40 Words That Will Instantly Reveal Your True Age
If you think these phrases are still the bomb, then we've got some news for you.
Let's recap a bit: The year is 2021. The threat of Y2K came and went more than 20 years ago. Jennifer Lopez and Paul Rudd are eligible to join AARP. Long gone are technologies that were once cutting-edge, but now seem almost prehistoric—fax machines, cassette tapes, and dial-up internet, to name a few. And just like technology, your vocabulary has evolved over the decades. Or at least it should have. If you're still using the slang of the '90s, '80s, or any decade prior, you should know what message you're sending to the people you communicate with. And that message, to put it bluntly, is this: Hey everyone, I'm old. With that said, consider wiping these 40 words that age you from your lexicon ASAP.
Obviously, the answering machine itself is a physical relic. But so is the conceptual purpose it was designed for. Today, it's all about voicemail, which is apparently the mysterious place where all calls go to die after they are ignored on purpose and responded to with a text instead. If you tell someone you left them a message on their answering machine, you're basically saying, "I was born before 1970."
Back in my day
If you are starting a sentence this way, you've already lost the kids in the crowd. Yes, everyone knows you probably walked for miles in feet of snow just to get to and from school. And, yes, paying a nickel for a cup of coffee sounds fantastic. But why are you yelling at random kids to get off your lawn? They're on the sidewalk.
Bermudas nominally mean casual shorts. But the word is also shorthand for "I'm old." These days, shorts will do just fine.
If you're awash in jewels or other trappings of a showy lifestyle, you might say you're blinged out. And that's another way of saying, "I haven't been paying attention to slang since the '90s." Instead, you can try iced out, laced, dripping—or better yet, maybe just don't.
Hey, we want to give this one a pass because it has way more staying power than its more modern equivalent, fleek. But at its core, it's a '90s relic and doesn't belong in 2021.
Sure, tabloid weeklies still use the word canoodling on the regular when they want to suggest celebrities are cozying up in new relationships. But today, the word is rarely found outside that semi-ironic usage in those glossy pages. It was even mocked in Mean Girls, and that came out more than 15 years ago!
These days, it's known as the remote control. (And it might even be operated through an app on your smartphone.) So, if you're still calling it a clicker, we're going to guess your grandkids might have covered most of the buttons in tape to help you simplify its use.
If you describe something this way, you've just revealed your age—and possibly your tendency toward hokey phrases no matter the era. Can't easily shake the old habit? Just lob off beans—a simple cool will do.
Cool your jets
If you want someone to relax, just say so. Cool your jets is not a thing anymore. Same goes for hold your horses, while we're at it.
We're not here to claim authority on which came first: Coolio the rapper, or coolio the slang word for cool. But they were both popular in the '90s. And fun fact to blow your mind: Coolio the rapper is 56 right now, and long since eligible for AARP membership. (You're welcome.)
Remember that this was Bart Simpson's catchphrase when The Simpsons came out in the '80s—so that's probably all you need to know about its relevance decades later. (We say this with all due respect to The Simpsons, which is miraculously still on TV, 33 seasons later.)
In the days since a critical mass of people have referred to jeans as dungarees, the sartorial staple has been through many different trends: high waisted, low rise, boot cut, skinny leg, and all the rest. But one thing has remained consistent for decades: No one calls them dungarees anymore.
This phrase, often associated with hippie culture, used to mean something akin to cool—but use it these days and you'll sound anything but.
For context, the Offspring song "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)" came out in 1998. If you're keeping score at home, that's 23 years ago. And that song was probably the death knell for the word anyway.
This word has had a wide range of meanings and usages: a crazy wave in surfing, something that's awesome, or something that's horrible. Its closest counterpart in modern language might be nasty—not as versatile, but less old sounding.
Back in the day, you were going steady when you got serious with a partner. These days, it's just called dating. (And before you're dating, you might be swiping.)
