Trend speak: a guide to 2022's internet-saturated lexicon
From "goblin mode" to "feral girl summer", these were the terms on everybody's lips (and FYP's) this year
image Team Woo
words Lauren O'Neil
As another year draws to a close, it seems we have another [checks notes] 476,072 internet trends to dissect, analyse, and argue about. Whether it was the slight Emperor’s New Clothes effect of “indie sleaze” or “goblin mode” becoming so huge that the dictionary made it the word of the year, online trends – and the words we used to describe, label, and talk about them – continued to define so much of how we related to each other and our own lives in 2022.
It feels like as time goes on, culture starts moving ever quicker, like a runaway train (or me when I worked in an office and we got emails about there being free stuff in the lobby). As such, if I tried to write an article about every significant online trend or term of the year I would be here until 2023 – so instead, here’s a collection of the most important greatest hits, as selected by me, a self-proclaimed internet authority (by which I mean: someone whose screen time stats are easily some of the most heinous and unbelievable you have ever heard in your life.)
(see also: “sleaze”)
2022 was, undoubtedly, the year of “core.” TikTok proliferated trends from “blokecore” (vintage football shirts, light mullets, Adidas trainers, 70s porntaches) to “cottagecore” and its close sibling “cabincore” (country living, knitwear, ruddy cheeks, smug baking). “Core” trends kind of felt like TikTokers rolling around in a dressing up box of all of the outward signifiers of a particular lifestyle, rather than anything genuinely subcultural – though they may be on their way out, as “sleaze” begins to take “core”’s place as the internet’s suffix of choice.
The “clean girl” aesthetic technically first caught speed in 2021 but it's been one of TikTok’s most enduring trends over the course of the year. It refers to a style which favours aggressively neat hair and makeup (gelled-back buns pulled face-lift tight; neutral nails; make-up that is glowy but never sparkly), and plain but high quality clothing. Influenced in part by celebrities like Hailey Bieber, for my money the phrase doesn’t really do much but slap an aspirational label on “boring” – which is probably also why its popularity doesn’t seem to wane.
A sort of new “preppy”, dark academia felt like it went a little further than a “core” trend because it was influenced by cultural factors as well as purely stylistic ones. Inspired by books like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and The Ivies by Alexa Donne – thrillers set at elite schools – dark academia is a gothic twist on uniform-type clothes (kind of like if Wednesday Addams was in the original Gossip Girl), and is, for better or worse, pretty much single-handedly responsible for the re-emergence of sweater vests.
In 2022, doing anything at all meant entering a new era. Coined by music fans who use the word to describe artists’ album campaigns (“Lady Gaga is in her Chromatica era,” for example), the internet’s brand of exaggeration and hysteria set in around this particular word, and now we’re all in new eras every week. Making your dinner? In your air fryer era. In bed? In your sleeping era. There is an era for everything. Right now I’m in my “writing this article” era.
feral girl summer
If you care to join me on a journey to the absolute bottom of internet brainrot (come on in, the water’s poisoned!), “feral girl summer” is a meme that germinated from another meme. Megan Thee Stallion’s proclamation of a “hot girl summer” a few years ago has essentially born hundreds of variations since it first emerged (“short king spring,” god help us all), and the big one for 2022 was “feral girl summer.”
This seemed to come about due to a few factors: summer events returned, which meant that terrible behaviour was back on the menu after years of having to stand two metres away from everyone. This combined with the heatwave, and the truth universally acknowledged that every person on earth looks five times sexier in sunglasses really did make for a feral girl summer. I can personally vouch for this because in August I bought a Budweiser bikini and got so drunk one night that I broke my foot.
(see also: “slay”)
As the ocean ebbs and flows and the world spins on its axis, sometimes we flop, and sometimes we slay. To flop is a necessary part of life; to flop, in fact, is human – because the hardest flops make the slays shine even brighter. Do you know what I mean?
Going “goblin mode” (or at least the idea of doing so) was so pervasive in 2022 that the Oxford English Dictionary, the world’s leading authority on Words, crowned the phrase as its annual word of the year (I maintain that it should have been “slay” in light of the fact that I’m incapable of saying a sentence that doesn’t include it, but I’m not a professional).
Defined by Big Dictionary as “a type of behaviour which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations,” “goblin mode” was actually initially popularised in a tweet (where else?) featuring a fake headline that read: “Julia Fox opened up about her 'difficult' relationship with Kanye West: ‘He didn't like when I went goblin mode.’” And though the internet has since run with the phrase, basically deciding that it essentially refers to wearing the same tracksuit bottoms for a week, not leaving your room and letting the mugs in your bedroom get mouldy (so essentially a heightened form of Covid isolation), I actually see goblin mode as any type of behaviour which goes to socially gross extremes. Like, it’s goblin mode to make a nest of McDonald’s packaging in your bed, but it’s also goblin mode to throw up blue WKD at 9PM on New Year’s Eve: goblin mode contains multitudes.
@JUNIPER, the Twitter user responsible for the Julia Fox joke, the first proper iteration of “goblin mode”, said after it blew up that the phrase can kind of just mean whatever you want it to – which is basically a great example of how malleable language has become on the internet. I think it’s this quality, rather than the specifics of goblin mode itself, that makes it such an apt word of the year.
In 2022 it finally felt like the It Girl was back, in the form of women like Bella Hadid, Addison Rae and of course Julia Fox. Being an It Girl is – as it always has been – about glamour, style, and charisma, but to be a contemporary It Girl there’s also an added internet element. In 2022, the It Girl is the subject of memes, but she also knows how to make them herself (which is why Julia Fox, of “uncah jams,” and “I actually did it myself” fame, is actually the savviest of them all), essentially meaning that this job is basically now half-supermodel half-shitposter.
(see also: flop)
An interesting thing happened to the word “slay” in 2022, which is that it got cool again. It sort of went through that process whereby something that has become quite mainstream (and therefore viewed as cringe) begins to get used ironically, and then because everyone is saying it as a joke, it sort of burrows its way into your mind until you start using it sincerely. Now in basically every scenario – from my mom texting me a photo of her new nails, to when I get a good chocolate in my Advent calendar – I’m just like: “slay”. It should also be mentioned that “slay” is also interesting linguistically because it kind of emerged democratically as the opposite of “flop” when people just kept tweeting them as though they were diametric. Isn’t language beautiful?
One of the most fascinating TikTok trends of the year was indie sleaze, compelling because of its nostalgic power for those of us who lived it (or wished we were living it) the first time around, but also because there wasn’t actually any real world evidence of an indie revival actually existing outside of TikTok.
Indie sleaze’s online impact however, was so strong – particularly in the conversations it generated – that it now feels like “sleaze” is infiltrating other trends (an obvious example being “ballerina sleaze,” which takes a more mussed-up and rebellious approach to ballet-influenced style). Trend forecasters predict that 2023 will see lots more “sleaze” type trends as TikTokers embrace this rough-around-the-edges vibe in lots of other areas.
Easily the internet’s favourite trend for what is probably the second year in a row, the Y2K aesthetic – low rise jeans, Uggs, rimless sunglasses, Jane Norman – seems to be here to stay, mostly powered by Gen Z, who didn’t get to experience it the first time. For those of us who did, and are very much almost 30, it’s still quite good fun (l did always want a Juicy tracksuit) though the trend cycle is so short these days that I do genuinely wonder how long it’ll be before Y2K10 sets in, and the shops are full of disco pants and rave paint. Who will save us then???
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