Bae, On Fleek & Cray Cray? How to Translate Generation Z Lingo

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Although your company may not be seeing the influence of Gen Z currently, you should expect this to change within the next five years. By 2019, Gen Z will make up over 20% of your workforce – and with that, they’ll be bringing their own brand of work ethic and their own unique style of communication. Gen Z is a highly social and sharing-oriented generation. In fact, 42% of Gen Z’ers who responsed to a survey by Adecco answered that they spend 5 hours or more on social media or streaming television (and only 16% will spend that much time in their job search). If you’ve found yourself scratching your head upon hearing the word “bae” or “cray” come out of the mouth of a Gen Z-er, you’re not alone – but as the job market continues to welcome more Gen Z’s, you might want to equip yourself with a baseline understanding of some of these seemingly outlandish terms. We wouldn’t necessarily recommend that you start telling your new hire that his suit is “on fleek,” but knowing what these words mean when you hear them could help you to form a stronger work relationship with your Gen Z hires overall. Here’s your lightweight introduction to Gen Z lingo – and yes, all of these words are actively being used by future members of the workforce.


Although certain instances of this could instigate an unwanted HR issue if used improperly, most Gen Z’ers are using “bae” more loosely these days. Originally, the term indicated (and still does) one’s boyfriend/girlfriend or “most important” significant other. Technically, bae stands for “before anyone else,” signifying the importance that the individual has in one’s life. This term is most commonly used romantically, but some friends will call each other “bae” from time to time.

Cray Cray

This term is often used in a doubled format (cray cray) but is also heard shortened to just “cray.” Cray is a Gen Z rendition on the word crazy, as you might guess. However, you’re more likely to hear “cray” or “cray cray” when describing positive things these days: a great party or event that was really busy and energetic – or maybe an event that got out of hand. Chances are low that you’ll hear this term used in a meeting, but you may overhear Gen Z employees discuss their weekends as “cray cray” or maybe even an argument with a friend. Luckily, this one isn’t too far of a departure from the original word, “crazy.”
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On fleek

When something is “on fleek” it’s firing on all cylinders, so to speak. You might hear one employee say to another, “your shoes are on fleek today.” This is just your average compliment, and it’s given when one is hitting the mark on a trend, fashion statement, or maybe even a work-related project. This one can confuse people who are unfamiliar, but when taken in context, it does come off as positive – so don’t be too alarmed.


“Defs” is a shortened version of definitely, as you may have guessed. A Gen Z may enthusiastically take on a project with a quick “defs!” depending on how casual your work environment is – and you might even see it come up in an email.


A “fail” encompasses any clear mistake or “dropped ball” scenario. The term was likely made popular originally by “fail videos” – widely-viewed youtube content that features people falling publicly or embarrassing themselves in other ways. Fail now captures a more broad range of mistakes, which can range greatly. You might hear a missed opportunity or mistake called out and then responded to with a simple “Fail!” in an email or even conversationally.


Like a fail, a “win” encompasses a broad range of outcomes – but all positive. A win is anything beneficial or successful and you’ll likely hear phrases such as, “that was such a win!” The term has evolved fluidly into a noun.


“Selfie”, which was the official word of the year for 2013, is so widely used and understood by Gen Z that you’d be wise to know about it if you don’t yet. A selfie is simply a photo that one takes of oneself. The idea of a selfie was made popular by social media and Instagram in particular. You will probably catch your employees taking selfies for Instagram or Snapchat at their desk, especially on a slow Friday. This practice has become so commonplace for Gen Z that they will expect you to know what a selfie is – but it might not come up in work-related conversations.


Another shortened term you could hear come up is “probs.” Probs is the quicker way of saying “probably” and is used very regularly in text messages when Gen Z’ers make a tentative commitment or affirmation. The term is not to be taken as “written in stone” but rather as a light and potential agreement. It is used casually, so hopefully you won’t hear an employee say “probs” when you ask them to do something.


These are the smileys and other images that resemble cartoon drawings that you may or may not have seen come through in a text message. Some emojis are also used on Facebook, and they are very regular on Instagram. Some Gen Z’ers will use these religiously, and others may avoid them. Be aware of the term as you may encounter some smileys, in the least.


A strange addition to sentence structure is the now common term “ay.” This addition is one you’ll find at the end of a sentence when the statement is meant to be a question. Again, this is a casual term that finds its way into conversations between friends primarily, but you may hear it in passing.


Similar to probs, “totes” indicates “totally” in response to an idea or question. This is just another way of communicating an affirmation between friends (but possible between co workers more and more).


You won’t have to deal with “kgo” in conversation (and if you do, it will just sound like “K, go”) but some Gen Z’ers use this term as a shortened way of telling their friends or family “okay, go” when they want to hear a story or description of something that happened. Think of it as a short way of writing, “it’s your turn” or “you have the floor” or “I’m all ears.”

If these terms leave you feeling more confused than enlightened over Gen Z – don’t be alarmed: gradually take some time to get to know the next generation to enter the workforce by educating yourself. Check out Adecco’s eBook here for more info.

Avatar for Claire Topalian


Claire Topalian is a writer, non-profit Communications professional, and advocate for diversity in business. She currently leads Communications and the Startup Women initiative at UP Global, an international non-profit that builds startup communities through educational programs and events. You can follow her on Twitter @clairetopalian.

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