If you read The New York Times, watch the “Today” show or keep a close eye on the latest happenings on TikTok, you may have recently encountered the word “cheugy.”
The nebulous word—frequently framed as a Gen Z term referring to millennials—can be applied to a variety of things, ideas or people. Generally synonymous with “basic,” but not inherently negative, cheugy (pronounced “chew-gee,” apparently) captures everything from Minion memes and cargo shorts to lasagna and an obsession with sneaker culture.
Introduced into the public consciousness largely through a March TikTok video, cheugy actually dates back to 2013. According to The New York Times, Gabby Rasson, now a 23-year-old software developer, invented the word as a high schooler looking to describe people who were slightly off trend.
“It was a category that didn’t exist,” Rasson told the Times. “There was a missing word that was on the edge of my tongue and nothing to describe it and ‘cheugy’ came to me. How it sounded fit the meaning.”
From there, it spread organically through friends she made at school, camp and then college. An Instagram account by the name of cheuglife appeared in 2018. Cited in several recent TikTok videos explaining the term, cheuglife seems to be the unofficial arbitrator on all things cheug. Shortly after, the account added its definition of the word to Urban Dictionary, describing it as “the opposite of trendy. Stylish in middle school and high school but no longer in style.”
The term didn’t really begin to take off until March 30, though, when 24-year-old Los Angeles copywriter Hallie Cain posted a video on TikTok briefly encouraging other users to take up the term.
“Okay TikTok, I have a new word for you that my friends and I use, that you clearly are all in need of,” Hallie Cain said, shortly before cutting to another video with the text “Things that give off ‘I got married at 20’ vibes,” and visuals of retail shelves filled with wood block decorations. “Or people will say things like ‘this is millennial’ or ‘girlboss energy.’ All of these terms are pointing to the same thing. The word is cheugy.”
Cain’s video, which identified phrases on clothing, Herbal Essences shampoo and Instagram captions like “life’s a beach” as cheugy, clearly struck a chord with at least some in the TikTok community. So far, the video has racked up more than 650,000 views and 111,000 likes, a decent response, but not Earth-shattering by TikTok standards.
Then The New York Times wrote about cheugy. Published online last week and in print on Sunday, the piece appears to be the cause of the recent wave in cheugy chatter.
In the week since the article’s publication, the “Today” show, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, Vox and Daily Mail have all covered the term. Urban Dictionary named it its word of the day Wednesday. Buzzfeed even created a quiz for visitors to the site to vote and definitively decide what exactly is and isn’t cheugy. Notably, none of the major battlegrounds in the Great Gen Z-Millennial War—skinny jeans, side parts and the word “doggo”—received the cheugy designation.
So, what is cheugy?
Flip flops, “bro tanks,” and snapbacks are all cheugy. Chevron patterns, cable knit socks, Ugg boots, giant scarves, anything Hurley, Golden Goose sneakers and Gucci belts have also been dubbed cheugy. But cheugy is not limited to fashion. Broccoli cheddar soup in a bread bowl at Panera Bread? Cheugy. Axe Body Spray? Cheugy. Cruise ships?, “Cheug-mobiles,” says cheuglife.
But is being cheugy a bad thing? It depends on who you ask. Abby Siegel, a 23-year-old producer and former student at the University of Colorado, Boulder who the cheuglife account cites as introducing it to the term, says everyone can be cheugy.
“Everyone has something cheugy in their closet,” Siegel told The New York Times. “We didn’t intend for it to be a mean thing. Some people have claimed that it is. It’s just a fun word we used as a group of friends that somehow resonated with a bunch of people.”
The cheuglife Instagram clarified early on—less than two months after its creation—that the term was not intended to be used as an insult. “’Cheugy’ is not reflective of a person’s character and is honestly not that deep. We are all cheugs,” it wrote.
In a follow-up to her original video, Cain clarified that she wears things knowing they are cheugy. A millennial TikTok user whose three videos on the subjects have accumulated more than 3.5 million views conceded he enjoys a few cheugy things—Buffalo Wild Wings, to name one. Many of the dozens and dozens of videos with the hashtag “cheugy”—together they have gathered 3.3 million views—feature users talking about how they’re cheugy.
Where the term goes from here is unclear. It was by no means a popular word before late March. The cheuglife Instagram page only surpassed 1,000 followers after Cain made her TikTok video. Those sorts of shallow roots do not bode well for the term’s longevity.
Cain, the one who brought so much attention to the word, seems entirely done with the cheugy discussion, particularly with how she sees it being used to “fuel a generational feud.” As someone who is 24 years old, she noted, she’s been associated with both Gen Z and millennials and doesn’t identify as either. “No one speak to me about #cheugy ever again,” she wrote.