Roll Deep as You Whip and Nae Nae

On Christmas and New Year’s Day, my family played a game with some slang flashcards my sister-in-law was given for Christmas. Each card had a word or phrase the meaning of which we had to figure out. Like roll deep. What do you think it means? (See the end of the post for meaning.) We knew what it meant, since we used terms like this and others back in high school. But there were some we didn’t know.


Knock Knock’s Slang Flashcards

I was interested in a discussion about slang because of my middle grade WIP. Slang, dances, celebrities, and technology unfortunately date a book. Case in point: have you used the term the bees’ knees lately? Played with a GameBoy Advance? The inclusion of these people and items is the tricky part of writing contemporary novels for kids and teens. Members of this audience mention celebrities and use slang and technology out the wazoo—an old slang term now in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. (See also out the yin-yang.)

Frequenters of the internet quickly pick up the lingo of the internet. Like the term ship. As in “I ship Lizzie Bennet and Mr. Darcy.” If you’ve been on the internet for even a day, you’ll have seen that term. (Go here if the term still mystifies you.) Or mansplaining.

So, what do you do when you want to use slang, but don’t want your book to sound as archaic as using Windows 95 in 2016 and beyond?

One way to do this is to make up your own slang and use it in context often. James Dashner, the author of the Maze Runner series, made up his own slang. This article tells you about that. If you saw the show Firefly and the movie Serenity, you know that many terms were made up to reflect the culture. Go here to learn some of those terms. By making up your own slang, you need not worry about slang becoming outdated.

6186357   firefly_2002_1860_poster

Don’t feel up to creating your own slang? Then carefully choose slang terms that will stand the test of time. Like the word cool. Be selective about the mention of currently popular activities that have given birth to slang. Like dance crazes. You might think twice about having your teen characters whip or nae nae at a party if your book will debut years from now. Kids and teens keep current with dance crazes and will cry foul if you mention out-of-date steps. Even I cringe whenever I see anyone in a show or a movie doing the Running Man.

You might also avoid terms so oversaturated in pop culture that even you’ve begun to hate them. If a phrase has become so mainstream that aging celebrities and your great-grandparents are using it (and giggling as they do, because they’re now in touch with “the young folks”), chances are a teen may avoid it, thinking that adults have ruined it for them. So if you sprinkle it throughout your book, they might avoid it like the plague. You feel me, homey? (I know. My use of that statement makes you go, “Arrrgggghhh.” As Senator/Emperor Palpatine might say, “Good, good. I feel your anger.”)


As I considered adding slang, celebrities, and items like game systems and phones to my book, I decided to go the route of imagination and make up my own. Too many celebrities nowadays are fifteen-minute wonders (or, sadly, pass away). And technology changes very quickly. You have only to look at the phones Cher and her friends in the movie Clueless carried to see the difference.


Cher and her oh-so-boss mobile phone

Another thing to consider in the use of slang is how to make a judicious use of it, rather than allowing only certain characters (i.e., ethnic characters) to use it. All cultures and subcultures have a slang of some kind. Geeks, jocks, adults, warriors—people from all walks of life use terms that are familiar to their specific group. Many people also adopt the slang of other groups or cultures too.

How do you use slang or other aspects of pop culture in your writing? Is staying current with slang or trends really necessary for you? Why or why not?

Want to whip or nae nae? Watch this video by Silentó.

Roll deep means hanging with a large group of friends who have your back. They’re your posse, your entourage.

Cher on a phone from Book cover from Goodreads. Firefly from Slang flashcards image found at Palpatine from

54 thoughts on “Roll Deep as You Whip and Nae Nae

  1. I thought Firefly used Chinese words. Some of them were swear words, which Whedon did to trick the sensors. Though I think there was ‘shiny’ or something. I remember ‘Defiance’ making up its own, which got odd at times. Kind of glad I work in fantasy where I don’t have to touch on slang very often. Especially since I don’t bother staying up to date. Just figured out what that whip/nae nae thing is this weekend and figure it’ll go the way of the Macarena and Gungun Style soon. Funny how these dances fade away, but the Electric Slide survives. Probably due to Bar and Bat Mitzvahs.

