Learning Gen Z's Language: Slang, Terminology, and Usage


As with each generation, old words take on new meanings, new terms are coined, and slang becomes part of our everyday vernacular. Generation Z is no different, and a high school teacher in Massachusetts is keeping track.

David Brown of USA Today reports “James Callahan of Lowell High School created a spreadsheet of all the colloquial terms his students have used since September along with his attempt to define them, and people on social media are having a field day.” On the web, some have said they’d pay for the list of terms.

Here’s the link to Callahan’s document on Google Drive. Take a look at this sample:


Callahan isn’t new to researching language. BuzzFeed News reports “Callahan has made a conscious habit to ask his young students to define slang he overhears over the course of 15 years he's been teaching, but it wasn't until recently that a student suggested that he actually start writing them down.” He’s been a student of the students; an observer of the culture. Callahan is a good example of how to remain engaged and seek understanding, to listen and watch as the students, and their ways of communicating, change over time.

Tanya Chen of Buzzfeed News adds, “While Callahan has characterized them as general ‘Gen Z slang,’ many of these terms that have been attributed to the Gen Z generation at large are derived from black culture, and specifically black internet culture.”  Just as we divide the population at large into generational subgroups, there are subgroups within the subgroups.

Familiarization with language and how it is changing is wise for those making an effort to connect with emerging generations. Callahan models a way to listen and keep track, easing communication with his students, and maybe even adapting his way of speaking in an effort to be clear and relatable.

Any missionary worth their salt will tell you that part of the work of proclaiming the gospel involves observing a new culture, understanding new people, and doing the work of translation. This practice is modeled for us in the incarnation. When Jesus put on the flesh, he identified with us. He also learned through the things he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). Likewise, it may not always be easy for us to bridge the gap and communicate with a new, emerging generation, but it is an opportunity for us to learn.