Slang terms that are used increasingly by college students on social media, such as “bae,” “basic” and “turnt,” reflect the tendency for groups to create languages in an attempt to be “exclusive.” (EFAL SAYED / THE STATESMAN)

Bae. Basic. Turnt. These are only a few of the slang words that college students are increasingly using across social media.

The main point of slang is that it is a social language, Connie C. Eble, English department linguist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said. Eble explored the social function of vocabulary shared by a group and is the author of “Slang and Sociability: In-Group Language among College Students.” She continues to collect college slang today.

“You don’t use slang all the time,” she said. “You use it usually with your group and you use it for the purpose of being part of your group. So that’s why you use it and why it’s found on social media. It’s not called ‘social media’ for no reason.”

Groups create a language when they want to be exclusive, which is part of human nature, Stony Brook University linguistics Professor Mark Aronoff said.


College students, when asked where they often see or hear words such as “bae,” “basic” and “turnt,” listed multiple online platforms platforms and smartphone applications.

“I see it everyday on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, everywhere,” Armelis Morales, a sophomore health science major, said. “I think that social media enhances the use.”

Other students added YouTube, YikYak, Vine and Snapchat to the list.

“It’s just a common language that’s unique to the younger generation,” Alexandra Perez, a freshman biology major, said. “Some people start using it and it kind of rubs off and you start using the words as well.”


The popularity of particular slang is not only expressed by students who simply say it is common. For example, a search for “bae” on Instagram reveals 4,093,281 posts. Google trends shows that searches for “bae” have increased from early 2013 to present day and is it is a common hashtag on both Twitter and Facebook.

“So much of your slang it not manufactured on a campus,” Eble, who continues to collect college slang, said. “It’s produced online. It’s produced very often by people who have deliberately produced it to be the lyrics of rap songs or the routines of stand-up comics, or you get it off of YouTube. It goes viral one night and the next day, millions of people are using ‘YOLO.’”

With social media, words are not confined to a particular campus. Slang terms that students use at Stony Brook University are also current among Eble’s students at UNC Chapel Hill.

“That’s another interesting feature of slang, college slang, is that there are fewer distinctions from one campus to another because you are all connected by the web and you maintain your friendships with people miles and miles away, maybe oceans away,” Eble said.

Some slang remains local and can avoid social media, said Aronoff. “Brick” is a Long Island term that did not come out of hiphop and is “flying under the radar,” he said, turning to his computer to search for the phrase “It’s brick out,” which means that it is freezing outside, on Urban Dictionary.


“In the old days, people used to use jargon,” Aronoff said, walking over to a bookcase in his office. “You could get something like a dictionary of thieve’s jargon.”

Slang that is common among college students today is used for fun. It is often as if words are being used in quotation marks, Eble said. “In other words, part of your communication is, “This is slang. I know it and you know it. Aren’t we cute, as we both know it.”

Students said they use words such as “bae” jokingly.

“I find them funny and my friends and I use them kind of ironically,”  Isabella Perez, a freshman psychology major said. “I think there’s a fine line between using them ironically and actually using them because I don’t hear people using it in regular conversations.”

Other students found that slang is creeping out of social media and into everyday conversations, but still for fun.

“I feel like last year, a year ago, you used to see it on social media more but now it seems more prevalent just in everyday conversation, usually as a joke, you’re trying to be funny,” senior coastal environmental studies major Shannon Grogan said.


Over time, these words either stick or fade out. Word such as “cool” or “chill,” which have been around for 40 years, may not be considered slang at all by college students today, Eble said.

“It may not have a flavor of being trendy or informal or flippant, or have any of the other characteristics we usually associate with slang vocabulary,” she said. Words pass into the general vocabulary, with no “slangliness” attached, instead becoming informal vocabulary.

“Some of the slang is going to just go away so quickly that you’ll forget you even knew it at all,” Eble said. The only slang that she could remember from her college days during the Vietnam war was “gung ho.”

In terms of what might not stick around for this generation’s college students, Eble said that “turnt” will just run into the general vocabulary, while a word such as “ratchet” is probably not going to stay for years and years.

“Pregame might last,” she said. “The might last as long as that practice lasts, and so as long as you all start drinking before you start drinking, pregame will hang around.”

Kelly Zegers

Kelly is a senior double major in journalism and political science. She joined The Statesman as a freshman and hopes to combine her interest in travel and love for telling stories professionally. Contact Kelly at: [email protected]


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