High school teacher pens a Generation Z dictionary

James Callahan, 43, a teacher in Lowell, Mass., apparently didn’t understand a lot of what his students were saying when he started a list, which, in the last week or so, has been a Twitter hit.

He started a language dictionary of Generation Z, loosely defined as people born from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.

“While the list itself is pretty innocuous, it is also in many ways a heuristic device for me,” he tells the Lowell Sun. “I get to learn some of the nuances of how teenagers communicate with each other, and I believe that can help me become a more effective teacher.”

Callahan, who teaches honors and Advanced Placement sociology, started asking his students to define slang terms they’d use in class. He added them to a spreadsheet that tracked the language.

Example:

“Flexed on” is a verbal gesture of dominance. “Tea” is gossip. “Beat your face” means to apply makeup.

“Facts” and “periodt” have similar meanings. The former is defined as “I agree with what you just said; a confirming question; may be used as a question or statement of fact.”

Last week, he got famous when a student tweeted a picture of a portion of the spreadsheet.

Mr. Callahan used his brief internet fame to raise money to expand the technology available in his classroom, because he’s still a teacher and it’s still 2019, when teachers have to pay for many of the resources students need to help them learn.

  • lusophone

    Do they have one for obsolete?

    • “washed” as in “washed up” might be appropriate.

  • This is basically Black Culture 101. I’m almost 40 and I use a lot of this slang all the time, and have used it for years. “finna”, “bread”, “sis”, “shade” – these are terms that have been around in the Black community for decades.

    • John

      As a middle aged white guy, I find that really interesting (legitimately interesting, not in the Minnesota use of the word). I wonder how many decades this sort of migration from black culture to white speech has been happening (as I typed that, I realized I made the assumption that the teacher in question was teaching in a predominantly white classroom, which may or may not be true). I suspect there are some solid examples from the 90’s when certain subgenres of rap started to become more mainstream. (I grew up in rural northern MN, and if slang from any non-white group made it to my town, it’s pretty safe to bet it was common across multiple cultures by then.)

      Even with that assumption about the classroom racial makeup set aside, I bet there is a massive opportunity for a doctoral student in sociology or racial studies to write a dissertation on this sort of cultural appropriation or to be more kind about it, melting pot of language. (It could be titled “Why Elvis wasn’t special.”) It’s probably already been written.

      • Lowell is basically the East Side of St. Paul

        • John

          So definitely more diverse than northern MN.

  • D.Robot

    I’m just glad we’re back to talking about a generation that has a name of a single letter.