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Anyone who spends a fair amount of time online has probably noticed the phrase “vibe check” recently being thrown around willy-nilly. But what does it mean? Are you in need of one? As with many internet anomalies, there is no short answer, and the long answer is … Well, let’s just say complicated.
Where did ‘vibe check’ originate?
The earliest known use of the phrase comes to us from a relatively trippy Urban Dictionary post from April 18, 2011, which defines it as: “A process by which a group or individual obtains a subjective assessment of the mental and emotional state of another person, place or thing.”
“Not anchored in or limited to science, psychology or sociology. Grounded in a belief in pachouli, sage, or karma and sometimes veggie burgers.”
Pachouli and veggie burgers? Well, that certainly isn’t helpful.
At any rate, the phrase lay dormant for the better part of a decade, until earlier this year when it first saw an uptick on Twitter. The source of its popularity is disputed, although technically Twitter user @umru_, a music producer, was first credited with using it on March 24, 2019.
vibe check?— umru (@umru_) March 24, 2019
He later told Mashable that he first said “vibe check” out loud while trying to nail down the vibe at an event he was planning, and that it happened to be the easiest way to convey that to the graphic designer.
About a week later, however, the phrase was either discovered and/or appropriated by user @cake_hoarder, who has since begun referring to himself as “the vibe check guy.” It started out innocently enough, with a tweet that simply stated “vibe check.”
vibe check— 𝖈𝖚𝖒 𝖒𝖆𝖓 (@cake_hoarder) April 2, 2019
Since then, @cake_hoarder has been tweeting daily “vibe check” posts, typically pairing the phrase with an absurd or outlandish image, as you can see from the examples below. (Many, but not all of the tweets involve cats, dogs, frogs, or other animals.)
gm can I get a vibe check? pic.twitter.com/KzzOC3dmER— 𝖈𝖚𝖒 𝖒𝖆𝖓 (@cake_hoarder) October 4, 2019
gm can I get a vibe check? pic.twitter.com/ZQKdehihyy— 𝖈𝖚𝖒 𝖒𝖆𝖓 (@cake_hoarder) October 1, 2019
gm can I get a vibe check? pic.twitter.com/p64pAxe6NL— 𝖈𝖚𝖒 𝖒𝖆𝖓 (@cake_hoarder) October 2, 2019
gm can I get a vibe check? pic.twitter.com/Br25zGZAO1— 𝖈𝖚𝖒 𝖒𝖆𝖓 (@cake_hoarder) September 16, 2019
gm can I get a vibe check? pic.twitter.com/UirCOjVZnq— 𝖈𝖚𝖒 𝖒𝖆𝖓 (@cake_hoarder) September 20, 2019
gm can I get a vibe check? pic.twitter.com/SPrwHfz4Sl— 𝖈𝖚𝖒 𝖒𝖆𝖓 (@cake_hoarder) September 25, 2019
The dueling vibe check curators also led to a disagreement over the origin of the phrase on Twitter:
this is bullshit. not only did vibe check get stolen from us it got stolen ON MY BIRTHDAY?? https://t.co/gEoz8Yjytn— umru (@umru_) October 4, 2019
Spread and usage
As the phrase began to go viral, it became sort of a catchall term for everything and anything. Some began using it as an earnest way to convey their present emotional state, while others made jokes and memes.
Started referring to my therapy appointments as vibe checks and my therapist threatened to stop taking my insurance— dirk diggler (@TakeForGrantd) October 5, 2019
vibe check!! pic.twitter.com/Jt7KGRW7SO— maria (@baItazars) October 7, 2019
vibe check! *tenderly takes hold of your your hand and tells you everything is going to be alright and that i’m here for you if you need to talk.*— ☃️ (@paigeccino) October 7, 2019
They should get rid of the TSA and replace it with a vibe check— alfredo (@dwell_96) June 20, 2019
quick vibe check pic.twitter.com/eznpD9uMy5— ☆drive45☆ (@drive45music) April 8, 2019
And then some people got kinda, uh, sexual with it?
vibe check *kisses you tenderly so you understand how deeply i love and cherish you*— mtn dew code pussy (@oodlenoodle_) September 12, 2019
Vibe check! *leans in for a kiss*— leon dante (@sweetexoss) September 27, 2019
h-hey what if we did a vibe check... and we're both girls... and the vibe check was a kiss... haha jk...— #PiñeraDictador (@kunetsukki) September 30, 2019
Vibe check shitposting
By September of 2019, “vibe check” began to be used as a shitposting meme. Know Your Meme points to the following Tumblr post as the culprit, which depicts a stick figure cartoon hitting another stick figure over the head with a baseball bat. The post has since received over 35,000 notes.
In the weeks that have passed, the phrase is now synonymous with memes in which someone hits or attacks another person after offering them a “vibe check.” An updated Urban Dictionary top definition—as of October 3—now reflects the shitposting usage.
“A vibe check is a time where you’re about to deck someone with your fists or another blunt object while you’re on a vibe or when they say some stupid shit,” reads the second definition.
And as you can see, recent tweets certainly reflect that angle:
the first recorded vibe check can actually be traced back to Mike Myers' 2003 live action adaptation of cat in the hat pic.twitter.com/tnksfeUhhI— ommanyte @ BNHA 👀 (@ommanyte) October 3, 2019
vibe check pic.twitter.com/r9dkYFuNW4— brydie (@kasbraks) September 30, 2019
Vibe check pic.twitter.com/94D5bpgLMN— Rosehill (@Rosehill1999) September 29, 2019
anyway...... vibe check!!— anna ★彡 (@ssupernovias) September 30, 2019
So what have we learned? As there is so wrong way to eat a Reese’s, there’s no wrong way to do a vibe check. Just like, maybe keep the violence to a minimum.
Stacey Ritzen is a reporter and editor based in West Philadelphia with over 10 years' experience covering pop culture, web culture, entertainment, and news. You can follow her on Twitter @staceyritzen.