Modern Slang Meanings: 12 Slang Terms Explained by Famous Paintings

Let Art Make Sense of Slang

Drip. Rizz. Era. If you ever feel adrift on a sea of inscrutable slang, you’re not alone. Whether you’re the parent of a Gen Zer, an aging Millennial who used to be cool, or somewhere in between, you’ve probably run into slang you just don’t get.

Thankfully, art is here to help! You’ll head into 2024 just a little bit hipper and more with it after you learn about these 12 modern slang terms, as explained by famous paintings.


Waston Adventures modern slang meanings painting Arcimboldo

The art: Vertumno, by Giuseppe Arcimboldo

The slang: An era is essentially a “phase,” though you say you’re “in” one instead of “going through” one. So if you’re really into ice cream lately, for example, you could say you’re in your ice cream era.

Like a lot of terms on this list, it can also be used semi-sarcastically. If you stirred up a lot of drama at a party last night, you might brush off criticism by insisting you’re in your villain era. Or you could tell someone you’re in your food shopping era even though you popped into a grocery store for five minutes.


Waston Adventures modern slang meanings painting Crossing the Delaware

The art: Washington Crossing the Delaware, by Emanuel Leutze

The slang: Fam generally refers to close family or friends, though it can be applied more broadly to just about any group of people. So you might celebrate a birthday “with the fam,” literally meaning your family. Someone who does CrossFit or other group workouts might hit the gym with their “fit fam.” Or George Washington might have referred to his troops in the Continental Army as “fam”…though probably not.


The slang: Finna means “going to” or “fixing to” do something. So just as Washington told his troops they were going to cross the Delaware, a teen who says he “finna chill at home tonight” means he’s going to spend the evening at home. Perhaps with his fam!


Waston Adventures modern slang meanings painting Judith Holofernes

The art: Judith Beheading Holofernes, by Caravaggio

The slang: Rarely meant quite as literally as in this painting, to “slay” is to do something so well, and ideally with extreme confidence, that you’ve killed it. If your child tells you they’re going to slay a test, they mean they’ll ace it. Slay might also pop up in adjective form: if you made a “slay dinner,” it means you prepared a great meal.


The slang: Pretty well known by now, a “queen” these days is a woman who dominates at something or is at the top of her field. So as Beyoncé has become “Queen Bey” for her star power, so too was Judith a “queen” for turning the tables on the lecherous conqueror Holofernes in spectacular fashion.

Short King

Waston Adventures modern slang meanings painting Napoleon

The art: Equestrian Portrait of Emperor Napoleon I, by Carle Vernet

The slang: This is something of a variation on the theme of a “queen.” A “short king” is any relatively short man with the charisma and strength of character to stand out in the face of beauty standards that tend to favor men of above-average height—such as the 5’6″ Napoleon Bonaparte, arguably the king of all short kings.


The slang: While it might sound vaguely inappropriate, to have “rizz” means to have powerful charm and charisma. A short king by definition exudes rizz, though it’s not exclusive to them: any suitably charming person can be said to have rizz, regardless of height or gender expression.


Waston Adventures modern slang meanings painting Louis XIV

The art: Portrait of Louis XIV, in the style of Hyacinthe Rigaud

The slang: Speaking of kings, Louis XIV epitomizes here the notion of “drip”: extremely stylish clothing and accessories. If a stranger on the street tells you you’re dripping, they’re complimenting how you look (as opposed to warning you that your nose is running).

It’s Giving

Waston Adventures modern slang meanings painting The Scream

The art: The Scream, by Edvard Munch

The slang: The term “it’s giving” describes the feeling or vibe a person, thing, or situation is projecting, often if it’s over the top. Remember that slay dinner you made? You could say it’s giving professional chef. Is someone being majorly creepy? They could be giving serial killer. Does a painting depict a wavy bald man standing on a bridge and literally screaming in your face? It’s giving scream!

Cap & No Cap

Waston Adventures modern slang meanings painting Colosseum

The art: Pollice Verso, by Jean-Léon Gérôme

The slang: “Cap” means “a lie,” and saying “no cap” means you’re telling the truth. It’s especially used in regard to improbable situations, to emphasize that you’re not lying. Did the craziest thing happen to you yesterday, but no one was around to see it? No cap, it actually happened. Were you slaying and giving Gladiator in the Colosseum to earn the adulation of the masses? No cap!


The slang: Another slang term that might seem seedy from a distance, bussin or bussin’ simply means extremely great, awesome, or exciting. Think of the term as short for “busting out of the seams” with greatness. If someone says a movie they saw, a party they went to, or an arena of death they fought in was “bussin,” they just want you to know it was super awesome.


Waston Adventures modern slang meanings painting Cupid and Psyche

The art: Cupid and Psyche, by Jacques-Louis David

The slang: IYKYK is a straightforward acronym: “if you know, you know.” It’s usually used to allude to something either fairly obvious or that only certain people “in the know” will understand. You’ll often see someone post something on social media or the Internet with IYKYK—and instead of taking two seconds out of their lives and providing a simple explanation of what they mean, they make you go figure it out if you don’t know it already.

So why is Cupid smirking like that? IYKYK.

Find More Fun

Join one of our outdoor scavenger hunts all over the country, from New York City’s Central Park to the Santa Monica Pier. Or try your hand at one of our many virtual trivia games. Our games are available to private groups of any size at just about any time, and most of our virtual games can also be played in-person.