10 Popular Words and Phrases That Nobody Knew 20 Years Ago

The world has changed an extraordinary amount in the last twenty-odd years and a field that doesn’t get left behind in these changes is language. Every spoken language across the world grows and develops continuously, constantly updating itself alongside culture, art, politics, and societal progression. Vocabulary, especially in the English language, expands greatly every year with some of the most wonderful and wacky new words.

Whether they’re officially in the dictionaries yet or not, you might be hearing a few new words and phrases on a daily basis, and not realise that no one knew them or said them twenty years ago. So here’s a list of 10 of them you can add to your English vocabulary today:

1. Flex

“Stop bragging” or “Stop showing off” is something that your mum or grandma would say to embarrass you around new people, and so the word ‘flex’ was invented to keep things much cooler. If someone says “I can drink a beer with my nose”, you can say “Weird flex, but ok.” Originally, ‘flexing’ is something you do with your muscles to show how big they are (tensing them) but gradually over time ‘flexing’ became a word used in any context where someone is proud of something. It can also be used in a positive way or as a compliment, for example, if someone posts on insta saying they’ve graduated university, you can reply “FLEX” which basically means “I’m proud of you” or “Be proud of yourself!”

2. Ghosting

Unfortunately, in a world where “We’re talking [online]” is more common than “We’re dating/courting”, I’m sure we’ve all been ghosted at some point. To ‘ghost’ someone means to stop replying to their messages, ignore them, cut them off and act like you never knew them; to turn yourself into a ghost. Often used when two people are no longer involved with each other, but one person doesn’t understand why, it’s common to hear someone explain to their friend “We actually went on like three dates but now she’s ghosting me.”

Read Also: The 14 Best Halloween-Themed Shows to Learn a Language

3. Cringe

A feeling, an adjective, an insult. And none of them are good. If something is cringey it means that it’s embarrassingly awkward or uncomfortable and makes you squirm weirdly when you see it. Public displays of affection, people trying too hard to be funny, or memes that aren’t on the right side of ironic are all examples of cringeworthy things. It’s also common to cringe when you remember something embarrassing that you did in your past, or when your mum tries to use slang words like “flex” around your friends. “Mum, stop it, that’s so cringe.”

4. Cancel Culture

Now that people’s opinions can be just as popular as the celebrities that the opinions are about (because of social media), if anyone famous says or does anything remotely offensive, insulting or ‘sinful’, then it’s likely that a ‘mass cancelling’ of that person will ensue. For example, if it makes the news that a pop singer tweeted something homophobic when they were younger, a good chunk of their fans and followers will no longer listen to their music and will encourage people to do the same. People can also do this within their friend group or family which can be very problematic; initially intended to encourage compassionate thinking and politically correct behaviour, cancel culture has become quite the controversy over the years as many people have committed suicide from experiencing severe cyber-bullying and being cancelled instead of having their apology publicly accepted. “Kanye’s been cancelled,” but is cancel culture really beneficial to society or is it just another type of oppression, and suppression of freedom of speech?

5. Woke

More than just the past tense of ‘wake’, “stay woke” was an African-American term invented in the 1930s to encourage people to ‘wake up’ to institutionalised racism and social injustice. Regaining popularity in the 2000s through BLM movements (since 2014) and music by Childish Gambino and Eryka Badu (since 2008), this idea of ‘being woke’ no longer just refers to social awareness, but self-awareness in general in an attempt not to become too mindless or too comfortable in any situation. However, as the inevitable pejoration of the word befell as it gained popularity, ‘woke’ became an insult towards youths who no longer respected the way that society is run. “These lefty snowflakes with their wokeness are a pain in the ass.” (IE: I think that compassionate left-wing/Labour supporters and their non-traditional opinions are really annoying.) It’s important to remember where we take language from and honour its history respectfully, so hopefully the power of a word like ‘woke’ will come back around.

6. Sexting

A big change in topic… When ‘sex’ and ‘texting’ comes together, you get ‘sexting’, a 21st century phenomenon where two people play with their sexual energy and imagination using only messages and - more recently - pictures or ‘nudes’. EG: “We were sexting all night and sending each other nudes, it was super hot. Hope he doesn’t start ghosting me.”

7. Podcasting

Another swift change of topic… That’s right, one of our favourite ways of learning a new language has only been around since 2004! Coined from the words ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’, ‘podcastingis the act of recording a conversation and publishing it online to be listened to as a digital audio file. Podcasts have quickly become a popular medium for entertainment and education, and many podcasters like Joe Rogan are our new favourite celebs! (Although a lot of people have already cancelled him…)

Related: The 11 Best Podcasts to Learn French

8. Photobomb

A new neologism invented since taking pictures became an everyday part of life, to photobomb someone or to photobomb a picture means to turn yourself into a ‘bomb’ and unexpectedly pop up in the frame of a camera lens just as the photo is about to be taken. Many special on-camera moments have been ruined by photobombers, but they instead create a picture that ends up being a lot funnier or more memorable than initially intended. Social media users tend to enjoy celebrities photobombing other celebrities or animals photobombing humans!

9. Contactless  

As technology flourishes in the modern day, paying for trains, buses and food via contactless payment is the quick and easy approach to simple shopping. ‘Contactless’ is when you hover a debit or credit card - or even a smart/mobile device - over a scanner at a checkout terminal or card reader and effortlessly pay for whatever you want to pay for. No physical cash or even physical touching needed. Contactless credit cards were first used in the US in 2004, whilst the UK and Europe began offering contactless payments shortly after in 2007.

10. Binge-watch

The verb ‘bingeing’ means to indulge excessively in a substance such as drugs, alcohol or unhealthy foods. But with the invention of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+, bingeing on a TV series has become everyone’s favourite pastime. To ‘binge-watch’ means to watch episodes of a TV show one after the other without stopping, such as “I can’t stop binge-watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S. I haven’t done anything else all week.” You can also do a general binge-watch of a particular platform rather than a specific series, for example, “I binge-watched Netflix all weekend, must have seen every documentary film on there.”

So there’s a few new and important words for you to digest! And if you’re interested to binge-watch TV shows and movies in your favourite languages, then head to Lingopie for an abundance of binge-worthy content.

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