Tag Archives: slang

Twitter Slang: “Drinking from the mother lake”


FC: “There’s a saying, when someone serves seismically, you say that they drank from the mother lake. And the mother lake’s not a real lake, believe it or not. It’s kind of a metaphorical, symbolic source of power for, like, motherly behavior. And motherly behavior, anyone who serves, who delivers some sort of jaw-dropping performance, piece of media, they’re mother. They’re queen, they support me, they nurse me. And in order to gain those powers, that ability, they had to drink from the mother lake. The primordial source of power.”


The informant is a 20-year-old college student from St. Louis, Missouri who has been using Twitter since his early teens. He describes the community he occupies on the app as “stan Twitter,” which is an online community of young people who bond over their fandom for certain musical artists or pop culture interests. Stan Twitter has a specific sense of humor and vernacular, much of which is derived from the cultural practices of the LGBTQ community, of which which many members of the online subculture are members. Black drag queens in particular are responsible for the creation and proliferation of much of the language employed by stan Twitter users.

“It’s very common to talk about celebrities, music icons as, you know, people say “queen” and a lot of that comes from LGBTQ slang, like drag slang,” FC said. He believes that the term “mother,” a reverential term colloquially applied to usually female artists whose work an individual finds exceptional or resonant, was taken from drag and ballroom culture. Since many people involved in these subcultures found themselves alienated from or rejected by their families because of their queerness, drag houses and drag families, or communities of queer people and drag performers, substituted as the kind of support networks which traditional families usually provide. In these groups, “there’s always a mother of the drag family who is the most experienced queen or ballroom performer with the most knowledge and experience to share,” FC said. “They are just held on a very high pedestal and their abilities and servery is applauded, and I think that’s a lot of where ‘mother’ comes from.”

FC described how stan Twitter humor often involves taking one foundational joke or vernacular element, and continually modulating it into absurd derivations. He thinks that the term “drinking from the mother lake” formed through this process, beginning with trends of calling artists “queen” and “mother” and coming up with increasingly extreme, peculiar, and culturally specific ways to express this same admiration.


         This slang term, and slang used on stan Twitter in general, is deeply grounded in LGBTQ history and identity. Young people on this platform connect with previous generations of queer people by using their language and traditions, arguably creating a community or uniting people of queer identities through common experiences or a common culture. Moreover, stan Twitter users form a community by fostering common interests, a sense of humor, and a vernacular style often derived from culturally specific references. To understand the linguistic traditions used by this community, one must understand what the lingo refers to and how humor functions on the platform. Someone’s ability to employ these vernacular traditions, communicate, be funny, or find others funny identifies them as a member of the community, as a member of the in-group, and provides the opportunity to bond with others who share interests and experiences.

The collaborative process by which this slang term evolved strikes me as particularly folkloric. There is no individual author, instead, people add onto each other’s versions, with different derivations branching off and becoming popular in different circles. With every iteration, a new dimension of strangeness and cultural specificity is added, so appreciation for a song or an artist can be expressed by saying that such artist “drank from the mother lake.”

South African Slang and Sayings (Voetsek, Sweet Like a Lemon, Yoh, Aiyoh, Shame)

Informant Context:

Otis’ parents immigrated separately to America from South Africa in the 1980’s, during apartheid. Otis’ extended family now lives in the Bay Area, California and near Johannesburg, South Africa. Otis often visits his family in South Africa.


OTIS: I can think of like, some slang that my family uses a lot. Um…


OTIS: A lot of it is like… [laughs] a lot of it will be like, toned-down South African swear words. 


OTIS: I don’t really know how most of them are spelled, but you could probably find… I don’t really know, but uh, one I thought of is… is “Voetsek!” [both laugh]. And that… it—it means “get away” in Afrikaans. And it… like, it’s mainly like, a thing that you say to dogs, ’cause there’s a lot of stray dogs in like, the kind of poorer areas where my family grew up. So they would be like, if a dog is coming near them, and if the dog looks dangerous, they’d like—yell “Voetsek!” And all the dogs *know* it by now, so the dogs—

INTERVIEWER: Oh, Wow! [laughs]

OTIS: —Scatter. 

