This Is What The Gen Z Slang “Oomf” Really Means

If you feel old and out of the loop to learn about oomf, that’s by design. 

Jessica Rett, a University of California, Los Angeles, professor in linguistics, said that every generation innovates language, and they do it for roughly two reasons: to obfuscate and to innovate. 

“They don’t want us to know what they’re talking about,” Rett said. “And it’s really just a way of sort of setting themselves apart from old people like me.“

Rett explained that “one of my friends” is also a pseudo-partitive in English that eliminates “the possible presupposition that there’s only one friend that you’ve got,” which may be particularly important for younger people to signal. 

And it’s also simply fun to say. Sure, you could simply state “one of my friends” to be cagey about who you are talking about, or you can proudly declare “oomf.” There is a unique pleasure to its construction. Rett said ‘oo’ is a pleasant, rewarding long vowel that causes your lips to round when you voice it. 

“And the ‘mf’ ending…I think that just sounds like a party in your mouth,” she added. “It sounds really emphatic.”

Because its definition is inherently uncertain, oomf can be as frustratingly vague or as tantalizingly close as you want it to mean. Oomf can be your frenemy, your occasional follower, or a member of your inner circle. 

“I could definitely be at my friend’s funeral, and be like, ‘Oh, my God, oomf died.’ Like I would definitely post to Twitter, ‘oomf died crying-emoji,’” Forero said, noting that she always writes oomf in lowercase. 

Embrace its many meanings, or be open to trying it yourself ― at least until it becomes uncool again. “I would give it a year or two before it hits its expiration date once again,” Forero speculated. 

“My number one advice to people in my generation and older is just to embrace it and appreciate it for the linguistic genius that it always is,” Rett said. “These young kids are sort of subconsciously innovating language, and they’re hip enough to pull it off.”

In the meantime: Can oomf share this article, please? 

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.


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