Before we begin I want to be clear that this is a dangerous topic. So dangerous, in fact, that when I posted this list of words and asked for comments on Reddit’s linguistics page, it was pulled by the word police—also known as “millionsofcats.”
Smaller close-knit groups (teenagers, nutjobs of a certain political website) will always have more nuanced slang. So the good news is that if you’re reading the words and phrases below for the first time, it probably means you spend your days talking to a large variety of well-adjusted people.
Pop culture is the greatest driver of in-group words to the lexicon. Most of us know what a doctor means when they need “30ccs, stat” from watching doctor shows on TV. And the greatest show in 2016—for better or worse—was this election, which brought about some brand-new political jargon.
The reality is that 2016 has turned up the temperature on our heated world. Any word can be a pejorative; meaning is context-bound and context is boundless. So, without further ado, we bring you the lexicon of 2016.
Alt-right (n./adj.): The polite way to say, “white supremacist.”
Begin slideshow (n.): A reference to a 58-part tweet, common just after the election when we were glued to Twitter for up-to-the-minute commentary, but also inundated with some serious swipe-left monologues.
Beta (n./adj.): A pejorative for a man who does not think or act as an “alpha.” Virtues like compassion, respect or even just listening to an opposing viewpoint in 2016 were beta behavior.
Cancel (v./adj.): The use of this common tech term in real life: “Should I swipe right? He’s cute, but he likes Nickelback.” “Cancel.”
Crybully (n.): Someone in power who claims victim status. It’s used against campus protestors (the argument is that by paying tuition they are already in charge) and to reference people who complain that the system is “rigged” against them while they go on to win. Everyone likes an underdog.
Cuck (n.): A more emasculating version of “beta,” which comes from pornography and has been active in Urban Dictionary since 2007.
Dad (n./adj.): A man who embodies the best and most caring qualities of fatherhood, so much that he becomes a DILF.
Live (adj.) Cool, intense. “That party was live.”
Low-key (adj./adv.): Not a big deal. “I low-key tripped coming out of the elevator.”
Narrative (n.): Drama. In stepping aside from the Kanye world before it blew up, Taylor Swift said this summer, “I would very much like to be excluded from this narrative.”
Neoreactionaries (n. plur.): An insult meant to note that the other person is being unreasonable.
Netflix and chill (n./v.): This 2015 euphemism for boning on a couch somehow morphed into it’s exact words in 2016—often in reference to unplugging from election news to relax.
Snowflake (n.): A person who thinks they’re special, especially if that perception makes them weaker.
Social Justice Warrior (SJW) (n.): Often pejorative term for a person who works to buck the status quo.
SWPL (n./adj.): A middle-American version of “basic,” also known as the kind of person or product featured in “Stuff White People Like.” (i.e. Starbucks, Ugg boots). It’s [pronounced “swipple,” and when Walmart sells organic produce it’s called “SWPL down economics.”
Woke (adj.): Being aware. In 2016 this 2008 word emerged from socially minded black social media to mainstream (white) slang. In that transition it has morphed from awareness to something closer to paranoia.
And let us remember the fallen:
“Bye Felicia” was irrelevant as soon as Keith Olbermann used it in 2014, but the final nail in the coffin was when he used it at the end of 2016.
Note: If you knew only a few or even none of these, don’t fret. By next Thanksgiving, these will be outdated and embarrassing phrases wielded by people hoping for relevancy.