Attention, thinkpiece writers: Millennials are no longer synonymous with “kids these days.” The generation was born between 1981 and 1996, making the youngest Millennials 26 and the oldest 41 in 2022. That means many of the slang terms they popularized in their youth no longer hold the cultural weight they once did. Nonetheless, many Millennials still talk like it's 2014—even when humblebragging about adulting gets them roasted by their Gen Z siblings on TikTok. Read on for more words coined by Millennials and the meanings behind them.
If you feel self-conscious bragging about your achievements, you can always fall back on the humblebrag. Announcing an important accomplishment in a casual or self-deprecating tone lets you boast about it without coming off as conceited (at least that’s the intention). Social media provided the ideal platform for the humblebrag around the same time Millennials started reaching important milestones. The Millennial sayings I did a thing or I made a thing are classic examples of humblebragging. If you choose to indulge in this behavior, do so with caution: A study published in 2018 suggested that humblebragging may make people dislike you.
The word doggo encapsulates an entire subsection of Millennial lingo. To people who speak this language, doggos (a.k.a. dogs to everyone else) bork, blep, and sploot. Doggos can be fluffy (floofs), little (puppers), and loud (boofers). The child-like speech is meant to mimic how dogs might sound if they could speak to their hoomans. The slang gained steam online in the 2010s, specifically through the Facebook page Dogspotting and the Twitter account WeRateDogs. Before the internet era, lying doggo was 19th-century slang for "lying low" or "keeping a low profile," according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
Filing taxes, doing laundry, and on some days, preparing a meal that requires more steps than pouring cereal in a bowl are all things that qualify as adulting. Adult was first used as a verb (literally meaning "to mature") as early as 1909. The word as it's used today, meaning “to conduct oneself like an adult,” first appeared on Twitter in 2008. As the youngest millennials entered young adulthood over the next decade, the term exploded in popularity. Though it often appears in a tongue-in-cheek context, it’s been used to reinforce negative stereotypes of Millennials being lazy and immature. Now that the youngest Millennials are approaching their thirties, most of them (hopefully) know how to behave like adults—but that doesn’t mean they have to enjoy it.
Not to be confused with the canvas bags, totes is an abbreviated form of totally. It appears in the phrase totes my goats (alternatively totes McGoats or totes magoats) as an enthusiastic expression of agreement. Paul Rudd had a huge impact on Millennial vocabulary when his character uttered the exclamation in the 2009 comedy I Love You, Man.
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Bae is a term of endearment that has roots in AAVE, or African American Vernacular English (also known as African American Language, or AAL). Originally, it was used to refer to a significant other. By 2014, brands were using the slang term to shill their products (as in "Mountain Dew is the bae”), making it hard to use it unironically.
6. It Me
Millennials say it me to identify a connection they feel to something. The intentionally poor grammar is used in a funny and self-depreciating manner. Seeing an embarrassing yet relatable post online, for instance, might prompt someone to comment: “it me.”
7. On Fleek
On Fleek first appeared on Vine—the last truly Millennial social media app. In a short clip published on June 21, 2014, then 16-year-old Kayla Lewis used the phrase to describe her eyebrows. Today on fleek can be applied to anything that perfectly hits the mark, but gorgeously groomed eyebrows remain the strongest association.
As more of their dating lives moved online, Millennials coined this term for a phenomenon that was specific to their generation. Ghosting means abruptly cutting off communication with someone in your life without warning. This behavior existed before the Tinder era, but now that many people have their phones on them at all hours of the day, it feels harder to brush off.
9. Cool beans
Cool beans can be used interchangeably with cool to express approval. What the inclusion of beans adds to the interjection is unclear. According to Merriam-Webster, this slang term dates back to 1985 when the oldest Millennials were just 4 years old. Though they may not have coined the phrase, the generation definitely popularized it in the 1990s and 2000s.
The acronym FOMO (pronounced foh-moh) stands for “fear of missing out.” It describes the universal feeling of anxiety over people having fun without you, and it's gained popularity in recent years. As social media grew in prevalence in the 2000s, FOMO became a significant part of the Millennial experience.
Millennials popularized basic as a disparaging way to characterize a person (usually a woman) who adheres to stale, overused trends. In the 2010s, this meant UGG boots, yoga pants, and pumpkin spice lattes. Gen Z pretty much reinvented the concept when they started using cheugy to describe anything that was out of style, often because it was popular with basic Millennials.
This alternate spelling of small is used to describe something unbearably little and adorable, like a puppy or kitten. If the subject is especially tiny, it qualifies as a smol bean (beans are a running theme in the Millennial vernacular, apparently). Smol often appears in front of doggo, another important piece of Millennial terminology.
Though it became mainstream Millennial slang in the 2000s, yas originated with queer, POC subcultures in the 1980s. The playful take on the interjection yes! was commonly heard at balls, where competitors (often in drag) would strut down the floor showing off their fiercest looks. The ballroom scene gave us many words that have been appropriated by the larger culture, including werk, shade, and serving.