Home Commentary Decoding Middle Schooler Language: A Guide for Bewildered Parents

Decoding Middle Schooler Language: A Guide for Bewildered Parents

Community Voice Karen Jolly with her family.

Hello fellow parents!


Having teens and working as a youth leader at YTH Momentum Church, I’ve happily learned their language. I don’t dare use it (much) because that’s cringe.

But those of you tiptoeing into these tween/teen years, no doubt you’re often left scratching your head when trying to decipher the cryptic language of middle schoolers. It’s as if they’ve created their very own secret code, complete with mind-boggling abbreviations and peculiar slang words or phrases. Fear not, for today I bring you glad tidings and a comprehensive guide to decode the enigma that is middle schooler language. Let’s dive in!

OOTD (Outfit of the Day): Middle schoolers take their fashion game seriously. OOTD refers to the pinnacle of their daily style creation. You may even hear them proudly announcing their OOTD as they strut down the hallway, carefully coordinating colors and accessories with the precision of a fashion prodigy.

FOMO (Fear of Missing Out): Ah, the eternal struggle of middle schoolers. FOMO encompasses their relentless desire to be included in every social event, party, and outing. They may use this term to guilt you into extending curfew or letting them attend sleepovers. Remember, a little FOMO never hurt anyone (except maybe our wallets).

Now, let’s venture into the deeper waters. I’d consider these super mind-boggling.

Clout: Middle schoolers crave clout like a squirrel craves acorns. It refers to social influence and popularity. They might use it to describe someone who’s perceived as cool or to emphasize the importance of getting those precious “likes” on social media.

Gucci: No, they’re not talking about the luxury brand (although sometimes they might be). In middle school lingo, Gucci means “good” or “all is well.” So, if your child tells you everything is Gucci, rest assured, it’s a good thing!

Salty: No, we’re not talking about actual salt here. When middle schoolers describe someone as “salty,” they mean that person is bitter or upset about something. It’s like they’ve sprinkled a pinch of salt on their emotions. So, if your child says their friend was acting salty, it’s best to offer a listening ear and maybe a chocolate chip cookie to sweeten the situation.

Lowkey: This term is a paradox. When middle schoolers say something is “lowkey,” it means it’s not getting much attention or is being kept quiet. However, “lowkey” is ironically used to draw attention to something. For example, they might say, “I lowkey love that new song” or “Lowkey, that movie was amazing.” It’s a way for them to express enthusiasm without going overboard.

Highkey: In the realm of middle schooler slang, “high key” is the counterpart to “lowkey.” While “lowkey” implies something subtle or not widely known, “high key” is used to emphasize that something is obvious, overt, or well-known. It’s like turning up the volume on a particular aspect or truth. For example, your child might say, “I high key love that band” or “This movie is high key amazing.” It’s their way of expressing strong enthusiasm or making a bold declaration about their preferences. So, when you hear them say “high key,” it’s a sign that they’re not holding back their feelings or opinions. It’s all about being upfront and unapologetically embracing their true thoughts and emotions.

Bet: No, your child is not making a wager every time they say “bet.” In middle school slang, “bet” is an affirmation or agreement. It’s their way of saying, “Alright, I’m on board with that” or “I agree with you.” For instance, if they say, “Wanna grab pizza after school?” and their friend responds with a simple “bet,” it means they’re all in for that cheesy, saucy goodness.

I’m Dead: Don’t be alarmed if your child exclaims, “I’m dead!” in the midst of a conversation. No, they’re not actually lifeless. When they say “I’m dead,” it’s their exaggerated way of expressing extreme amusement or shock. It’s like their laughter has taken them to the brink of the afterlife, only to bring them back to share the moment with you.

I Can’t: This phrase might seem straightforward, but in middle schooler speak, “I can’t” has taken on a life of its own. When your child says “I can’t,” they are not expressing an inability to do something literally. Instead, it’s their way of conveying overwhelming emotions or being utterly astonished. For example, if they witness something hilarious or outrageous, they might exclaim, “I can’t!” It’s a shorthand way of saying, “I’m so overwhelmed by this situation that it’s beyond words.” So, when you hear “I can’t” from your middle schooler, get ready for a good laugh or brace yourself for a surprise.

Thirsty: Middle schoolers use this term to describe someone who is desperate for attention or validation, particularly in a romantic context. If they mention that someone is “thirsty,” it means that person is actively seeking compliments, likes, or even romantic interest. It’s their way of commenting on someone’s overzealous pursuit of admiration.

Finsta: A combination of “fake” and “Instagram,” a finsta is a secondary Instagram account that middle schoolers create to share content with a closer circle of friends. Unlike their main Instagram account, which is carefully curated and showcases the highlight reel of their lives, the finsta offers a glimpse into their raw, unfiltered moments. It’s like their own secret corner of the internet where they can be their true, unapologetic selves.

Sus: Short for “suspicious,” this term is used when something seems off or questionable. Middle schoolers might say something or someone is “sus” when they sense something fishy or don’t quite trust the situation. If they say, “That new kid in school is acting sus,” it means they find their behavior peculiar or potentially dubious.

