TikTok, Different Cultures Aren’t Your Vernacular
The phrase “Spill the Tea”, which is common in queer parlance, simply means “to share the gossip”. Do a quick one Google ngram viewer search and you will find that there is a sharp point in the prevalence of this phrase since 2019. (While ngrams correlate with books, the correlation between the written word, whether fictional or not, and colloquial speech is quite strong.)
The year 2019 happens to be when the popular video sharing app TikTok had multiple viral videos that took creators to almost cult-like status almost overnight.
TikTok handles younger generations, especially my own. Gen Z is heavily invested in the platform and helping the company build a Net worth of $ 250 billion, the highest net worth of any privately held company. The app, an infinitely scrolling, short video clip producing algorithm, learns user trends and personalizes feeds based on individual likes and dislikes, which it learns the more you use it.
Phrases and words become trends and trends become popular.
The result of this algorithm is a unique generational culture created by the app in which teenagers like Charli D’Amelio and her sister Dixie became millionaires almost overnight simply by doing the “Renegade,” a popular dance trend; the video earned them television deals, sponsors galore, and tickets to many high society trademarks.
Such cult-like following, however, encourages trends that have a lot of momentum and are difficult to stop. The language used by content creators and users in comment areas, captions, and videos is no exception as phrases and words become trending and trends become vernacular.
The already mentioned virality of one of these videos about “spill the tea“Caused a massive trend in the platform using the audio from the video and inspired several parodies,” duets “and various others Spin-offs.
This phenomenon led to “spill the tea” becoming increasingly popular, bringing a term used exclusively in queer circles into the mainstream. I heard “spill the tea” at lunch tables, in local cafes, and in the comments on all posts. One term used by me and my gay friends was the newest “it girl” in teenage vocabulary.
The problem lies in the acquisition of NYC ball culture, gay slang in general and African American Vernacular English (AAVE). All these facets of marginalized cultures, which are inherently rich, have been selected, homogenized and made stale and palatable to the voracious masses.
While I found it encouraging to some extent that queer language and culture were becoming mainstream, I didn’t find it to come with greater acceptance. I remember the same children who used “spill the tea” and flinched when asked about their pronouns: “I don’t use pronouns; I’m straight.”
Their abuse turns a word born from the survival of a fringe group into a joke.
Regardless of the words used, hate often emerges simply from prejudices that perpetuate themselves. Using queer vernacular to fuel this hatred is an insult to the culture I worship and try to partake in.
These are words that come from decades of struggle, words that have united similar people and fostered love in a cacophony of hate. The funny little catchphrases we use have a deeper meaning – they’re not just app slang or the result of the unprecedented generational unity of Generation Z. Their abuse turns a word born out of the survival of a marginalized group into one Word joke.
Cases of “Spill the Tea” are common on TikTok, and the 2019 incident is just a microcosm of the platform’s social power. From “periodt” to “wig“More and more slang from different cultures was used in Instagram captions, snappy comment area clapbacks and tweets of corporate acts desperate to relate to an increasingly anti-corporate generation.
The “Blaccent” and other controversies surrounding AAVE are also intensified by this TikTok homogenization. Languages like “chile”, “purr” and “finna” have become commonplace in the everyday language of teenagers – most of them are not allowed to use this language at all.
This practice also shows the inherent interdependencies of black and queer culture, and the simple fact that blacks, by and large, are responsible for much of queer culture, especially the balls that are in “Paris is on fire” and FXs “Pose.” These marginalized cultures are deeply interconnected so that the homogenization of the language of one intrinsically affects the other.
While the generational unity that such language fosters is an asset, language acquisition is misguided. The widespread nature of such phrases dilutes their meaning and drastically takes a word out of context by a fringe group like African Americans or those who identify as LGBTQ +.
I’m all for teaching my straight friends about gay culture and having friendly conversations about what the difference between a “twink” and a “bear” is, but when an Instagram post is headed, “Period Hunty Work Queen Slay “It is a blatant abuse of culture-specific language.
This behavior trivializes the experience of being queer, of being black and of participating in the cultures in which these languages originate.
I’ve scrolled through my own infinite feeds, regardless of platform, and seen the latest adventures from the self-proclaimed “hot girls” of my high school senior year. I absolutely see the above terms littering comment areas from predominantly white girls. “Purr”, “Slayyy”, “There is” … There is what exactly? There is a belching of phrases that they saw on TikTok and now they have the privilege of being funny for a few months before everyone moves on to something new.
This behavior trivializes the experience of being queer, of being black and of participating in the cultures in which these languages originate. This slang is older, more powerful, and more important than bombarding an Instagram comment section with butchered, stolen words.
There will always be a change in colloquial language, especially in the age of the internet and social media. I realize that in a time when everything is connected, nothing is sacred. However, I am tired of seeing words come out of mouths that have no right to speak them. Language is a large part of any culture, and the use and abuse of language by marginalized peoples only diminishes and mocks the story of their struggle and survival.