  2. I’ve thought about technology, as in cell phones, but not so much celebrities or slang terms. I like the idea of making up slang, especially if it’s slang teenagers will use. Slang can be a kind of code, kids making words up just to keep their public conversations private, or at least not well understood by adults. With the stories I’ve been writing lately, though, “my” teenagers are fairly isolated (living in small, rural towns) and more naive than “hip.” I can’t imagine anything more challenging than writing a young-adult novel 🙂

  3. I could watch that video all day, especially the little girl! I chuckled at the white ladies with their giant handbags and disapproving expressions because that’s a stereotype, too, you know? Thanks for this post. I was caught recently because I’d written: Don’t have a cow, Mom! One reader, much younger than me, thought I was quoting Bart Simpson. Actually, Bart is talking like we did “back in the day.” So, thanks for this post and the reminder to be intentional about slang, even though it’s so much fun to use!

    • It sure is a stereotype! There were quite a few in that video!
      I still hear people saying, “Don’t have a cow.” As long as The Simpsons are on TV, it should be allowed. Though I haven’t watched that show in well over a decade, I’d like to see some form of it continue for decades to come.

  4. Growing up, my best friend and I used to make up our own lingo, but I think it would be difficult to do when writing a book. No matter how outdated Clueless might be, it’s still a classic.:) For whatever reason, outdated technology, etc. bothers me more in books than in movies.

    • My friend and I also had our own language. My younger brother and I have a shortcut too. 🙂
      I know what you mean by outdated tech. I love the movie Clueless still. But I have to laugh at the brick-size phones.

    • Ha! That’s tight! Will be using that one today in a phrase. Maybe when the postman comes by. “You’re Wong!” I’ll scream. He’ll think I’m talking with a lisp.

  5. I still use “the bees knees”. Last time I did, there were some strange looks from my garden club members. 🙂 Honestly, L.Marie, my whole family just looks at me and wonders. I remember reading a novel, something set in Ireland, years ago and I could not figure out what an “idjit” was. I asked, my co-worker said “idiot” and I thought she was calling me one. Fun.

  6. Great post. I tend to avoid using slang in my writing, and if I use it, I try to choose words whose meaning has been around for a long time, like “cool” as you suggested. But I’m sure some slipped in with my teenage protagonist in my last book (all the times I read it and I can’t remember right now!). But I think as with many things, less is more.

  7. This is one of the main reasons I switched from contemporary to historical fiction. It took me so long to get Gringolandia published that I ended up rewriting this contemporary novel as a historical novel. I have a contemporary manuscript in the drawer, finished in 2012, and if there’s an inkling of interest, I have a lot of revising to do to make it submittable today.

    • I hope you’ll be able to sell it, Lyn. And I can understand switching. I miss writing historical fantasy. I didn’t worry so much about slang and other aspects of modernity.

  8. Those flashcards sound awesome. I don’t interact much with teenagers these days, so luckily I’m only seen as potentially uncool from a distance… It will be interesting to see what is popular when Angus reaches that age!

  9. “Hook” has the clunky phone…but ya hardly notice it for the story and wonderment.

    I think if something is heavy on the slang, it is destined to have a very short shelf-life regardless of the type or origin of slang. So, it should be used purposefully and deliberately as well as sparingly IMHO.

    I do like the idea of slang invention for purposes of your story…I can’t help but think of Tolkien’s Lord of the Ring series – he, after all, invented entire languages and yet when read, we ‘get it.’

    • Very true, Laura. Even if a book has a glossary, many readers won’t wish to keep flipping pages to get to the glossary to look up a word. I use slang in my book, but not over much. 🙂

  10. I’ll have you know, I was active on the internet for three years before I learned the term shipping.

    I use relatively little slang, hence, there’s not a lot in my books. I’ve had to think hard to come up with decent curses and exclamations for certain groups, though. I don’t think it works in high fantasy or sci-fi to use contemporary curses.

    Have you come up with any really good curses for your characters?

  11. Interesting post. Since my writing doesn’t fall in that category, I’ve never given it much thought. So you made me consider a few things. I feel as though it must be work to keep up. But of course, if you’re writing for that demographic, you probably like it and then it’s fun.

    I know the slangs the people around me use. I’m in a multicultural environment, so I hear all sorts. Some tend to be universal.

  12. The other side of the coin, is trying to keep current slang and usages out of historical fiction. Even stories that are meant to take place only ten or twenty years ago can be a problem. What I’m thinking of are ways of speaking that aren’t obviously slang and yet still ring a false note.

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