SOCAL is getting fleeked out

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[Guest post by Taylor Jones]

For anyone who's been living under a rock for the past few months, there is a term, "on fleek," that has been around since at least 2003, but which caught like wildfire on social media after June 21, 2014, when Vine user Peaches Monroe made a video declaring her eyebrows "on fleek."

Since then, the apparently non-compositional phrase on fleek has been wildly popular, and has generated the usual discussion: both declarations that it is literally the worst and "should die," and heated debates about what exactly on fleek even means. People seem to be divided on the question of whether it's synonymous with "on point." There is also a great deal of disagreement as to what can and cannot be on fleek, with "eyebrows" now the prototype against which things are measured.

After a conversation with a linguistics student at NYU, I decided to look at other syntactic constructions, thinking it possible — in principle — to generalize from on fleek to other constructions. Lo and behold, there is a minority of negative-minded people who describe others, snarkily, as "off fleek," (haters).  More interestingly, Southern California is getting fleeked out.

Geocoded tweets using variations of fleek. Toronto, you're not fooling anyone.

This is interesting because it suggests that "on fleek" is being re-interpreted, and that it is not necessarily rigidly fixed for all speakers as an idiom. Moreover, it looks like LA is leading the first move away from strictly adhering to the idiom "on fleek," by extending the use of "fleek" to the stereotypically Californian construction of [x]-ed out.

Geocoded tweets using "fleek" in California. Las Vegas, you're not fooling anyone.

I'm looking forward to watching this develop, just as we can watch bae developing (one can now be baeless, for instance). I'm also looking forward to the day one can get a fleek over, or get one's fleek on.

[Above is a guest post by Taylor Jones]


  1. Monoglot said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 9:03 pm

    What is the etymology of the word "fleek"? If it's been around since 2003, it's probably not a nonce word.

    Google is only coming up with more people with the same question (and no answers).

  2. Ben Zimmer said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 9:20 pm

    As it happens, Neal Whitman just wrote up a thorough treatment of (on) fleek for here.

  3. John Lawler said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 10:04 pm

    From the article, an (not necessarily the) etymology might be flick + sleek.

    And, for whatever it's worth, fleek, whatever be its etymology or meaning, does have phonosemantic associations: the FL- assonance
    (and, since it's mentioned, the the SK- assonance).

  4. wally said,

    February 23, 2015 @ 11:23 pm

    TIL I've been under a rock for several months.

  5. Mimi said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 1:09 am

    The New York Times did an article about new language yesterday, including terms such as "fleek", "yolo", "lordt", and "unbothered" (the last of which has been around for many decades I think):

  6. richardelguru said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 8:04 am

    All I can say is "Fleeking Heck!"

  7. Victor Mair said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 8:35 am

    I didn't even know what "Vine" is (I guess that shows how big a boulder I've been living under for the last two and a half years), so I went and took a look at the video made by Peaches Monroee (note the spelling of her last name). Having done so, my guess — from context — is that it has something to do with "flick" and that it might be some cosmetic or beautician's treatment that is applied to the eyebrows to make them stand out.

    I had already written the above paragraph when I found this on the web, and was pleased to find my surmise confirmed by those who really know:

    "Eyebrows on Fleek Were the Biggest Beauty Trend of 2014" (12/27/14)

    I think I understand most of what she says (they're on a beach, they're gonna get **** [two main possibilities], her eyebrows are on fleek, and da fuk). Notice that she first strokes her hair and then rubs her fingers (nails nicely done) over the length of her left eyebrow.

    While looking around Vine, I noticed another video where user Cuffé comments "Worst. Mantra. Ever. RT", which speaks to "Query: Punctuation in personal digital media" (2/23/15) that was also posted yesterday.

  8. scav said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 9:19 am

    I always interpreted it as a setting that eyebrows could be on, much as phasers can be on kill or stun.

    I think fleek is the "stun" setting for eyebrows.

  9. Nathan said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 11:16 am

    I've seen eyebrows set to "kill", but I don't know the word for it.

  10. Toma said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 2:53 pm

    I think Spock's eyebrows were on fleek.

  11. Norman Smith said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 4:51 pm

    Put me down as another under-the-rock dweller.

  12. Chris C. said,

    February 24, 2015 @ 7:28 pm

    I'm usually very in synch with current online expressions, so it surprises me I've never heard this. (I neither tweet nor vine though, which may have something to do with it.)

    Strange to see that cluster running up the east side of San Francisco Bay. I wonder if usage is centered at Cal State East Bay, where there seems to be a concentration of "on fleek"?

  13. Edouard K said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 10:13 am

    I interpreted the phrase as "en flic", though that my not add anything of value.

  14. Sorbus said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 12:35 pm

    In case it might be of interest to anyone, a review of things that, according to Twitter users, can be "fleeked out": eyebrows (of course), hair (seems to be the 2nd most common thing to be fleeked out on Twitter), a person (3rd most common), enchiladas, a dress, chicken pox, ab game (i.e. attractive abs), nails, a Christmas cookie, a jacket, someone's sleep schedule.

  15. Dimitri said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 7:40 pm

    @Victor: they're not at the beach. She says, "We in this bitch. Finna get crunk. Eyebrows on fleek. Dafuq." See, e.g.,

  16. Suburbanbanshee said,

    February 25, 2015 @ 11:46 pm

    The Whitman article missed the usage I knew – there's a science fiction meat animal called the fleek. :)

    There's a 2009 Quebec French movie called De Pere en Flic. ??

  17. Watch the birth of ‘on fleek,’ live! | Boston News said,

    March 8, 2015 @ 12:37 am

    […] “on fleek” against the Twitter geocodes (a location tag) of the people posting them. He noticed that one term, “fleeked out,” was showing up disproportionately in tweets from Southern […]

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