Acing the Cringe Quiz

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Danielle Abril, "Gen Z came to ‘slay.’ Their bosses don’t know what that means.", WaPo 12/12/2022:

When 24-year-old Mary Clare Wall read a message that said her colleague would be “out of pocket,” she and her young co-workers giggled.

As Generation Z workers, Wall and her peers interpreted the phrase to mean that their colleague planned to do something crazy or inappropriate, not that they would be unavailable. But in the same manner, she confused her older colleagues with her regular use of the word ‘slay.’

“I [had to] give an almost definition of the word ‘slay,’” she said. “Now they all text me ‘slay.’ They’re excited they know how to use it.”

Generation Z — defined by Pew Research Center as those born between 1997 and 2012 — is bringing its own style of communication to the workplace. As conversations have increasingly moved online to text-driven environments, Gen Z’s form of messaging is creating a quirky challenge for multigenerational workplaces: the potential for confusing, anxiety-inducing and sometimes comical miscommunication.

Accompanying that article is "Cringe quiz: Are you fluent in Gen-Z office speak?"

So let’s put your knowledge to the test. How well do you think you can understand your Gen Z colleagues in the workplace?

Here are six questions based on our conversations with Gen Z workers.

I took the quiz this morning, and aced it:

That's not because I'm particularly expert in Zoomerish. I did know one answer, and even blogged about it a decade ago, having been clued in by a native texter. Others have written about the same thing as well — e.g. documented here — and I've gotten other clues from time to time. But for the other five questions, I just gave the answer that seemed to be the most likely socio-cultural development.



  1. ycx said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 8:49 pm

    The only "cringe" thing about this quiz is the paywall.

    Article can be found without paywall here:

    The answers are:
    1: Laughter
    2: sign of anger
    3: wild or crazy
    4: something is wrong
    5: sass
    6: awesome job

  2. JPL said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 9:07 pm

    I gotta be orders of magnitude even less expert than you, or anybody else, in the current social texting lingo, but I also aced it, using pretty much the same strategy. However, "out of pocket": The choice "They think you've run out of money" surprised me, because for me that's what it means, something like "(temporarily) broke" or "hard-up" or "out of funds", "just trying to make it to the end of the month" (and it's not just a matter of my "idiolect"), so I said well that can't be it. Where did they get that one?

  3. Nicole Holliday said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 9:37 pm

    A lot of these terms, like “slay” and “out of pocket” have been used in AAE for decades, and it’s inaccurate and annoying that the media continuously characterizes them as “Gen Z slang”. Language, especially lexical items, always move and change and there’s no doubt that these terms are now “mainstream” among young white folks. But it is an issue that the people who have used these terms since forever are still the targets of linguistic discrimination today, because tomorrow everything that we’re innovating now, in the context of systematic discrimination, will be discussed as ahistorical “cute slang”.

  4. Bill Burns said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 9:45 pm

    In British English, "out of pocket" is used almost exclusively to indicate that you had to pay for something which you may or may not be reimbursed for: "I didn't get my expenses so I was out of pocket" or "I'll bill you for my out of pocket costs."

    The other usages appear to be entirely American.

  5. Guy said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 9:54 pm

    @Nicole Holliday
    Your comment brings to my mind that this general phenomenon is discussed by Natalie Wynn, AKA ContraPoints, in her video “Opulence”, – available at – most relevantly at the 9:50 mark.

  6. nnn said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 10:12 pm

    I (Canadian, age 40) have never before seen "out of pocket" meaning "unavailable". Like Bill Burns, I always understood it as you had to pay for something yourself.

  7. Andrew (yet another one) said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 10:14 pm

    Ditto to Bill Burns for Australian usage. Universally understood to mean what he says. Where the non-money-related (unavailable, wild/crazy) meanings come from is a mystery. It's as if people just heard "out of" and attached some words other than "pocket" in their minds.

  8. cameron said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 10:26 pm

    the sense of "out of pocket" meaning unreachable, or incommunicado, was entirely new to me when I first heard it about ten years ago. I think it was originally a southern regionalism in the US. The only sense of "out of pocket" I knew prior to that point was the sense relating to incurring a cost that you would not be reimbursed for

  9. Geoff Nathan said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 10:53 pm

    Agree that for me (grew up in Toronto) ‘out of pocket’ means only ‘you ended up paying for it yourself’. But it’s also a poorly constructed test because some sets of answers are all obviously wrong except for the (correct) one.
    Since I’m returning to teach this coming semester after seven years I’m kinda aware of such things.

  10. Terry K. said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 10:57 pm

    I'm American and I'd say the same thing as Bill Burns about "out of pocket", other than the other usage seeming to be American. I don't know what generation allegedly uses that slang, but I'm not familiar with it.

