Dude, These Terms Were Totally Popularized By Generation X

If you were born between about 1966 and 1980, you’re a proud member of Generation X, or Gen X for short. The name Generation X was popularized by a 1991 novel of the same name by Douglas Coupland.

Riffing on baby boomer, members of Generation X have also been called—in more of a downer of a name, if you ask us—the baby busters. This is in reference to a decline in birthrate after 1965.

Gen Xers came of age with MTV, John Hughes films, and all those ’80s cartoons that seemed made just to sell toys. (We still love you, though, Care Bears.)

They also came of age with—and helped popularize—some truly tubular slang terms. We gathered together 10 slang terms that rose to prominence when many members of Generation X were at the height of their slang powers: the late 1970s to early 1990s.

Can you pick out any that you’ve used recently?

WATCH: What Are 5 Words To Describe Generation X?

Ever had a friend totally wig out on you? Maybe you told them to take a chill pill. That means they are overreacting or way too stressed. The chill pill metaphorically calms them down. More simply, you can tell someone to chill out, which is an older expression.

This is a rhyming phrase—playing on the idea of medicines relaxing someone—recorded in the early 1980s. Chill pill is still commonly seen on social media today (no surprise there).

Watch any stereotypical teen surfer flick and you’ll probably hear gnarly.

Now, gnarly generally means “bent” or “twisted.” So how did this become slang for “intense” or “awesome,” as in, that party was totally gnarly?

Well, in surfing slang in the late 1970s, gnarly meant “challenging” or “frightening,” perhaps like the mean-looking waves in the ocean. Slang has a way of flipping bad things into good things, and so gnarly evolved to mean “amazing.”

Gnarly can still refer to bad things, too, as in “gross” or “disgusting,” like getting a gnarly cut on your knee after taking a spill at the skate park.

These contradictory meanings make gnarly a pretty … gnarly word: it is used as a way to poke fun at California surfer dudes but has also firmly found its place in the slang lexicon.

One of the hallmarks of Gen X culture is its musical contributions, including punk rock and grunge.

Enter Sandman. Er, we mean, enter headbanger. Entering the language around 1980–85, a headbanger is some who loves heavy metal music, which expanded in the 1980–90s.

Heavy metal musicians and their fans came to be known for dancing in a way that their (often long-haired) heads moved (banged) back and forth.

These days, the word banger, which is used for a great song, may be more recognizable to millennials and Gen Z.

Did you know yuppie is based on an acronym? It is formed from the initial letters of young, urban professional. It is recorded in the early 1980s.

Fun fact: the early 1980s saw a similar term, yumpie, based on the phrase young, upwardly mobile people. Yeah, that one didn’t really catch on as much.

We define yuppie as “a young, ambitious, and well-educated city-dweller who has a professional career and an affluent lifestyle.” Probably the antithesis of someone who says gnarly

The yuppie has been much ridiculed in popular culture. The maniacal, lead character, Patrick Bateman, of the novel and film American Pyscho is often described as an extreme yuppie.

What would you say is the slang equivalent of the yuppie today?

Which rapper has released a diss track lately? Diss, also spelled dis, is shortened from disrespect. To diss someone is to insult them, to treat them with, well, disrespect.

It is credited to Black slang in the 1980s, and it is very much still with us today—as we can see in its extension to a diss track, or a song released by a rapper to clap back at another for insulting them.

Some famous hip-hop artists of the Gen X era that made diss tracks? LL Cool J and Ice Cube, to name just a few of the biggies.

We need to take it back to California for this one, and to the Bay Area specifically.

Hella is hella versatile. It can be an adverb meaning “very, extremely,” as in that pizza is hella good. It can also be an adjective, meaning “many, much,” as in we ate hella pizza last night.

Hella is probably shortened from helluva (hell of a, a phrase used as an intensifier). It’s recorded in the early 1980s—though (one) hell of a can be found all the way back in the 1600s!

Hella is thought to originate in Northern California, likely in Black slang in Oakland in the late 1970s. In the 1980s, hella is notably found in a skateboarding magazine, used by that headbanger, James Hetfield of Metallica.

Pop culture and social media have helped spread hella from the Bay Area since then.

If someone says you’re trippin’, that means you’re acting like a fool, that you’re being too excited, that you’re too bothered about something. Take these examples: “I’m not trippin’ over the mess that happened last night,” or “You gotta be trippin’ to say you’re going to ditch me today.”

This slang is found in the 1980s. It appears to ultimately be related to a psychedelic drug trip, a slang sense which is decades older. So, if you’re tripping, it’s like you’re high.

Look to a few rap songs and you’ll still see trippin’ being used. In the early 1990s, influential rapper Dr. Dre used it in a hit song. Younger generations will see trippin’ used by the likes of Nicki Minaj, SZA, and Drake.

This one is another nod to the rock that enriched the lives of Generation X. If a friend tells you that you rock, take it as a compliment, because it means “you’re absolutely awesome.”

The slang verb rock, generally meaning “to be excellent,” is recorded in the 1980s. But it has long history, and, yes, is connected to rock ‘n’ roll music.

The name for this hugely influential genre—ultimately rooted in Black art and culture—alludes to the rocking (back and forth) involved in popular dancing to the music (among, um, other acts). This rock is recorded as early as the 1930s!

Such dancing and music became associated with ideas of excitement, of energy, of hipness, of sexiness, and so rock evolves into a verb meaning “to be great.” Now that rocks.

Dude, you totally rock. That expression may conjure up images of California beach bums, but keep a hold of your surfboards. The story of dude is a long and wild ride.

Dude is actually recorded in the late 1800s. It originally meant “a man excessively concerned with his clothes, grooming, and manners”—perhaps a kind of hipster of the day.

The word is thought to be shortened from doodle, slang for “fool” and may even be connected to Yankee Doodle Dandy. Yes, like the song.

Now, dude spread as slang for “a man” in the US in the 1900s, but in the 1980s, dude took a jump as a term of address (like hey, dude) and exclamation (Dude, that’s awesome!).

What’s cool about dude is that, though associated with men in the past, it has become gender-neutral.

Those who spend some time online today will recognize the phrases my dude and dope, dude. Cute, little animals are even sometimes called dudes. Millennials and zoomers have taken dude and adopted it to fit with the rest of their ever-growing dictionary of slang.

Our final Gen X-themed slang is to the max. It is short for to the maximum, and is used casually to mean “completely” or “extremely.”

As in, that movie was entertaining to the max, or even, I have hella homework to do and it’s bumming me out to the max.

As you can tell, this phrase usually appears at the end of a sentence to give an extra bit of oomph to everything that came before it.

To the max is recorded in the early 1970s, a little bit early on the Gen X side of things, but it definitely took off in—and became tightly associated with—the 1980s. In fact, it’s hard not to use this phrase without sounding out of date, though it can sometimes be a welcome bit of nostalgia.

And hey, producer DJ Khaled and rapper Drake featured this phrase back in their 2017 song “To the Max.” If Drake says it, it has to be cool … right? In the song, Drake raps:

Can’t think of a night that we ain’t turn up to the max
To the max, no
Like the album just went platinum, yeah
Turnt up to the max

What words do you still find yourself using from this list today?

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