Ah, the 1990s. An incredibly diverse decade that brought us grunge music, Nickelodeon, comically baggy blue jeans, and inexplicable amounts of teal. We’re not saying that the 1990s are any better or worse than other decades. But we do believe that the words and phrases that arose from them deserve their proper place inside the history books of American English. This week, we’re switching gears a bit and paying tribute to the decade with a throwback post that helps you wrap your head around some classic slang expressions from the time period. Read on to discover nine words and expressions from the ‘90s that you can try slipping into casual conversation the next time you’re hanging out with friends. Try to keep them out of the workplace though. Most of these are NSFW.
“Sweet” is the first word on our list, probably because it was used by just about everyone in the ‘90s. It’s nothing more than a synonym of the words “nice” or “cool,” which makes it easy to understand even for a slightly older generation. Depending on how its used, it can have varying degrees of importance as an adjective, but is also used as a standalone response. Draw on the –ee sound for added emphasis on how incredible you think something is.
“I just scored tickets to the Bruno Mars concert in August!”
This casual expression is used as a way to claim responsibility for a mistake or error that has occurred. It’s grammatically-correct equivalent would be something like “it’s my fault” or “sorry, I should have done that.” It’s a phrase that is quite polemic due to its incorrect construction, so take it for a test drive before attempting to use it in any situation that isn’t 100% casual.
A word that has almost no limitations, “dude” can be a man, a women, an animal, or even used as a standalone response. Even though it has no gender or specific meaning, its most common form takes the place of words like “guy” or “man”. However, its real power is harnessed when it stands on its own.
“Last night, a friend and I came home and ate three boxes of Pizza Rolls. Then we decided to smash all of our plates on the kitchen floor.”
Talk to the hand
This is the perfect expression for when you really don’t feel like talking to someone or defending a specific viewpoint. For maximum effect, it’s necessary to flip your wrist and hold your hand up in front of your face between you and the person trying to speak with you. This phrase is definitely not professional or appropriate for business settings, so we don’t recommend trying it out the next time your boss starts speaking to you about your TPS reports.
The word “totally” is the ‘90s-inspired adaptation of “really” or “very”. That new California-based teenage drama is most likely pretty cool, but with everything on TV these days it’s probably not worth watching unless it’s totally awesome. This is another word that is versatile enough to be used on its own to mean “I agree.”
“Is Luke Perry gorgeous or what?!”
Back in the day
When someone uses the express “back in the day”, they’re making an obscure comparison to the past. Usually, it’s adults using this phrase to compare modern culture with that of the past. For example, if a young kid is complaining about the bad reception on his iPhone, an older adult will most likely intervene with this introductory phrase, followed by a long, drawn out story that compares the hardships of the past with the contemporary bells and whistles of the present.
“Back in the day, we didn’t even have cell phones! We had to actually be at home to make a phone call!”
An insulting expression that is a valid response to everything and means nothing. In the ‘90s, this was the perfect way for anybody to try and appear clever with an easy insult. It was also a legit comeback to any almost any comment that might have rubbed you the wrong way. The incredible part was that it often didn’t even have to make sense – it was that versatile!
“Hey Mike, what are you planning on doing tonight?”
“Have you ever considered giving up your smoking habit?”
“Have you ever considered your Mom!”
This is the slang version of “I completely agree” or “well said”. It’s a word that many people still use today in varying formats. Other ‘90s-inspired variations also include “word up” and “word to your mother.”
This is a term that came into popularity during the mid-’90s. It has a wide range of uses, but it usually seconds the taunting, comeback, or verbal abuse of another person. It can also be used as a playful indication of surprise, misfortune, or even as an insult. Its uses are all over the map, so it’s better to just try it out and see what works for you here.
If you’re looking for some great examples of how to put these words and phrases from the ‘90s into use, try watching some of these films that really embrace the decade: Clueless, Wayne’s World, Friday, Dumb and Dumber, 10 Things I Hate About You, White Men Can’t Jump, etc. You’re sure to pick up a few that we haven’t listed, even if you watch only a few of them. What’s your favorite from our list? Anything we’ve forgotten? Let us know in the comments below.