Generation Z
Cringe, woke and cheugy: a short guide to teenspeak

How does Generation Z talk? We show you a few expressions. But be careful – please don’t use them if you are an older person – that would be really cringy.
How does Generation Z talk? We show you a few expressions. But be careful – please don’t use them if you are an older person – that would be really cringy. | Photo (detail): © Adobe

Never been on TikTok, don’t feel remotely woke and have no idea which things in your life are cheugy? Then you need to read this – a quick explanation for everyone who needs bringing up to speed on teenage slang.
 

Ok, fyi: this is important. It’s important because it will help you understand young people. And I bet you read stuff on the internet that you don’t understand from time to time, don’t you? Incidentally, “fyi” means for your information. If you see that on the internet somewhere, it means: watch out – this is important. Generation Z, or “Gen Z” for short – in other words the age groups born from 1997 onwards – have their own terminology just like any other generation. Not all the words are English, although most of them are. We’ve listed a few of them.

“Woke”

“Woke” is when a person is awake or alert. Alert in terms of social currents or trends – but also with regard to injustice or discrimination. “Woke” people speak out on behalf of weaker ones, addressing their problems and in an ideal situation even helping them to overcome them. These issues include racism, climate change and sexism. People are labelled “woke” if they see these things and do something about them. In the conservative bubble, “woke” is considered a pejorative term for people who are more politically left wing. “Woke” people are also referred to as “snowflakes” by conservatives, in other words as hypersensitive or easily offended, as well as self-righteous people who only help others in order to feel better themselves. This kind of thing isn’t new. People in Germany who campaigned on behalf of refugees were being called “Gutmenschen” – do-gooders – back in 2015. By the way: the term “woke” was being used during the civil rights movement as early as the sixties by African Americans to bring attention to racism.
Doing something to oppose racism, climate change and sexism is woke.
Doing something to oppose racism, climate change and sexism is woke. | Photo (detail): © Adobe

TikTok

TikTok is to Gen Z what Facebook was to Generation Y: the social network where it’s all happening. This is where words such as “cheugy”, “cringe” and “woke” are “embraced” in the first place, which means they are adopted, disseminated, and let loose on the outside world. On TikTok people explain, cry, dance, write, get scared and laugh. There are a few things to note when you talk or write about it. To keep it brief, this is the most important thing: you don’t dance TikTok dances, neither do you film TikTok clips or watch a TikTok video. You dance TikToks, film TikToks and watch TikToks.

“Cheugy”

There are things that are out of fashion: wall decals; T-shirts with Star Wars, Marvel or drinks logos on them; bags that often feature the name of a city. These are all things that Generation Y finds – or used to find – cool, but Gen Z no longer does. TikTok has found a word for that: “cheugy”. “Cheugy” also describes things that are no longer current. Espresso machines that use capsules for instance – they are bad for the environment, so we should get rid of them. Ugg boots, crop trousers, Pandora bracelets – these are all things that have passed their sell-by date. Still don’t entirely get what “cheugy” is? Go into a Starbucks and look around you. The word “cheugy” is easy to remember: it’s the opposite of trendy, in other words neither beautiful nor useful. Another example? Skinny jeans. They aren’t comfortable, don’t provide enough breathing space, and to be quite honest they don’t even look good.

“Cringe”

Is teenspeak still teenspeak when even Tagesschau presenter Susanne Daubner uses the word? “Cringe” is an Anglicism that’s needed in Germany because there is no corresponding German adjective. “Cringe” applies to a state hovering somewhere between vicarious embarrassment and humiliation. “Cringe” can also describe the feeling when a person says something embarrassing without realising it themselves. When adults try to be cool. An example: parents should never say “just chill”. It doesn’t work – they are parents and not kids in the playground, sorry.
And what’s happening on TikTok? For instance there’s “avemoves”. The masked dancer is one of Germany’s top-ranking TikTok influencers in terms of follower numbers.
And what’s happening on TikTok? For instance there’s “avemoves”. The masked dancer is one of Germany’s top-ranking TikTok influencers in terms of follower numbers. | Photo (detail): © picture alliance/dpa/Sina Schuldt

“Alman”

“Alman” is the Turkish word for German. And that’s exactly what is meant when Gen Z use this term on TikTok: the potato-eater clichés like punctuality, correctness, stubbornness. All of these, shall we say not very liberal-minded attributes ascribed to the Germans are lumped together under the word “Alman”. For instance when someone is excessively focused on the quest for loyalty points in the supermarket, or wears socks in sandals. People who consider it their fundamental right to let off fireworks on New Year’s Eve, or pronounce the Italian word gnocchi as “Knotschi”. Admittedly “Alman” can be a political concept as well, for instance in reference to marginalisation and racism.

“Weird flex”

“Weird flex” applies to things you shouldn’t do or say – and you absolutely shouldn’t be boasting about them. “Weird” is sometimes substituted with the word “odd”, while “flex” is likely to come from the verb “to flex” in the sense of to bend. For instance you can flex your muscles, or show your biceps, meaning that you are showing off. “Weird flex” means something along the lines of: that’s a strange thing to brag about. It has become an internet meme: “Weird flex, but ok” is a jokey or cynical response to inappropriate bragging or views expressed in a post. But the phrase can also be used when the person didn’t say that with the intention of boating at all, but it has been distorted for amusement on the part of listeners or readers into a bizarre kind of bravado. For instance it might be a statement such as “I’ve broken the same finger three times this year”.
 

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