Hands pointing at hand reaching for margarita(l), Beige flag with tiktok logo(r)

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The worst word rebrands on TikTok in 2023

The redundant and confusing terms that somehow took off.

 

Audra Schroeder

IRL

Posted on Dec 25, 2023   Updated on Dec 21, 2023, 5:32 pm CST

On TikTok, words mean something different from day to day. Beyond just “algospeak”—the use of coded words on the app to avoid content moderation—creators are constantly inventing new words or phrases for existing things.   

This isn’t new, but it isn’t quite slang. Some of these rebrands—girl dinner, girl math—can be instructive on a cultural and socioeconomic level. But many of the new TikTok rebrands for old things have become so far removed from their origins that they’re meaningless. 

Quiet quitting” might have been the most redundant rebrand of 2022, but it actually took off as a concept. Here are some of TikTok’s more redundant or confusing terms in 2023. 

1) My Roman Empire 

This cursed term came out of a question about how often men think about the Roman Empire. It essentially means something you’re fixated on or obsessed with, and the meme was mostly women asking their husbands or boyfriends how often they think about the Roman Empire.

But now “My Roman Empire is…” has become the trend, and people have come up with increasingly specific scenarios and knowledge that are far removed from history.

2) Damp drinking

Cutting back on drinking can be difficult, especially around the holidays. But it can only have positive effects. On TikTok, being more conscious of your alcohol intake was rebranded as “damp drinking.” It doesn’t mean going sober, just not overdoing it. But this term seems suspiciously like it was created by a brand to sell low- or no-alcohol beverages. 

3) Beige flag

This is a rebrand of “red flag,” as coined by creator @itscaito in 2022, who used it to signal whether a potential dating match might be boring. The term took off in 2023 when people started using it on their actual partners. But many of the “beige flag” behaviors in this trend were called out as red flags. And, as the trend went on, “beige flag” started to lose its original meaning. Now, it basically means “a behavior.”

4) Mascara 

In January, Julia Fox commented on a TikTok from creator @big_whip, which is captioned: “I gave this one girl mascara one time and it must’ve been so good that she decided that her and her friend should both try it without my consent.” 

Fox replied: “Idk why but I don’t feel bad for u lol.” She was obviously not clued into the fact that “mascara” doesn’t mean makeup on TikTok but is a code word for sexual relationships. In @big_whip’s TikTok, he was using mascara as a stand-in for sexual assault. It can also apply to sexual relationships that are or were consenting. More specifically, it can refer to a dick.  

This is a lot to already know, and Fox apologized. “Mascara” is algospeak, but it was still confusing. On TikTok, “corn” means porn, “unalive” means suicide, “seggs” is sex. It’s understandable that language has evolved around forms of censorship, but algospeak still flattens the power and ownership that comes from the uncensored words.  

5) Lucky girl syndrome

Like many things on TikTok, this term is related to manifestation. “Lucky girl syndrome” is essentially the law of assumption: If you believe something, it will become a reality. Money is the end goal, but so are work or life opportunities. However, the problem with the belief that “I’m just lucky,” as well as other “girl“-related trends like the clean girl aesthetic, is that many of the women embracing this on TikTok are white and attractive. 

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*First Published: Dec 25, 2023, 7:00 am CST