The Language Of The 1980s: Like, Bag Your Face

The decade of the 1980s will forever be remembered for the way it looked and sounded. On the visual end, you had the explosion of color on networks like MTV and shows like Miami Vice. With MTV, you didn’t need to have a great song, you just needed to have a flashy, catchy video. With Miami Vice, it was all about the pastels and art deco on South Beach. You also can’t forget the Ferrari, too. The white one.

Language took a real turn in the 1980s, too. Movies such as Pretty In Pink, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles and Fast Times At Ridgemont High all showcased teen speak of the moment. And a bonus factoid: while using the word “like” as a modifier is like, way popular today—they were doin’ it back in the day. Like, a lot. You know? Then there was that one music video that wrapped it all up in a concise, under-four-minute MTV-powered package. We’ll save that one until the end, unless you want to cheat and scroll on down.

But if you want to start out with an ’80s lingo pop-quiz, hop over here.


Dude is a term that’s still in use to this day. defines dude as “a man excessively concerned with his clothes, grooming, and manners.” The interesting thing about this word is it has multiple cultural inferences, depending on how you say it. If you say it to someone in a short, clipped fashion—you’re mad. If you drag the word out breathlessly, you’re amazed. If you use it like they did in Fast Times, you’re stoned.  Aerosmith also scored a big 1980s hit with dude in the title.


Bitchin’ sizes this one up perfectly: “Marvelous, wonderful.” It is mostly used in a declarative, enthusiastic fashion. An example no doubt once used at the Sherman Oaks Galleria: “Those Jordache jeans are totally bitchin’!” (Also see tubular.)


No religious subtext here, dudes. We define this as “an exclamation of surprise, pleasure, dismay.” This one is frequently used in our final example entry.


If something is gnarly, it’s “distasteful; distressing; offensive; gross.” Our erstwhile Jeff Spicoli of Fast Times goes on a field trip to see an autopsy and proves the proper context. (Also see “Grody.”)


This is an interesting inclusion, as the word bogus itself is quite old. In the 1980s, it was used to mean “ignorant; not up-to-date; unattractive; lame, square.” Yet the word dates back to the early 1800s, referring to counterfeit currency.

Gag Me With A Spoon

You’re disgusted and about to retch. The perfect lead-in to our final entry. A note to our audience—did you ever hear anyone use this phrase back in the day? Outside of MTV?



The intertwined concepts of Val-Speak and Valley Girl rose to prominence with this song, which, as Wikipedia accurately notes, was intended to “lampoon the affluent Southern California teen culture of the San Fernando Valley.” Val-speak is associated with “uptalk,” or ending a sentence with an upward inflection. Moon Zappa gives a performance for the ages. Or not. When the aliens dig up the 1980s time capsule, what will they think?