    An Urban Dictionary entry quotes the OED with examples going back to 1908.

  11. Paul McCann said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 11:05 pm

    I grew up in the American South in the 90s and I have never heard of "out of pocket" used to mean anything besides the sense of paying and having to get reimbursed others have mentioned. That said, it looks like the sense of "unavailable" is in the OED, and Urban Dictionary suggests the citations there go back to 1908.

  12. Cindy said,

    December 12, 2022 @ 11:32 pm

    I'm 58, AmE speaker and I have used "out of pocket" to mean unavailable, over my working years. Not sure where I picked it up

  13. AntC said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 12:04 am

    You scored 2 out of 6

    Since I'd no idea what is 'Slack' before reading the article, I'm disappointed I scored so many. One of the correct hits was more-or-less random, upon learning there was something wrong with full stops.

    These are catchphrases that have become cool among their peers, although that likely won’t last the test of time, experts say.

    Indeed. We are building artefacts (including supporting documentation and records/justifications for decisions) that are needed to run a business for at least a decade.

    I am these kids' boss. They can use corporate language or they can go look for another job. I've no use for them.

    (They can use whatever language on social media/outside of work. I won't be reading it: I'm their boss, not their buddy.)

  14. AdamC said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 8:55 am

    I first heard "out of pocket" as meaning "unavailable/unreachable" within the last two or three years, I think (from a remote coworker). I assumed it was a malapropism for the standard phrase "out of office".

    I had previously heard it used only in the sense of paying your own expenses. I've never heard it as doing something crazy.

  15. Mark P said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 9:07 am

    Another data point here from the southern US — my coworker of about my age (currently 72) used out of pocket to mean unavailable as far back as the mid-90’s. I was not familiar with that meaning at the time. I don’t know where she picked it up.

  16. RuthB said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 9:10 am

    "Out of Pocket" to mean "unavailable" has been around in the US for a long time.The deputy director of an organization I worked for in the early 1980s frequently used "out of pocket" to mean "not available."

  17. Linda Seebach said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 9:33 am

    I'm not sure I've ever said or written "out of pocket" but if what is "out of pocket" is costs, especially medical costs, it's in distinction to "paid by insurance." If it's a person who is out of pocket, they're not reachable at their usual place of work. I've heard that on voicemail prompts, which makes the intended meaning unmistakeable.

  18. Linda said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 9:37 am

    I just looked in the OED to see what the full entry on "out of pocket". The unavailable/out of reach meaning was grouped with "in a person's pocket"/under their control and "to keep in one's pocket"/conceal, though only the unavailable was marked as US.

    So I could see it having developed from an idea of being out of that person's control.

  19. Kent McKeever said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 10:39 am

    I wonder if "out of pocket" as unavailable has a sports background. That a play could not be completed because a target player was not where he or she was supposed to be? — Kent

  20. /df said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 10:42 am

    Gen-Z "slay" is just the old hipster's "man you really killed it", but less familiar in the UK because slay is little used even in its literal sense (kill is 4 letters so there's no headline writing benefit; similarly slaying/killing vs murder, whereas slaying beats homicide). In fact the one usage that is familiar and I believe pre-dates "killed" in the context is "he slayed the audience with his comedy routine/new joke/unexpected pratfall" (has to be comedy, I think). Expat Canadian stand-up Katherine Ryan showed that even 30-somethings were in on the GZ usage with her "I came to sleigh" jumper at a 2017 London Christmas gig (probably recorded much earlier in the year).

  21. J.W. Brewer said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 11:06 am

    I first encountered "out of pocket" in the sense of "unavailable/unreachable" (generally for a specified time or period of time) back in the Nineties in the environment I then worked in of big Manhattan law firms and the investment bankers etc. they interacted with. Perhaps it also has that meaning in AAVE and maybe even had it earlier; but I picked it up as white-dude-with-suit-and-tie-job (this was before the "business casual" revolution) jargon. It doesn't seem to me to be an obvious semantic contrast with either the football sense of "in the pocket" or the jazz/R&B sense of "in the pocket," the latter of which might (I am speculating) have originally derived in hipster circles from the billiards sense. Note also that it's NOT "out of the pocket"; rather, it's anarthrous.

  22. Daniel Barkalow said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 11:52 am

    The explanation of the first one seems wrong to me. I haven't seen the emoji used like that, but I've heard people say or write "dead" with that meaning. There's nothing novel about the emoji-word connection, but rather that saying that you're dead means that you found something funny, generally in a way that is delaying your response.

    The article also fails to understand that Gen Z will know you aren't using their meaning of "out of pocket", and probably assume either that you're distracted by the prospect of medical bills or will be texting constantly with the doctor. They might be secretly amused by what you said, but they wouldn't think you intended that meaning.

