By: Victoria Goldiee
Since launching in 2006, Twitter (since renamed X) has changed how people communicate and socialize on the internet.
Perhaps its most enduring contribution lies with a community popularly known as "Black Twitter," a space that has had an indelible influence on today's society—from cancel culture to supposedly new languages actually derived from Black English. Since it coalesced online, Black Twitter has produced countless pop culture references and protested real-world injustices online.
The term Black Twitter comprises a large network of Black users on the platform and their loosely coordinated interactions, many of which accumulate into trending topics due to its size, interconnectedness, and unique activity.
As Meredith D. Clark, an associate professor at Northeastern University working to archive the Black web, explained to the University of Virginia: "Black Twitter doesn't have a gateway, a secret knock. It's not a separate platform. It's all in the way that people use the platform to draw attention to issues of concern to Black communities."
African American Vernacular English, or Black American English, is one of America's greatest sources of linguistic creativity, and Black Twitter especially has played a pivotal role in how words like "tea" and "pressed" went from obscurity to mainstream. Many of the words on this list had lives before X but have now seen increased usage even outside Black communities, for better or worse.
X's future is now in question, though. Since Elon Musk's acquisition of the platform in October 2022, X saw an increase in hateful posts and failed to moderate almost all of them on verified accounts. According to Pew Research, 3 in 5 users have taken a break from the platform as of March 2023, and Black users were especially more likely to take a break versus their white counterparts, taking a break 69% of the time versus 54% of the time, putting the future of Black Twitter in question. The sharp surge of N-word usage on X likely didn't make the platform feel any safer to Black users, either.
What remains true, though: Black Twitter has forged an unbreakable community.
In honor of Black Twitter's contribution, Stacker compiled a list of 20 slang words it brought to popularity, using the AAVE Glossary, Urban Dictionary, Know Your Meme, and other internet resources. From "yass" to "brazy," read how these words have taken over our vocabulary in the past decade.
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"Lawd" is an alternative spelling of the word "lord" and an expression often associated with Black churchgoers. It is used to express a range of emotions, from sadness to excitement. For example, "Oh lawd, my day was stressful."
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"Brazy" is another word for "crazy," replacing the "c" with a "b." It can also be used to describe someone with great skill or who has accomplished something seemingly impossible. The expression is thought to have originated with the Bloods, a gang that originated in Los Angeles, who wanted to avoid using "crazy" because it started with the letter "c," which they associated with their rival, the Crips. Tyga uses the same letter replacement technique in his 2023 song "Bops Goin Brazy."
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"Yass" means "yes" and expresses excitement or agreement; on X, it is celebratory slang. Despite its fame on the internet, the expression "yass" has existed since the 1890s, when writer George W. Cable captured a slice of Creole New Orleans in his book "John March, Southerner."
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"Tea" is slang for gossip, a juicy scoop, or other personal information. Its first printed use came as early as 1991 in William G. Hawkeswood's "One of the Children: An Ethnography of Identity and Gay Black Men," wherein one of the subjects used the word "tea" to mean "gossip." The term is often used with the expression "spilling tea" or "dishing out the gossip."
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The word "pressed" connotes a certain weight put on someone. It could mean being upset or stressed to the point that something lives in your mind "rent-free," as Black Twitter might say. Or, in the case of Cardi B's 2019 song "Press," it could literally refer to her being hounded by the media.
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"Beat" is when the makeup on someone makes them look truly spectacular; it can also mean the process by which one "beats" their face, or applies their makeup. So take pride whenever someone tells you, "Your face looks so beat." The term can also be used to describe outfits.
"Snatched" is thought to have come from early '90s Black drag culture, where stage performers wore weaves and if their performances were good enough, it could "snatch" one's weave or socks off. Today, "snatched" is an expression that conveys that someone is "on point" with their look: "Your entire outfit looks snatched today, girl!" The term is commonly used to compliment someone's body or physique.