There are many exclamations out there—so if you go with golly, be prepared to come off as the oldie in the conversation. Also be prepared to sound like Disney's beloved Goofy (which is cute, if quaint is your intended vibe).
As an exclamation of surprise or awe, holy mackerel is not so much a thing in modern parlance. It's basically OMG, but with a bunch of superfluous letters that make it harder to text.
The word hooligan describes young people who behave badly. But it's not really a thing anymore. If you call a hooligan a hooligan, you're definitely not going to get anywhere.
An icebox (or even, if you will, a cold closet) was a small, non-electric version of a fridge common a century ago before powered fridges came to be. So if you still call your fridge an icebox—well, it sounds like you're old enough to remember them.
In a pickle
Yikes! You're in a sticky situation and need some help. That's a timeless scenario, sure—but calling it a pickle is long outdated.
First of all, you're far more likely to get your milk from the grocery store today than have it delivered by a milk specialist. But also, milkman is just the kind of gendered job description that's fallen by the wayside—like mailman, and stewardess. Though the practice of having your milk delivered is indeed coming back—in an age when single-use plastics are falling out of favor and local and organic groceries are prized—you're best off saying you're getting a milk delivery, and leaving it at that.
If you're still calling it the net, or the web, and certainly (gasp) the world wide web, you're revealing your age big time. You might just try referring to it as going online. And while you're at it, it's probably time to retire that @aol.com email address you've been holding onto.
We're all about celebrating curls—but a perm is just not a thing people get these days. The chemicals, the plastic rods… it's all a relic of an earlier era when your bangs were sky high, and Sun-In was lightening them up nicely at the beach.
If you ask someone to ping you when they get a sec, you're not only sounding a bit old, but also mysteriously nonspecific. Should they text you? Email you? DM you? Seeing as ping is as unclear as it is dated, it's sure to roll a few youthful eyeballs.
If you still use the word psyche to indicate you're just kidding, you might want to prepare for some giggles—not at your joke, but at your dated choice in the delivery.
Maybe it's your purse, or your handbag, or just your bag. Or perhaps it's your crossbody, laptop case, or clutch. But to kids these days, it's sure not a pocketbook.
You probably said rad around the time you said cowabunga: the 1980s. If you're still saying it, we just hope you mean it ironically.
Using "righteous" as an exclamation meaning excellent is far out of favor. But it's still a powerful word when used literally to mean morally right.
The analog Rolodex has been dead for decades. And so is merely using the word as a shorthand for your professional or personal contacts database. Today, it's best to just go with contacts.
You can still use the word slacks to refer to pants, sure. But the latter word covers the concept just as well without revealing so much about your age.
Just met someone new and have great chemistry? Great! You're into them. You're feeling it. But if you say you're smitten, you're also old.
In 2021, an unmarried woman might be a lot of things—but a spinster sure isn't one of them. Gone from the modern lexicon is that word, along with tropes about glasses, librarians, and a household of cats to boot.
While it's a little different in England, supper and dinner have been mainly used synonymously here in America. But only one of those words is really used in the modern lexicon… and it's not supper.
Swell was once a popular positive affirmation. "You're looking swell." "Gee, that's swell." These days, not so much. (Same goes for "gee," while we're at it.)
For more culture and language content sent straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Cassette tapes are long over, and so are VHS tapes. But using the word tape as a verb is a hard habit for many to break. If you're capturing video on your smartphone, you're recording it—no tapes involved.
Here's the thing with whippersnapper: It was always a word used to reference young people by old people. So you probably revealed your age if you ever said it—and definitely would sound old using it in 2021.
If you're still making photocopies, you're revealing your age right off the bat. Today, it's all about the digital scan and save. But if you call it Xeroxing on top of it, well, you've set yourself back even further.
While this one is more timeless than some of the others on our list, it still sounds like a somewhat dated choice, along the lines of dapper. An update might be hot, or just: "Hey, you look great."
Additional reporting by Stephanie Osmanski.