“OK TikTok, I have a new word for you that my friends and I are using that you clearly need,” says Hallie Cain, 24, a Los Angeles writer in a TikTok published on March 30.
In the video, she beckons to another video of a girl who describes “the type of people who get married at 20” or have millennial “girlboss energy” and wondering: what do you call it? this type of person?
“I keep seeing videos like this,” Ms. Cain says in her TikTok. “The word, my friend, is ‘cheugy’.”
It’s not quite “basic”, which can describe someone who is conformist or maybe generic in their tastes, and it’s not quite “uncool”. It is not embarrassing or even always negative. Cheugy (pronounced chew-gee) can be used, in general, to describe someone who is outdated or who is trying too hard. And while a lot of cheugy things are associated with millennials, the term can be applied to anyone of any gender and age.
It’s not just a way of describing people. According to people who have embraced the word, the following are also cheugy: The Hype House, the Golden Goose sneakers, everything Barstool Sports associated with, the Gucci belts with the big double “G” logo, being really in the culture. sneakers, Rae Dunn pottery and all herringbone.
“A friend of mine said the lasagna was cheugy,” Ms. Cain said.
Things decidedly not cheugy, according to his ancestors: economy, making his own clothes, artisan products, Levi’s jeans, Birkenstocks, home decoration not found at Target. “You look good for yourself and don’t care what other people think, that confidence exudes non-cheugyness,” said Gaby Rasson, 23, a software developer in Los Angeles who coined the term.
She said she started using the word in 2013 while attending Beverly Hills High School. She wanted a way to describe people who were slightly off trend. But she couldn’t quite find the right term, so she created her own.
“It was a category that didn’t exist,” she said. “There was a missing word that was on the edge of my tongue and nothing to describe it and ‘cheugy’ came to me. The way it sounded matched the meaning. ”
Word spread among his classmates, then camp friends, then when his friends left for college, it took off on their campuses. “Everyone in our sorority knows the word cheugy,” said Abby Siegel, 23, a producer and former student at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who said she learned the phrase at summer camp. in which Ms. Rasson also participated.
But cheugy was by no means common until Ms. Cain released her TikTok. It quickly amassed hundreds of thousands of views, inspiring explainers.
Although cheugy has slight negative connotations, people who use the term have stated that they often identify themselves as cheugy. “Anyone can be cheugy,” Ms. Siegel said. “Everyone has something cheugy in their closet. We didn’t mean for it to be a mean thing. Some people have claimed that this is the case. It’s just a funny word that we used as a group of friends that kind of resonated with a group of people. “
Women do not claim to be the arbiters of the term either. “It’s also totally open to your interpretation,” Ms. Cain said. “I’ll send something to our group chat and say, ‘Is this cheugy?’ and some will say “yes” and some will say “no”. “
Michael Cotos, 24, actor in Los Angeles, discovered the word on TikTok and it immediately resonated as a niche descriptor. “I was like OMG, that’s the perfect word,” he said. “It’s a certain subgroup of people who just don’t quite get it.”
Alex Lugger, 32, a boat saleswoman in Springfield, Missouri, said she identified herself as a little cheugy. (She also learned the word from TikTok.) “We were basic in our twenties and now we’re in our thirties,” she says.
Cheugy is just the latest in a long line of niche identifiers that have gained traction on the internet, where people relentlessly categorize very specific archetypes in starter pack memes and videos. It’s no coincidence that cheugy has gained traction on TikTok, a platform that has functioned as an escape from the once-dominant Instagram aesthetic, which is the pinnacle of cheugy.
Kelly Wright, an experimental sociolinguist and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan who studies the language, said that with the rise of social media, “we are seeing words emerging to define very niche categories of people, identities and behaviors. At their core, they mark shared events or a shared understanding of the world. These words that emerge from small communities have the potential to be picked up by a larger audience because of social media and this connectivity.
Ultimately, words like cheugy are as much about establishing who you are not as they are who you are. “A word like cheugy is a way of referring to a group within a group and an outside group,” said Gretchen McCulloch, linguist and author of “Because the Internet,” a book on how the Internet has shaped language.
She said that while the notion of cheugy has probably been around for some time, the term itself is new and novel enough to be fashionable on its own. “There are certain types of words that cross trends, just like clothing and accessories,” Ms. McCulloch said. “They’ve been in fashion for a while and are going out of style. The word for cool is replaced every few years, cool remains a substantive word. Groovy meant cool, now it’s dated. Coming up with a word like cheugy is a way to distance yourself from something that was very popular until very recently. “
As such, what is and is not cheugy is very subjective and changes rapidly. “It’s really easy to identify the cheugy things on TikTok because TikTok is so fast-paced and there are so many trends coming and going,” Ms. Siegel said.
“I see stuff and I’m like, it’s so overkill so I think it’s cheugy. Whereas if I didn’t see it on my “For You” page, I wouldn’t think it was cheugy, ”she said, referring to what is essentially TikTok’s homepage.
And for all the millennials worried about being behind the trends, Ms. Cain said don’t worry. “I think millennials have noticed that some things we used to think of as cheugy are coming back in style and not being cheugy anymore,” she said. “When I first found the word in 2015, hipster jeans were cheugy. Now, six years later, low rise jeans are back in fashion and I don’t think they are cheugy anymore.