Are You Too Old For This Sh*t? Cracking the Tumblr Lingo

Similar to Tumblr lingo, when I was in middle school we had a secret code when writing paper notes back and forth to one another and talking about marijuana.  The note would start off with, “Jane, High, what’s up? I’m not are you?” Sometimes it was written to be cool, sometimes it had another meaning altogether, but you had to infer the meaning based on the sender.

Now I’m not going to pretend to know anything about teenagers because I don’t have any of my own. However, I do have a handful of nieces and nephews who are in their teens and recently I engaged in a conversation with one of them who enlightened me to the “secret codes” used by teens on Tumblr. Secret codes? And here I thought I was so social media savvy. Who knew?

Tumblr is made up of mostly 16-24 year olds, mostly girls. And I’d venture that not everyone had included their true age. I believe some our way younger, like maybe 12 years old.

If you go on Tumblr and you’re above the age of 21, chances are you won’t understand what they’re saying. In fact, you might even think they are speaking another language. Most of the kids on Tumblr are reblogging images, animated .gifs that display how they  are feeling, and posts from – a site of quotes (which has some questionably inappropriate things for kids on it – IMHO). And what’s even crazier is that there are so many 12 year-olds reposting these quotes on Tumblr and they don’t even really know what they are saying, like:

So, of course I immediately went out to research it on the web, with friends, and with their kids. It’s amazing because they really do have their own secret language, like fraternities have secret handshakes. For example, the most famous code phrase to determine if someone is even on Tumblr would be to say to them: “I like your shoelaces,” and if the person responds with “Thanks, I stole them from the President,” then they are cool and hip enough to follow on Tumblr. And the phrases are not just communicated in secret words, but most of the time with animated .gifs to really communicate what they are trying to say.

There are even categories of people on Tumblr from the “fandoms” – people who are huge fans of a particular thing such as a band or a movie or tv show, “hipsters” – the cool people (or trendy little f*ckers as seen in this video  below), and “nerds” – well, you can guess.


It’s fascinating. And the rule is that your “feelings” go in the tags, not  really the captions or the posts themselves. But it goes beyond Tumblr. There are codes that they put in chats and on their blog posts that lets their friends know to get off the network you’re on and meet them on another social network to talk more freely.

Terms and phrases on Tumblr:

  • I can’t – is used to start conversations and really means I can’t deal with you/or handle it right now but what about the rest of you? Or they can’t comprehend what is happening right now.
  • HNNG/UNF – refers to sex noises you make when you encounter a really hot guy/girl
  • ovaries (or my ovaries exploded) – when females come across an incredibly handsome guy and is usually depicted by an image of something blowing up (this makes me laugh out loud at the ridiculousness of it).
  • #judgingyou – is when another member on Tumblr disagrees with another member’s post and they are literally passing judgment on you for what you just posted
  • shippers – people who worship fictional relationships in fandom
  • ships – when you think two people from a fandom belong together in a relationship in a sexual way
  • What is air? – means extreme emotion or appreciation or that you’re laughing so hard you can’t catch your breath
  • Creamsicle – an assumed romantic relationship between girls
  • BAMF – stands for bad ass mother f*er
  • SMH – stands for shaking my head signifying disapproval
  • GPOY – gratuitous picture of yourself, which is usually accompanied by a .gif that signified the person’s mood. But can also be used if you see a picture or a .gif that reminds you of yourself, you can use GPOY
  • Pro-ana – Short for the promotion of eating disorders like anorexia nervosa. A pro-ana Tumblr user might post pictures of dangerously thin people and promote them as the ideal. Tumblr banned such blogs earlier this year, but they still pop up occasionally. (from the
  • OUAT or OUAP – stands for once upon a time or once upon a portal
  • Kennedy – Used to describe as cool, hot, awesome, etc.
  • My Creys – an expression used to when you are about to cry
  • Forever alone – means your relationship status is single
  • THIS – and is usually written in all CAPS and means you really can relate to someone or something at that moment
  • My feels – signifies you’re excitment about something, your feelings about something
  • I ship them so hard –
  • OTP – means one true pairing, basically people you want to see together or who you think are meant for one another
  • Peasants – is what people on Tumblr call people who aren’t on Tumblr, for example, those people who don’t use Tumblr but are on Facebook (and by the way, I’m told that no one uses MySpace)
  • Totes – means totally
  • le sigh – ironically just means sigh, but in a french way to make it sound cool.
  • awk – means awkward
  • perf – means perfect
  • yolo – traditionally it means you only live once, but in Tumblr speak it means: You obviously live online
  • photobomb – when someone jumps into a picture that they are not supposed to be in (you know, like when someone puts rabbit ears behind your head in a photo and you didn’t know they were there).
  • haters gon hate – means people who are nasty and who are just going to go on being nasty
  • I’m dying – means they are laughing so hard they are dying, similar to What is air?
  • directioner – means old people who like the band One Direction (really? this one surprised me). But a similar one is Beliebers (people who like Justin Bieber).
  • my special snowflake –  means you are unique
  • burma – be undressed ready my angel
  • derp – means a horrible stupid face that someone is making
  • fap – is when someone makes the sound with their cheek that mimics the sound of masturbating
  • schluck –
  • hmu – it really stands for “hit me up”, but somehow the people on Tumblr translated it to “hold my unicorn” and that refers to call or text me.
  • asdfghjkl – means too many feelings to communicate so basically they crash down on their keyboard


And honestly, this isn’t even the tip of the iceberg.

Send to Kindle
About Tracy Sestili

Tracy Sestili is CEO and Chief blogger at Social Strand Media. She is also the author of Taking Your Brand from the Bench to the Playing Field -- Social Media Fundamentals for Business.