'Cheugy,' TikTok's viral new word that's similar to 'basic,' explained

'Cheugy,' TikTok's viral new word that's similar to 'basic,' explained
Wine jokes, minion memes, Ugg slippers, and Barstool Sports could all be considered cheugy.Inti St Clair/Getty Images; Dreamworks; Zappos; Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
  • The word "cheugy" went viral on TikTok and was the subject of a recent New York Times report.
  • It signifies a certain out-of-touch aesthetic that's difficult to define, but easy to identify.
  • The term is similar to more familiar descriptors like "basic" or "local."

There's a new word out there to describe the intersection of millennial, girlboss, and out-of-style cringe: "cheugy."

The term (pronounced chew-gee) has been making the rounds on TikTok over the past month or so and was the subject of a recent report in The New York Times, showing that it's entering the mainstream online lexicon. What's cheugy? It's somewhat hard to pin down, but as the Times' Taylor Lorenz wrote, you "know it when you see it."

Those signs with platitudes about home and family written in flowing script? Cheugy. Hackneyed social media captions like saying "he's alright" when posting a picture with your boyfriend? Cheugy. Ugg slippers? Cheugy. The whimsical Rae Dunn products people lose it over? Cheugy. "The Masked Singer" on Fox? Cheugy. Barstool Sports? Definitely cheugy.
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Ultimately, cheuginess is a vibe, something that you can sense without always being able to substantiate why.

Cheugy was coined by a 23-year-old software developer when she was in high school

According to The New York Times, 23-year-old software developer Gabby Rasson created the term. Unable to find a word for people or objects that were just a bit out of touch with current trends, she made up her own as a high school student.

"Cheugy" has been circulating online since 2018 at the latest, when the @cheuglife Instagram account, which tracks assorted cheugy ephemera, posted its first public post. The word was also added to Urban Dictionary, a site where users catalog internet slang, in November 2018. The Urban Dictionary definition defines it as "the opposite of trendy" and "stylish in middle school and high school but no longer in style."
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Recently, it's gained new life on TikTok after copywriter Hallie Cain (@webkinzwhore143) posted a video on March 30 explaining the word.

@webkinzwhore143

Expand your vocabulary to include made up words #greenscreen #cheugy #cheug

♬ original sound - Hal
"Ok TikTok, I have a new word for you that my friends and I use that you clearly are all in need of," Cain said in the video, which currently has over 100,000 likes. "People will say things like 'this is millennial' or 'girlboss energy.' All of these terms are pointing to the same thing. The word, my friends, is 'cheugy.'" As Rasson told The New York Times, the term spread among her friends in high school, at summer camp, and at college. In turn, those people introduced it to their own social circles. It finally hit the mainstream after Cain's video brought it to a wider audience on TikTok. In The Know's Kelsey Weekman appears to have been one of the first to report on the term's ascendance on TikTok.
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The term is vague, which is part of what makes it so appealing

Cheuginess is subjective and open to interpretation. Cain told The New York Times that her group chat will debate (and disagree on) what is or isn't cheugy. The term indexes a variety of familiar aesthetics, like those of white millennial women, girlbosses, college campus Greek life, or "straight TikTok." Lorenz described it to Rolling Stone as "trying too hard with the trends."

That makes it the perfect kind of vague signifier, easily applied in a variety of very familiar contexts that resonate both with millennials and zoomers (members of Gen Z). As Rolling Stone's Ej Dickson wrote, it's another installment in the online war between the neighboring generations, previously manifested through the playful slandering of skinny jeans and side parts, and even the writing of diss tracks in response.

Unlike other adjacent slang words - "local" or "basic" immediately come to mind - cheugy isn't as strongly negative, and it's also something with which some people self-identify. That sets it apart somewhat from its predecessors: describing someone as "local" or "basic" is indubitably judgmental, implying a kind of obliviousness or strict adherence to mainstream culture.
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But cheugy isn't quite as harsh. As Abby Siegel, one of Rasson's friends who uses the term, told The New York Times, the term didn't have malicious intent. Part of the joke of it all is that everyone is likely a bit cheugy in one way or another.

Some critics have called 'cheugy' misogynistic or classist

Like similar terms, some critics have said that the "cheugy" aesthetic plays into misogynistic and classist tropes about what kinds of items or cultural phenomena are perceived as out-of-touch. Many of those criticisms echo discourse around words like "basic," which has been used in ways that indicate class anxiety, as Anne Helen Peterson wrote for BuzzFeed News in 2014.

Cain responded to that initial criticism the day after posting her first TikTok, saying that cheugy is also applicable to brand-name products like Gucci belts. As The Cut's Mia Mercado wrote, other luxury items like Tiffany & Co. bracelets or Tory Burch sandals are also cheugy.
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Others have also criticised cheugy for being misogynistic and indexing a particular kind of millennial womanhood. Similar criticisms were also levied against "basic." Noreen Malone wrote for The Cut in 2014 that the term seemed to target women who were into feminine things, critiquing their consumption habits (think Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes or infinity scarves).

But as Dickson wrote for Rolling Stone, there's a distinction to be made between "bullying" women in a misogynistic way and making fun of trends they participate in. "Misogyny is insidious and takes many forms in our culture, but making fun of someone for posting Minion memes is not one of them," she wrote.

The cheugy aesthetic, while encapsulating a number of similar products or phenomena as "basic," can also be applied regardless of gender. It also seems to encapsulate a number of masculine tropes like the Barstool Sports catchphrase "Saturdays are for the boys" and hanging flags on a bedroom wall, which the @cheuglife Instagram account called "the epitome of male cheug interior design."
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Ultimately, "cheugy" plays into a desire to taxonomize culture as a whole, assigning labels to aesthetics and trends. For zoomers who grew up watching the evolution of the "basic" aesthetic among millennials and are now falling into similar cycles themselves, cheugy is a way to capture that slight out-of-touchness. In this case, it also sets the stage for self-acceptance in a way that "basic" didn't.

"We all have a little cheug in us," Cain said in a follow-up to her original TikTok video.
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