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"Turn up" means to have fun, let loose, and enjoy a party. Think when rapper 2 Chainz says in his 2011 song "Turn Up," "I walked in, then I turn up," appearing with his pockets full of $100 bills and a Mercedes-Benz in front, or when Lil Jon asks his listeners on his hit 2013 single of the same name with DJ Snake, "Turn down for what?" The phrase literally becomes a challenge to tone down for nothing and no one.
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"Slippin" means not paying attention and being caught off guard. When you're slippin, you're losing control. This happens when you are careless and naive and someone more street savvy takes advantage of that, like when DMX calls for help on his 1998 song "Slippin'," on which he pleads: "Ayo, I'm slippin', I'm fallin', I can't get up."
To "read" someone is to call attention to their flaws or shortcomings. The term originated from Black gay culture and implies that someone's faults can be so obvious that it would be like reading text from a book. The concept is what powers the Reading Challenge on "RuPaul's Drag Race," where contestants are asked to eviscerate their competition with sharp "reads."
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"Shade" is a subtler form of showing contempt, which can sometimes be expressed verbally or in other ways. The term was first used in a documentary of the 1980s drag scene in Manhattan, where drag queen Dorian Corey explains how "reads" evolve into "shade." E. Patrick Johnson, now the dean of communication at Northwestern University, told the New York Times in 2015 that "shade" is a concept with roots in the era of slavery when people who were enslaved could not give insults directly.
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"Vibe" means a certain kind of energy, whether good or bad, similar to the German word "zeitgeist." The Guardian credits rap culture and Black vernacular language as early pioneers of the word, with A Tribe Called Quest releasing "Vibes and Stuff" in 1991 and Quincy Jones notably launching Vibe magazine two years later. The word can mean a multitude of things, from being compatible with someone (to vibe with them) to a place having just the right energy.
We been knew
"We been knew" means "we already knew." It is a phrase used to convey that something was fairly apparent even before it became a known fact. It can also be shortened to "wbk."
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"Fierce" may easily describe lions or other grand, wild animals, but nowadays, the term is given to someone confident and eye-catching. The term entered the mainstream in part thanks to Beyoncé's 2008 album "I Am... Sasha Fierce," where she created her confident, on-stage alter ego.
"Bae" is short for baby or babe. It refers to a person's significant other and can be used as a term of endearment. It could also be an acronym meaning "before anyone else." The term has been around since 2012 with the "bae caught me slippin'" meme, which were selfie photos posted online as if they were taken by another person while the subject was asleep.
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"Bruh" originated from the word "brother" and was used by Black men to address each other as far back as the late 1800s. Around 1890, it was recorded as a title that came before someone's name, like Bruh John. It became popular again in the 1960s. Aside from being used to refer to someone, it can also be an interjection to react to something with surprise and dismay: "Did you leave the milk sitting out overnight? Bruh…"
"On fleek" was coined in mere seconds by a Chicago teenager, Kayla Newman. In June 2014, she posted a short six-second Vine video describing her eyebrows as being "on fleek," or perfectly executed in style and precision. It's also used to express anything else deemed flawless.
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"Lituation" is often used to describe gatherings, events, or even just moments that are particularly enjoyable and memorable. It's a way of capturing the feeling of being in a thrilling and vibrant environment and combines the words "lit" and "situation." In 2014, rapper Fabolous, who had released the song "Lituation," explained the concept during an interview on Power 105.1 The Breakfast Club.
"Basic" is a term Black Twitter uses to describe someone who is uninteresting and would be difficult to socialize with, even casually. Less negatively, it can also describe something that is very mainstream.
Like pumping your biceps, "flex" evokes images of showing off your assets or advantages. The term has been around in Black American communities since the 1990s, appearing as early as 1992 on "It Was a Good Day" by Ice Cube, who raps: "No flexin', didn't even look in a n----'s direction." Have you been working out and wearing crop tops to show off your abs? That's a flex.
Story editing by Carren Jao. Copy editing by Paris Close.