‘Slay,’ ‘I’m dead’ and ‘yass queen’ are just a few phrases that Gen Z have snuck into the workplace. But for older colleagues not keeping up with the latest trends, those phrases might just fly over their heads. Or worse yet, their meaning might be misinterpreted.
Thankfully, Danielle Abril of The Washington Post reported on how Gen Z communicates and what those words and emojis actually mean. Abril spoke with “Marketplace” host Kimberly Adams about how the generational language can cause confusion and sometimes discomfort.
The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.
Kimberly Adams: Can you give a couple of examples of slang terms or emojis that Gen Zers are using that maybe confuses the rest of us?
Danielle Abril: Absolutely. So, Gen Z regularly uses the word “slay.” Now, they didn’t come up with this term. Arguably, this goes back to Black communities and LGBTQ+ communities, but the way that Gen Z uses it is in a way to express, “good job.” They’ll just use it in one word. So, somebody might say, “Hey, we landed a big account today.” And a Gen Z person might react with “slay,” as in “great job.” But to people who aren’t used to seeing it just as a one-word reaction, they’re not really sure what that means.
Adams: To steal some Gen Z terminology, this whole conversation of even dissecting the way that Gen Z speaks in the workplace feels a little “cringe.” And I wonder where the onus is to adapt to language in the workplace? Whose responsibility is it to cross this verbal and textual divide?
Abril: The truth of the matter is the onus is on everyone. So, for the older generations, that might look like asking questions when you get that “slay.” Sure, there may be a little bit of poking fun, a little laughter, but it helps open the communication and helps people understand each other. For some Gen Zers, what it’s looked like is code-switching. So, using maybe less of those terms in the workplace so that they don’t have to explain themselves, or — if they use those terms — being aware that they may have to do a little explaining on why they’re reacting with a skull.
Adams: And just to be clear, the skull means someone is laughing so hard, they’re dead.
Abril: Exactly. Versus, this is awful, this is death or destruction, or any kind of negative connotation we might think of it as. Gen Z sees it as, “I’m dead.” I died of laughter. This was so hilarious. So, it’s actually a positive emoji.
Adams: And I mean, we’re having this lighthearted conversation, but it really can, you know, potentially cause some problems in the workplace. One of the examples I came across was of the different interpretations of the pursed lips emoji.
Abril: Right. So this one was interesting to me too because I didn’t actually know this interpretation until doing the story. To me, no matter which pursed lips emoji you’re using, if it has a pursed lips, to me, that means it’s a kiss. But to a lot of Gen Zers, several we spoke to said that specifically the one with the eyes open, who’s pursuing the lips, that’s sort of like a cheeky, judgmental pursing of the lips, like “I told you so,” versus a kiss. And you can imagine, in a workplace, if that emoji gets sent to somebody in a judgmental fashion and the coworker receiving the emoji sees it as a kiss, that could raise some HR concerns. So, the misunderstanding of what something means could cause some problems if people aren’t asking the right questions.
Adams: What about you when you’re communicating in the workplace? Have you ever had any generational faux pas?
Abril: Unfortunately, for me, even though I am also a millennial, I tend to be on the side that doesn’t understand things. So, I am regularly DMing people who put things in our Slack channel because I literally am like, “Is that a typo?” I’ve learned so many words that are like not typos. They’re just new slang words I never learned.
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