  23. Heidi Renteria said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 12:02 pm

    I'm 77 and grew up in Texas, and I've used "out of pocket" to mean "unavailable" since my youth.

  24. Quinn C said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 1:05 pm

    McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions claims (speculates?) that the "out of office" meaning of "out of pocket" refers to the location of a pager or cell phone

  25. Rick said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 2:10 pm

    Re: slays — This usage has been around for awhile. I know it's often been used for music, especially heavier stuff. A google search on "Metallica slays" returns this:, which is dated to 2009. I'm pretty sure I've heard it long before, but that puts it back at least 13 years.

    Re: "out of pocket" (US male, 51) — I only heard this in the cost sense until about 2 years ago when I heard the unavailable sense (also in context of remote work). Never hear the crazy sense.

  26. Rick said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 2:15 pm

    "Iron Maiden slays" — 1982!

  27. Joe said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 3:20 pm

    Both definitions of "out of pocket" are new to me, maybe because I'm in a middle generation? I figured it was an autocomplete error for "out of office". The only "out of pocket" I knew refers to money and would make me very worried about payroll at this company.

    As for "slay", was this specifically popularized by RuPaul's Drag Race (yas kween slay!)? Drag and ball culture has a lot of its own lexicon (I'm certain "[to throw] shade" has also entered the mainstream from there), but some of that lexicon is unique to queer culture and some of it is imported from black American culture because of the major historical overlap. I feel a little nervous using some of these terms myself when I don't even know which culture I'm appropriating.

  28. Aelfric said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 4:25 pm

    Further to Kent McKeever above, I have no real etymological knowledge, but have heard "out of pocket" for at least two decades and always assumed it came from American Football — a quarterback is said to be "out of the pocket" when he has scrambled outside of the normal area to avoid a sack. Take that bit of anecdata for what it is worth! Cheers.

  29. Jim said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 5:44 pm

    I first encountered "out of pocket" = "unreachable" about 10 years ago, and the people who were most familiar with it were Midwest and non-Deep South.

    My assumption has been that it refers to mobile devices, maybe as far back as pagers: "I will be unreachable because my device will not be in my pocket" (aka, I won't answer).

  30. Carrie said,

    December 13, 2022 @ 6:28 pm

    I’m 45 and from SoCal. “Out of pocket” has always been used in my work contexts to mean “I’m unreachable” meaning “I’m at work but on the move — perhaps running errands — so can’t help you as I might if I were at my desk.”

    I was am event planner for many years, and of someone said they were “out of pocket” when you rang their mobile, you knew they were on the move.

  31. Cal said,

    December 14, 2022 @ 8:07 am

    @Nicole Holliday

    From Danielle Abril’s article in WaPo that’s discussed in this post:

    “To be sure, some of these slang were adopted from Black and LGBTQ+ communities.”

    That comes after she wrote about “slay” and one use of “out of pocket” (not the use that means ‘unavailable’). The bulk of the article is about the new habits of digital natives: emojis, the non-use of periods, ellipses, and delay in response time.

  32. Philip Anderson said,

    December 14, 2022 @ 12:06 pm

    Re generational differences in the office:
    Manager: “I’m guessing that “hunky dory in Balamory” means that it was satisfactory?”
    Note: Balamory was a British children’s TV programme.

  33. Rebecca said,

    December 14, 2022 @ 1:34 pm

    AmE midwestern, 68: “out of pocket” has always meant “unavailable” to me, heard it all my life. It had the money sense only in the set phrase “out of pocket expenses”. I first heard the money sense about 15 years ago in a discussion with a handful of friends from around NA. My Canadian friend used it that way, but I can’t remember who else.

  34. Anthea Fleming said,

    December 17, 2022 @ 1:58 am

    In a secondary school English class, someone said 'slayed' meaning killed or slaughtered. Instant fury from teacher. We all had to write down and learn 'Though they were slain, they slew!' As she said, it's a strong verb.

  35. Wells Hansen said,

    December 27, 2022 @ 12:10 am

    As expected, the past of the newer "slay" (= do a great job) follows a weak verb pattern, so: "Man, you slayed that speech at the office party yesterday." Also not surprising: this alternative has crept into spoken English as an alternative to "slew". e.g., "After St George slayed the dragon, he went out for a pint." Which I guess should properly be understood as "After St George did a heck of a job with that dragon, &c." But it's sometimes used to mean simply "dealt a fatal blow" I hear this surprisingly often here in Asia among young second language speakers — I've met a few in their mid 20's who claim not to recognize "slew" at all … to them, "slew" simply "sounds wrong".

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