little vanilla for me.”
Someone who is shy and tries to remain unnoticed at parties.
Example: “So are you a wallflower, or do you just like hiding behind the couch at parties?”
What’s up?or What’s good? (greeting)
A way to say hello or ask someone what they are doing.
Example: “Hey, what’s up?” “What’s good, my man?” “Not much, just got out of math class.”
A not very serious motivational phrase, short for “you only live once.” Pronounced “yo-low.”
Example: “I know I shouldn’t eat that whole pizza by myself but YOLO.”
Zone out (verb)
To get distracted and not pay attention to what is happening around you.
Example: “I zoned out during the TV show and missed how it ended.”
How to Keep Up with American Slang
Listen to your classmates to understand which current slang expressions are appropriate for your area and social group. This can be a conversation starter, too: If you do not understand something, ask!
If you hear unfamiliar slang words, do not worry. Even Americans are not aware of all the terms and what they mean. Just use good judgment and you will be able to use American slang effectively, on campus and off.
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