Slang once traveled solely through word-of-mouth, but the emergence of MTV in the 1990s fundamentally changed the speed at which slang expressions could spread outside of their communities, Robert A. Leonard, a forensic linguist at Hofstra University in New York, told Insider.
"[MTV] would have back-to-back music videos and every young person watched them," Leonard said. "Then, they allowed African American performers," he said, which exposed many viewers to a culture different from their own.
"So much slang comes from African American English," he added.
The rise of social media has further changed how — and how fast — slang spreads.
"Even though slang has always existed, the emergence of social media has created a situation where the potential for slang virality has increased," John Baugh, a linguist at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, told Insider.
Not only has social media become a new and efficient pathway for the spread of slang, it offers different incentives for the creation of new words.
"What better way to become an influencer than to figure out some slang expression that can be spread and then traced back to you," Baugh said.
Here are the meanings of 15 slang terms that members of Gen Z are using in 2023.