Are you cheugy?
The term, which describes a person who is out of trend or trying too hard, has blown up on TikTok, prompting users, particularly 20 and 30-somethings, to wonder if they fall into the category.
Gucci belts, ripped skinny jeans and monogramed tops all made it onto user @youngnlipless' list of cheugy items, garnering nearly 300,000 likes. Other things called out as cheugy include Rae Dunn pottery, having #GirlBoss energy and decorative wooden signs of the "live, laugh, love" variety.
While cheugy (pronounced chew-gee) may seem like a playful label, it can have negative effects, particularly for women. Even so, experts say we shouldn't pay the trendy put-down too much attention, as it's just the latest version of a tired insult.
A newer way of pigeonholing people
The idea of using slang to put people into unfashionable boxes isn't new.
For example, despite reportedly being coined around the same time, cheugy is often described as the newer version of the word "basic," which describes someone, usually a woman, who is unoriginal or mainstream. Cheugy has been closely associated with Generation Z thanks to its surge on TikTok.
“We often hear praise for younger people moving beyond boxes in one way or another… but when I think about the cheugy term, it's a bracing reminder that this generation is not moving beyond categories and classifications, they’re just not using the same old ones that other generations did," explains Juliet A. Williams, a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles' Department of Gender Studies.
"We just come up with other ways of pigeonholing people, other ways of stereotyping people, other ways of dismissively categorizing them," she adds. "Very often those new categories are actually thinly veiled versions of the original ones, which is even more disturbing.”
To see the word's impact, look no further than people changing their style or hair in order to keep up with trends.
"Even though it's gentle chiding when it first starts, it can still have a significant impact on people's behavior," says Jonathan Bowman, a communication studies professor at the University of San Diego. He adds that any word "can be weaponized."
Leora Tanenbaum, author of "I Am Not a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet," says the term's impact is the most acute for women.
"Being labeled out of touch or behind the times regarding appearance can sting for anyone, but it can sting most severely for a woman because first we are judged on the basis of our appearance," she explains.
Bowman notes cheugy also has a class problem.
"It's a term that can indicate that you're not exactly on trend, but that assumes that people have the financial ability to be on trends," he says. "Some trends you can easily adapt to, but others require some kind of a financial input as well."
The bigger harmful picture
The term's impact is dependent on several factors, including tone and intention, Bowman explains.
"Slang is so relational in nature that a lot of it has to do with how it's being used and the intent behind the person," he says. "The nature of the relationship between the two people will probably help define whether it's gentle teasing, a term of endearment, or whether it's downright slander or villainy."
The term can also sting worse if there is an age gap at play.
"It definitely feels different when the term is used on you by someone of a different generation," he says. "So, if one of my good friends who's my age called me cheugy, I'd kind of laugh... but if some younger person did it, there'd probably be a little bit more soul searching before I was able to kind of laugh it off."
While there's something "dismissive and derogatory" about terms like cheugy and basic, these terms are indicators of deeper, bigger-picture problems, Williams says.
“The problem is that when we integrate that kind of terminology into our language we make it seem natural and normal to put people in boxes, and that is an enabling condition for more direct, egregious and impactful instances," she says.
In a series of TikToks, user @kierabreaugh explained how she views the term as a projection of internalized misogyny.
"True liberation would mean women being allowed to be cheugy and nobody saying (expletive) about it. Nobody judging women based on what they like, because people don't do that to men in the same way," she says in a clip. "Do something else with your time because your internalized misogyny is showing."
The solution may not be to ban the word itself, however, Williams explains.
"If we tell people, 'Oh, you can't say cheugy or basic,' It's not like they're going to start being more respectful of women, they're just going to come up with new words,” she says.
Tanenbaum agrees it's OK to use the term because "there’s nothing wrong with being cheugy" to begin with – but be mindful of how it may reinforce larger negative ideals.
"Think before you speak and if there is the possibility that you might inject anxiety or pressure, or you might reinforce sexist or racist norms of appearance, then talk about something else," she says.
Bowman hopes that, just like the term basic, cheugy will be appropriated positively by the people that use it as a way to reclaim it as an "ironic badge of pride."
"Even with the word basic, if someone said to me, 'Oh you're so basic,' I'd kind of be a little upset. But when Pumpkin Spice Latte season comes around... I am proudly basic, and I will go get that Pumpkin Spice Latte on the first day it's released," he laughs.
Don't know what terms Gen Z is using on TikTok? Here's your guide to what they mean, no cap
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cheugy and how it can be harmful, reinforce stereotypes and sexism