The 1980s wasn't just about glam rock and blockbuster movies; it was a time when youth culture reigned supreme. Youngsters found unity in a shared language, rich in colorful slang that was as vivacious as the era itself.
And the slang came from a variety of sources. The British Invasion and the popularity of hip-hop in the U.S. added to the lexicon, as did American surf culture and Valley Girl-speak.
And while many of the terms have been consigned to the dustbin of history, there are still a few gems that are worth revisiting.
So let’s take a trip down memory lane and explore some truly tubular, totally awesome expressions from the 1980s. Don’t be shocked if you find a few sneaking back into your vocabulary!
The Totally Tubular Terminology of the 80s
A shortened form of "radical", this word epitomized coolness. Whether you nailed a new skateboard trick or just bought a fresh pair of high-tops, "rad" was the go-to affirmation. Movies like "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" made sure everyone knew that "rad" was the pinnacle of praise.
Surf's up! Riding the wave from surf culture straight into mainstream 80s vocabulary, "tubular" was more than just a descriptor for waves; it was an exclamation of awe. Shows like "Saved by the Bell" had characters using "tubular" to describe everything from cool outfits to exciting plans.
While "totally" has been around for a while, the 80s gave it a fresh spin. No longer just an adverb, it became an enthusiastic agreement. Remember "Totally awesome!" or "Totally tubular!"? Those were the days!
Gag. Me. with. a. Spoon.
Oh, the Valley Girls! This expression of disdain or disbelief took the 80s by storm. If something was uncool or downright distasteful, you'd likely hear a teenager exclaim this with the perfect blend of drama and sass.
Grody to the Max
An exclamation of disgust, "grody" was the 80s way of saying something was nasty. Add "to the max" and you've just amplified your disdain tenfold! You never wanted to be caught dead with something "grody to the max"!
A blend of "bold" and "audacious", this term was used to describe something or someone who was impressive or attractive. A sun-kissed surfer riding the waves could be "bodacious", and so could a rocking guitar solo.
This was the 80s version of "gotcha!" Used when tricking someone or pulling a harmless prank, it was often accompanied by a playful finger point. (Or the iconic nose-flip!)
A sarcastic way of saying "obviously". If someone stated the obvious, you'd roll your eyes and retort with a "no duh!" ‘Nuf said.
Predating "cool" or "awesome", "wicked" was the East Coast way of expressing approval. A killer guitar solo wasn't just good; it was "wicked good". Think of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure - they brought "wicked" back in 89!
Take a chill pill!
The 80s way of telling someone to calm down. If a friend was getting overly worked up about losing their favorite cassette tape, you'd tell them to "take a chill pill". Or take mom and dad - who just never seem to understand - you'd calmly reply to their lecture with "take a chill pill".
What a Barney…
Not the purple dinosaur! In 80s surfer slang, a "barney" was someone who was not good at surfing or was generally clumsy. And the phrase goes beyond the 80s; it's still used today in coastal circles.
Slang in the Context of Pop Culture
So where did so many of these 80s slang terms originate? A big part of the answer lies in pop culture. From fads to fashion, music to movies, and books to video games - these were all sources that exposed people to a wide range of language. Ideas would spread quickly from one person or region to another, making it easy for new phrases and words to become popularized.
Who could forget Jeff Spicoli from "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" with his laid-back surfer vibes and memorable lines like, “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine”?
Or how about "Valley Girl," which catapulted the Valley speak, including phrases like “gag me with a spoon,” into the global vernacular?
Of course, there's "Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure", a film that was, in essence, a celebration of 80s slang. With every "whoa" and "excellent!", it resonated with audiences and amplified the slang culture.
The tunes of the 80s weren't just about catchy melodies; they were an anthem to the slang of the time.
Madonna asked listeners to “Papa don’t preach,” while Run-D.M.C rapped about their "My Adidas," bringing street slang to the forefront of mainstream music. Salt-N-Pepa taught us how to "Push It," using slang to craft anthems that defined a generation.
With shows like "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," audiences worldwide were introduced to the slang-rich dialogues of urban L.A. "Saved by the Bell" was another treasure trove of 80s jargon, from Zack's confident "Time out!" to Slater's playful "Preppy."
These shows weren't just weekly entertainment; they were classrooms that taught viewers the hip lingo of the era - creating an entire generation of slang-savvy kids.
Print and Magazines
Publications like 'Teen Beat' and 'Tiger Beat' not only showcased the hottest celebrities of the 80s but also featured articles and quizzes sprinkled with the decade's slang. It wasn't uncommon to find headers like "Is your style totally rad or a major fail?" gracing their pages.
The inextricable link between 80s slang and pop culture ensured that this distinctive language traveled far and wide, leaving an indelible mark not just on a generation but on all the decades that followed. It wasn’t just a way to communicate; it was a statement, an identity, a rallying cry.
Are You Still Slinging 1980s Slang?
The 1980s might seem like a neon blur of big hair and even bigger boomboxes, but its language remains as vibrant and memorable as ever.
From "gnarly" to "psyche," these terms are more than just words; they're capsules of an era bursting with energy and innovation.
What's your favorite 80s slang? Did we miss any totally awesome expressions? Head over to the comments and share your memories - let's keep the 80s spirit alive and kicking!