The 2010s pop culture dictionary: from 'Winning!' to Hot Girl Summer
A new decade means new slang, and before we bid 2019 goodbye, it’s time to look back on the popular terms coined during the past 10 years. From all things Beyoncé to “Wakanda forever,” from perennial favorites to now-cringy slang, here are the words and phrases that defined the pop culture dictionary of the 2010s.
From Bernie Sanders to Snoop Dogg, Reddit’s Ask Me Anything subreddit has hosted scores of high-profile figures since its 2009 founding. The term, originally indicating an online Q&A session, is now widely used on other social media platforms for everyday and satirical purposes.
Meaning “babe” and standing for “before anyone else,” “bae” came into use between 2013 and 2014, thanks to social media and artists like Lil Wayne, Pharrell, and Drake. Used for both sincere Instagram captions and comedic memes (e.g., Salt Bae), the term has now firmly entered the lexicon.
Who runs the world? Beyoncé. Her dominance of music has of course translated to language, and we have her to thank for all the new terms that have popped up, including the Beyhive, Saturday Night Live’s hilarious “Beygency” sketch (see below), and Beychella.
The first Korean act to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the highest Twitter engagement of all time, the first group since the Beatles to earn three No. 1 albums in less than a year, and the most talked-about musicians on Twitter in 2018 — K-pop group BTS (a.k.a. the Bangtang Boys) has been an unstoppable global force since their founding in 2013.
Although the term existed before, the debut of Nev Shulman’s 2010 documentary and ensuing MTV series of the same name catapulted “catfish” to a mainstream audience. Now we all know what it means to deceive someone through a fake identity. Well, not everyone.
Ahh, Fortnite. The great divider. Hearing about Fortnite either compels you to floss or makes you feel old as hell. The online multiplayer game, released in 2017, has gotten so popular that its most famous streamer, Ninja, has played with Drake and competed on this season of The Masked Singer.
“Ghosting” gained popularity starting in the 2010s, and originally meant ending a romantic relationship by stopping all communication without explanation. The term now applies to all sorts of situations, from friendships to the job hunt. There’s even a new MTV reality series based around the concept, although it hasn’t been well received.
Hashtags, which Twitter widely adopted in 2009, have become the ubiquitous way to organize topics and trends. Everyone uses hashtags now — whether it’s Ellen DeGeneres creating a storm with #Oscars or your cousin tagging #TBT for her vacation pics from two weeks ago (that doesn’t count, Carole).
9. Hot Girl Summer
A more recent entry, 2019’s Hot Girl Summer was rapper Megan Thee Stallion’s way of encouraging people to unapologetically live their best lives. The saying has spawned memes, a Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla Sign–featured track, a Tonight Show remix, and spin-offs like Christian Girl Fall and Grand Theft Autumn.
Memes, arguably the fabric of modern society, have been part of popular culture for more than a decade. But in the past 10 years, we’ve seen memes evolve from basic all-caps Doge images to nearly incomprehensible jokes that still make us laugh. A song or a movie getting the meme treatment is often a sign that it’s made it, so take it as a symbol of honor.
Marvel Studios’ success in the past decade is truly unparalleled, leading the MCU (or Marvel Cinematic Universe) to be synonymous with expansive and entertaining cinematic mega-franchises — so much so that fans are hungry for more CUs, from the Paddington Bear Cinematic Universe to the Adam Driver Cinematic Universe.
#MeToo, a phrase first coined by activist Tarana Burke, became a rallying cry of the 2017 movement against sexual misconduct in Hollywood. In the years since, countless people have spoken out against Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, and others; our wider culture began overdue conversations about consent and equity; and now #MeToo and Time’s Up have become synonymous with standing up to abuse of power.
13. On fleek
There were a good few years when everyone was saying “on fleek,” thanks to Kayla Lewis’ 2014 Vine (remember Vine?). The phrase, meaning something is on point, was subsequently used in songs by rappers like Nicki Minaj and Future. Then “on fleek” met an end that many other trends see — death by corporate Twitter accounts and everyone’s aunts co-opting the term.
Before Disney+ and a billion others, Netflix was the OG. The service, which introduced streaming in 2010, forged a digital blueprint through the success of early originals like Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards. Netflix has become so prevalent that it’s now a catch-all meaning any online viewing — after all, “Hulu and chill” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
While it’s certainly overused, “problematic” has become a helpful word used by those who care about the impact of the content they’re consuming. As more attention is paid to representation, inclusion, and nuance, audiences want to support artists whose values they can get behind. Even Friends fans can still watch the show while acknowledging its problematic areas (e.g.occasional homophobia).
Inspired by a 2000 Eminem song about a crazed fan, the word “stan” has taken on a life of its own in the last few years. It can be used ironically, or in the case of Stan Twitter, with the utmost sincerity. If you’re a Barbz (Nicki Minaj stan) or rep ARMY (BTS stan) — you’re committed for life.
Like its counterparts “shade” and “read,” “tea” originated with ballroom culture and drag performers from the LGBTQ community. “Spilling tea,” “sipping tea,” and “that’s the tea” — all variations on dropping the truth — were popularized by RuPaul’s Drag Race and have since spilled into mainstream usage. So while any girl from Alpha Phi can use these terms, Mikayla certainly did not coin them.
18. Wakanda forever
When it debuted in 2018, Black Panther was the first Marvel film with a predominantly black cast. It was a game-changer in storytelling and representation, and for months after, Black Panther memes and the phrase “Wakanda forever” were all we saw on the timeline, and there wasn’t any problem with that (unless you’re Chadwick Boseman and get asked to say it 100 times a day).
Remember when Charlie Sheen gave that bizarro interview in 2011 and everyone ironically said “winning!” for way too long? Yeah, we don’t miss that either. Still, it’s the darkest moments in pop culture history that inspire us to do better in the future.
The “carpe diem” for the 2010s, YOLO has completed its evolution from intriguing new slang to so-uncool-it’s-ironically-funny-again territory. Drake popularized the acronym with a song in 2011, the Lonely Island released a track called “YOLO” in 2013, and six years later we still catch ourselves saying it.