15 Excellent Slang Terms From the 1990s
In Dazed and Confused, one of the truly great works of art of the 1990s, the intellectual Cynthia puts forward the “every other decade theory”: “The '50s were boring. The '60s rocked. The '70s, my God, they obviously suck,” she says. “So maybe the '80s will be, like, radical.” They were! But by this theory, the '90s were not.
1. 110 Percent
It was the amount you gave when you were giving your very best. Its logical impossibility made it the premise of a joke in a 1992 episode of The Simpsons. By 1998, it was still so popular that it landed on Lake Superior State University’s annual Banished Words List.
Spell it with one D or two, pair it with bada-boom, and … bada-bing bada boom … you have an unpretentious '90s catchphrase, meaning “Voilà!” Though the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) notes that the term was used in 1965, eight of its 11 citations are from the '90s, it was on the Banished Words List in 1994, and was the name of the gentlemen's club in HBO's The Sopranos, which debuted in 1999.
It wasn’t in the Scrabble dictionary until 2014, but according to Merriam-Webster, buzzkill—defined as “one that has a depressing or negative effect”—finds its first use in 1992, two years before the short-lived MTV prank show that bore its name.
When Tai declares that Cher is "a virgin who can't drive" in Clueless, Cher shoots back, “That was way harsh, Tai.” The film is such a rich repository of '90s lingo that it receives 74 citations in Green’s Dictionary of Slang, which defines harsh in this context as "very unpleasant, exceptionally rude, ill-mannered, extremely bad."
Though jiggy has been a slang term for nervous energy since the 1890s, it only acquired its connotations of dancing, fun, and sex from one place: Will Smith’s 1997 hit, “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.” Na-na, na, na, na-na-na.
According to Merriam-Webster, judgy also made its appearance in 1997 as a derogatory term meaning "tending to judge others harshly or critically." Strange, because one of the most judgy people on earth, Judith Sheindlin, found '90s success one year earlier with the premiere of Judge Judy.
The OED finds examples of the slang use of majorly in the '80s, but it was in the '90s that majorly got majorly big. Consider, once again, Clueless. Based on Jane Austen’s Emma, the story’s key dramatic moment is the heroine’s realization that she is in love. “It darted through her with the speed of an arrow, that Mr. Knightley must marry no one but herself!” writes Austen. How does Cher express this sentiment in Clueless ? “I’m majorly, totally, butt-crazy in love with Josh!”
This portmanteau for a stylish urbanite was coined by Mark Simpson in a 1994 essay. "One sharply dressed ‘metrosexual’ in his early 20s ... has a perfect complexion and precisely gelled hair, and is inspecting a display of costly aftershaves," Simpson wrote. His list of metrosexual must-haves paints a picture of the '90s male: Davidoff aftershave, Paul Smith jackets, corduroy shirts, chinos, and Calvin Klein underwear.
No list of '90s slang would be complete without one from the then-newfangled commercial internet. This term for a beginner made its first appearance in 1995, in a Usenet forum devoted to the band Phish. If you didn’t know what ASL stood for on ICQ, you were likely a noob.
An internet newsgroup was also the first place that this term for something distasteful appeared, according to the OED. It was used to describe Freddie Mercury’s pants: "If you were performing in a benefit concert for the lead singer of Queen, ... wouldn't you dress up a little more than skeezy pants and football net-jersey?" A bit judgy, no?
The adjective snarky had been around for a century, but according to Merriam-Webster, the noun snark, meaning “an attitude or expression of mocking irreverence and sarcasm,” didn’t appear until 1999—an apt label for a lot of '90s humor.
12. Spousal Unit
In the '90s you could use this gender-neutral term for your romantic partner (legal or otherwise). The only problem was that in tax law, the spousal unit refers to the couple, not the individual. It wound up on LSSU’s Banished Words List in 1992.
13. Talk to the Hand
According to the OED, this phrase can be used "to express dismissive disregard of, or indifference to, what a person has said or is saying" or "to implore a person to stop speaking." It apparently first popped up as slang at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and as the OED notes, is "typically uttered with a hand outstretched and the palm facing the person addressed." You can also say "talk to the hand, 'cause the face don't understand."
Talk amongst yourselves! I’ll give you a topic: Linda Richman was neither rich, nor a man. Discuss! She was, however, the SNL character played by Mike Myers who popularized this Yiddish word meaning “overcome with emotion” beginning in October 1991.
15. Yada, yada, yada
A 1997 episode of Seinfeld helped to popularize this old-timey way to make a long story short. Coincidentally, this list was originally going to be 20 words long, but … yada, yada, yada … turns out it’s just going to be 15.