Pull up: “Pull up” is another slang term used by middle schoolers, often referring to the act of arriving at a location or showing up to an event. It can be used literally when talking about physically going somewhere, such as a friend’s house or a party. For instance, they might say, “Let’s pull up to the park after school.” However, it can also have a figurative meaning, suggesting involvement or participation in a particular situation. If your child says, “I’m gonna pull up for the game,” it means they plan to be present and actively participate in the game. Essentially, it’s an invitation to be present or involved in some way.

Dank: No, we’re not talking about a dark, musty basement here. In middle school lingo, “dank” refers to something that is exceptionally cool, impressive, or of high quality. It’s like the pinnacle of awesomeness in their lexicon. So, if your child describes a video game or a meme as “dank,” you can be assured it’s top-notch in their eyes.

Drip: Middle schoolers have their own fashion vocabulary, and “drip” is a prime example. When they talk about someone’s “drip,” they are referring to that person’s exceptional sense of style. It’s all about the way they dress, their confidence, and the overall swag they exude. So, if your child says, “That outfit has serious drip,” it means they’ve witnessed a fashion masterpiece.

Fit: Don’t worry, your child is not suddenly concerned about physical fitness. In their world, “fit” refers to an outfit or ensemble. When they say, “I love your fit,” they are complimenting your fashion choice. It’s their way of appreciating your sartorial skills and acknowledging your impeccable taste.

Ghost: No, we’re not talking about paranormal activity. When middle schoolers say someone “ghosts” another person, it means they abruptly stop communicating or responding to messages. It’s like they’ve vanished into thin air, leaving the other person bewildered and wondering what went wrong. Encourage healthy communication habits with your child to avoid any ghosting mishaps.

Split Co Cords: This phrase refers to a coordinated outfit strategy where two people intentionally choose complementary colors or styles without directly matching. It’s a way to create a harmonious and balanced look without being too matchy-matchy. For example, Friend 1 might opt for a black shirt and white jeans, while Friend 2 chooses a white shirt and black jeans. This coordinated contrast in colors creates a visually appealing and balanced duo. It allows both individuals to express their personal style while still maintaining a cohesive and coordinated aesthetic. So, “Split Co Cords” is all about coordinating outfits through color or style choices that complement each other rather than directly matching.

Whip: No, your child isn’t suddenly talking about a car accessory or a cracking sound. In middle school slang, “whip” refers to a stylish and impressive car. It’s their way of acknowledging a cool ride that catches their eye. So, if your child says, “Check out that whip,” they’re admiring someone’s sleek wheels.

Vibe: Ah, the elusive concept of “vibe.” When middle schoolers talk about a vibe, they’re referring to the overall atmosphere, energy, or feeling of a person, place, or situation. It’s like the intangible aura that surrounds something. They might say, “This party has such a good vibe” or “I’m vibing with this song.” It’s their way of describing a positive, enjoyable, or harmonious experience.

Side Eye: Picture this: your child narrows their eyes and gives a subtle glance to the side. That’s the side eye! When they say “side eye” or “throwing shade,” it means they’re giving a skeptical, judgmental, or disapproving look. It’s their nonverbal way of expressing doubt or indicating that something is amiss. So, if you catch your child giving someone the side eye, there’s likely some suspicion or disagreement in the air. So does this replace the infamous eye roll? I’m thinking yes.

Cringy/Cringe: Prepare yourself for some secondhand embarrassment! “Cringy” or “cringe” is a term middle schoolers use to describe something that is awkward, embarrassing, or uncomfortable to witness. It’s like that feeling you get when you see someone do something cringeworthy, and you can’t help but squirm in your seat. They might say, “That TikTok dance was so cringy” or “I can’t watch this movie, it’s too cringe.” It’s their way of expressing discomfort or acknowledging social faux pas.

Slay: Time to bring out your inner diva! When middle schoolers say someone is “slaying” or they themselves want to “slay,” it means they’re referring to an individual’s exceptional style, confidence, or performance. It’s like someone is absolutely killing it in a positive way. For example, they might say, “You slayed that presentation” or “She’s slaying that outfit.” It’s their way of applauding someone’s remarkable talent or overall excellence.

Flex: When middle schoolers talk about “flexing,” they are not referring to physical exercise. Instead, “flex” is a term used to showcase or show off one’s possessions, achievements, or skills. It’s a way for them to display their successes or highlight something impressive about themselves. For example, if your child says, “I’m gonna flex my new sneakers,” it means they want to proudly showcase their recently acquired stylish shoes. Similarly, they might say, “She’s flexing her math skills” to acknowledge someone’s exceptional mathematical abilities. Flexing is a way for middle schoolers to celebrate their accomplishments and share their pride with others.

And there you have it, parents! A deep dive into those middle school slang words and their definitions.

Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to understand and engage with your child in their ever-evolving language.

So…..keep up the vibe, embrace the whip, and don’t be afraid to give a little side eye when necessary. And remember, never, ever use these words around their friends… or do.

Happy slang decoding!

Karen Jolly, Youth Leader at YTH Momentum Church

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*Note from Local Pulse Editor: Karen Jolly is a part of our Community Voices series. Community Voices is a group of Pensacola dwellers that are making a difference in our city by sharing best practices, experiences, their perspective on impactful subjects, and contributing expertise that leads to movement forward for a stronger community.