media update’s Christine Beukes defines the top 10 terms and phrases popularised by social media.

If you thought ‘bae’ was the place where ships dock at the beach, and ‘salty’ is when too much spice has been added to your food, then you might be in trouble. Feeling a bit ‘thirsty’? That might not mean what you think it does. And in the digital world, it’s not always something that can be quenched with water.

Social media has added brand new meanings to some familiar terms. Let’s have a look at the top 10 terms and phrases made popular by social media and what they mean:

1. Bae

The term ‘bae’ (short for ‘baby’) is an adjective or pronoun that is frequently used as a term of endearment to describe either a significant other, friend, celebrity or even an object.

It is used to show affection for that particular object, and, although there are records of the word being used prior to songs and social media, it was made popular by Will Pharrell's track, Come Get It Bae.
“Wow, that’s Mpho’s bae? Nice,” said Jan.
“This pizza is bae,” Sipiwe said.

2. Basic

‘Basic’ is used as an adjective to describe someone who is otherwise known as ‘boring’, ‘plain’ or ‘mainstream’.

Although there are many theories as to where this slang term originates from, the most obvious is that it derives from its original meaning; boring or plain.
“That girl is so basic,” said Cierra.
“All Johan wants to do is play with his man bun and go to Starbucks. He’s basic!,” exclaimed Ricardo.

3. FTW

‘FTW’ is an acronym that stand for ‘for the win. It’s commonly used as a way to express excitement over something – this can range from having a dip in the pool after a long day’s work, to finally landing your dream job.

It is unclear where FTW originated from, but various sources online claim that it first appeared in a television show in the United States known as Hollywood Squares.

The term is very popular in the gaming community and is used to express enthusiasm about a particular object or scenario.
“Yes! I just got 32 more shots than last time. Rifles FTW!,” exclaimed Raymond.
“I finally got in at ABC Primary School. Teaching job FTW,” said Lerese.

4. On fleek

‘On fleek’ is an adjective used to describe an object or a particular feature of a person that looks ‘perfect’.

The term originates from Vine – a short-form video hosting service – where Peaches Monroe gave viewers a tutorial on how to do their eyebrows. During the video, Monroe accidentally said ‘eyebrows on fleek’ instead of ‘eyebrows on flick’, creating the new term now known as ‘on fleek’.
“Wow, Lebo’s lipstick is on fleek,” said Amahle.
“Did you see Jason’s new shirt? His look is on fleek,” said Thabo.

5. Salty

‘Salty’ is an adjective used to describe the feeling of being upset, annoyed or bitter. When someone is feeling ‘salty’ about a particular situation, they wish that situation had never occurred or that they could change it.

According to the Online Etymonline Dictionary, the term originated in 1866 and was used to describe a situation that was ‘racy’ or ‘pungent’.
“Wow, is Dillon still feeling salty about his haircut?” asked Thalia.
“Don’t be salty, it’s just a game,” said Matt.

6. Thirsty

‘Thirsty’ is an adjective that refers to the feeling of wanting something desperately. This can be anything from a person or an object – animate or inanimate.

The earliest recording of the slang use of the word is in 2003 on Urban Dictionary, where it is defined as ‘too eager to get something’, and ‘desperate’.
“Wow, Lethabo really is thirsty for some more trivia knowledge,” said Jordan.
“This laundry is really getting me down. I’m thirsty for some entertainment,” said Lara.

7. This

‘This’ is a one-worded response used to express one’s approval of something. It is the verbal equivalent of giving a thumbs up or giving a ‘like’ on social media. It’s often accompanied by phrases such as ‘so much of this’ or ‘all of this’.

Although there currently no recordings of where the term ‘this’ as a slang word comes from, it was recorded in the Urban Dictionary in 2007.

It’s defined as a ‘One-word response placed after a quote on a message board as an affirmation of the author's agreement with the quoted person's view or opinion.’

I think Sam is the real hero of Lord of the Rings.

8. Yas

‘Yaaas’ (also known as ‘yas)’ is a phrase that can be used as a one-worded response, but is also sometimes accompanied by the word ‘queen’. See also: This.

It is often used in order to express one’s extreme approval of something – such as a friend’s outfit – or a particular scenario. The word is normally drawn out, verbally and via text, to ‘yaaas’.

According to HuffPost, the term came about originally in the late 1980s and was first used by the LGBT community during drag shows to show support and encouragement.
“Should we go see the new Pokemon movie coming out next year?” asked Siyabonga.
“Yaaas, that would be amazing!” said Jonathan.


‘YOLO’ – or ‘you only live once’ – is an acronym often used when describing a particular situation (often perceived as slightly dangerous) you are or will be in.

It is used ironically by people who want do something that they know will have consequences, yet they end up doing regardless. This action is normally justified by saying ‘YOLO’.

The term was first popularised in 2011 by Canadian rapper Drake in his hit track The Motto in the album Take Care.
“Hey, Dlamini. I just downed a bottle of vinegar. YOLO,” said Mark.
“YOLO, I didn’t study for this test. Guess I’ll fail,” said Kayla.

10. #Winning

‘#Winning’ is used to describe the excellence of a particular person or situation. The term is normally used on social media – specifically on Twitter – with the hashtag.

It was first popularised by Charlie Sheen in 2011, where Sheen used the terms ‘winner’ and ‘winning’ to describe himself and his life choices on social media.

To sum up, this term is something you’ll be doing once you’re up to date with the latest social media terminology – #winning.
“Hey, Jessica. I know all my social media terms. #winning!” said Lindiwe.

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Thirsty for more social media knowledge? Check out The colossal guide to social media terms in 2019 and get on fleek.