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Every brand's guide to slang, memes, and Internet Speak

January 28 2019

Alyssa Smith

Does speaking internet count as being bilingual?

If so, we at Skidmore Studio are skilled translators capable of guiding you and your brand on a journey through this vast territory of garbled, unstable language.

The slang, memes, and written style of the web are incredibly important tools in any modern communicator’s kit of parts. The more you understand the native language, the better you can reach younger audiences with growing buying power. So grab your guidebook and pith helmet—we’re going deep into the wilds of the web to understand Internet Speak as we know it in 2019.

Defining key terms

Before we start our adventure, let’s lay out a few key terms. “Slang” no longer fully encompasses the internet’s complex and ever-evolving language system, so we’ve also defined and differentiated the terms “memes” and “style.”


Slang
Invented, repurposed, or shortened words characteristically more playful, vivid, and ephemeral.


Memes
Visual interpretations of a feeling or emotion meant to accompany text; spreads based on relatability. 


Style
Non-standard grammar usage that mimics the tone of spoken word or expressions via plain text.

Meeting the locals

When it comes to locating today’s internet locals, look no further than Millennials and Generation Z. These two groups, ranging from their early teens to mid-thirties, were the first generations to grow up with the internet as a ubiquitous tool in their everyday life. (They’re often called “digital natives” for that very reason.)


Millennials shaped the way we communicate digitally by exploring fonts, colors, and emoticons in their early AIM days, and evolved such usages as they moved into adulthood. Around this time, slang and memes entered the broader public conscious, breaking out of their strictly digital home base and inspiring thousands of think-pieces on the degradation of the English language.


Today Gen Z is pushing the vernacular even further, fully embracing memes and slang and adding volumes to the lexicon. They seamlessly integrate the new digital vernacular into all aspects of their digital and real lives, cultivating the language across their social groups and platforms. Gen Z uses these elements to express their concerns and frustrations with society, turning memes, in particular, into vehicles that highlight injustice in the world around them.

Practicing cultural sensitivity

In addition to knowing what a word or meme means, it’s also important to understand where it came from. Many popular words are plucked from American Vernacular English (AAVE) or the queer community, raising questions about whether the word is appropriated.


This is cause for concern among many consumers, especially when slang or memes appear inauthentic to the brand’s personality or mission. However, if there is room in a brand for an authentic usage of slang, memes, and style, adopting them intentionally in your style guide will allow brands to better connect with their intended audiences.

Gaining fluency

In fact, the notion of “authenticity” is inherent to both the natives and the language itself. Knowing the background and nuances of a certain phrase or image means actively participating in the culture that creates them. For brands in particular, this is where using slang and memes can make or break their connection with an audience.


For brands, language is everything. A well-crafted brand has a visual language chock-full of color theory, iconography, and meaningful use of shapes and form, along with a vocabulary, writing style, and grammar to match. Slang and memes can be key tools to add to the brand arsenal—get it right and your copy will land in an unforgettable way with your audience.


Even if you’re a brand that doesn’t use slang, knowing the language will also help you understand the wants and needs of your audience as they express themselves through memes and style. Strive for true understanding of what any slang words or memes mean before use. Also be conscious, considerate, and educated on the history of a word to make smart decisions and avoid being called out for appropriation.

Stay safe out there!

With a better understanding of how people use slang and memes to communicate on the internet, you’ll be able to dive deep into the cultures where your audiences live, work, and play—and you can always lean on our Internet Dictionary (below) in a pinch. Otherwise, enjoy your trip and stay safe out there. The internet’s a wild place.

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THE SKIDMORE INTERNET DICTIONARY

Since there is no way to reflect all the ebbs and flow of internet language, this is only a mere peek at what the web is up to these days. Find an older edition here.

Updated January 2019

*[action]* (style)
Statements that communicate action; that action applies to the following statement


*Sticks leg in the air* Give me attention.


bougie (adj.)
Perceived as fancy, high-end, or upscale; derived from “bourgeois.”


I just saw a guy sporting a man bun and flannel shirt that cost more than my rent—we need to find a less bougie brunch place.


cryptid ______ (adj.)
Ascribing rarity to a class of people.


Reblog if ur a cryptid gen z-millennial like me (born between 1994-2003).


finna (v.)
Going to do something or getting ready to do something; shorthand of “fixing to.”


Finna fall asleep at reasonable time tonight. #selfcare


gucci (adj.)
A versatile word for okay, good, great, etc.


They bought me a pizza to make up for the one they ate. We gucci now.


guy looking back (meme)
Use when trying to capture fickle or surprising opinions by labeling each character as a thing or intent.


Woman in red: New books at the bookstore
Guy: Me
Girlfriend: Books I have at home that I still haven’t read

Disloyal man with his girlfriend looking at another girl
Disloyal man walking with his girlfriend and looking amazed at another seductive girl


lowercase typing (style)
Removing all capitals from a sentence to give it a relaxed and/or detached tone of voice; often paired with minimalist/maximalist punctuation styles.


don’t ever let a recipe tell you how many chocolate chips to put in you measure that shit with your heart


minimalist/maximalist punctuation (style)
Using no punctuation to communicate a disjointed train of thought or an overabundance of punctuation to break up the message and overcommunicate a state of being; often paired with the lowercase typing style.


why would u eat healthy?????? to live longer ????..??? .all im hearing are two negatives.


OTP (n.)
Wanting to see two things romantically connected; stands for “one true pairing”


That’s how you like your PB&J? Nah, grape jelly and crunchy Jif is my OTP.


Surprised Pikachu (meme)
Use when the outcome is predictable but, nevertheless, you’re surprised.


me: I don’t need to write that down, I’ll remember it
also me: *forgets it*

Pikachu Meme


salty (adj.)
A way to describe someone who is angry, upset, or bitter.


She’s salty about how poorly the movie adapted the book.


same. (adj.)
Relating to something strongly; as in “I feel the same.”


Whenever my cat is tired or hungry, she just screams. And, honestly, same.


stan (v.)
To look up to someone, to admire someone.


She stans Michelle Obama ever since she read Becoming.


woke (v.)
Being aware of a situation, especially re: issues of racism and social injustice.


Beauty products have no regulations around the use of “organic” or “natural” labeling. Stay woke.
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Additions, questions, concerns? Or need further help communicating with your target audience in authentic, meaningful ways? Reach out