INTERVIEWER: They all—they all scatter?

OTIS: But… so when you say it to a person, [laughs] it’s kind of rude. You’re like, calling him like, a dog.


OTIS: Yeah. And… like, my family will like, jokingly say it to each other. When like, one of my aunts is teasing one of the other aunts, they’ll be like, “Eh, voetsek” 


INTERVIEWER: Like, joking. Um… [both laugh] There’s this thing my dad like, taught me to say whenever I was visiting family in South Africa. But I’ve never heard anyone else say it, but my dad’s like, “Oh yeah, me and all my friends always say this”. It—It just means “cool”, but it’s “sweet like a lemon”.

INTERVIEWER: [laughs] Oh! 


INTERVIEWER: [voice broken by laughter] I haven’t heard that… either. Lemon’s aren’t really sweet!

OTIS: It makes zero sense! But, uh… my dad might be just like, messing with me.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah [both laugh]Do people respond when you… ’cause he—he told you to say this in front of other family. Did they understand it? 

OTIS: They’ll just be like, “Oh yeah OK” [laughs].

INTERVIEWER: Oh. [joins]


OTIS: And then like, there’s a lot of like, exclma—exclamations um [laughs]… there’s like, “yoh”! Which means [laughs]—and I-I don’t know how you gonna spell all this stuff so… 

INTERVIEWER: I try to spell it out phonetically, but [laughs].

OTIS: Y-y-yeah. It’s like “yoh”!—which means, uh… like “Whoa”! And then there’s “Aiyoh!” which is like, “that’s crazy!” And I’ll hear my dad say that stuff a lot when he’s watching his soccer games [both laugh]. And… um… Oh! OK, a lot of South Africans will say [elongated] “Shame!” But it like…! It means—it kind of means the same thing as like “it’s a shame,” like how Americans will say. But it’s kind of different. Like, they’ll mean it in like, a… they’ll say it when like, a kid does something cute. Or like, someone’s being naïve, almost? 


OTIS: Like, if they say like—if they say like, “Oh this… kid like my, my son like didn’t make the soccer team. He was too short.” 


OTIS: Or something. I guess that’s like “it’s a shame”. 


OTIS: But like, if they say something like, “Oh! The… the little kid made like, a… made like a fort, and told everyone that’s his new house.” They’d all be like “Uh! A shame, man!” They’s say that. [both laugh] 

INTERVIEWER: Oh interesting. So it’s around kids or something cute.

OTIS: Mhm.

INTERVIEWER: But also kind of something unfortunate. 

OTIS: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: So like… so like if I told somebody that I backed into a car in the parking lot, would they say “Shame” to that? Probably not? 


INTERVIEWER: Yeah [laughs]. Whereas— 

OTIS: If you said something like… like, “Oh, I need to go get gas right now”. They’d probably said like “Oh, shame”.  


Informant Commentary:

The informant recalls two levels of folk sayings: one that appears cultural (or at least, regional to Pretoria), and one that appears familial. On a large scale, interjections with origins in Afrikaans or  Asian languages (in the case of “aiyoh”) are easily recognizable among those in the South African Indian culture. They might even be understandable to those outside this culture, given the right context. To use Otis’ example, the meaning term “aiyoh” might be decipherable by someone watching the same soccer game as Otis’ father. The term “shame” might be decipherable to someone watching a child build a fort in front of the family. Other sayings, such as “sweet like a lemon” are idiosyncratic to Otis’ family, in his experience.


A small detail Otis mentioned about the dogs in South Africa give the term “voetsek” a deeper significance. Otis stated that “all the dogs know it by now,” implying that over time, the dog population came to gather the same meaning from the word “voetsek” as humans. In this way, the dogs seems to be part of the in-group who understand this term. If the term was said to a group of dogs from the region and a group of humans from outside the region, in “scatter[ing]”, the dogs would demonstrate a better understanding of this folk term than the humans would. This is a post-humanist analysis of this one, particular saying: folklore shared among non-humans. As for the collection of sayings as a whole—there is a significant amount of evidence online to suggest that these are widely used terms, not only among South African Indians, but South Africans of other ethnicities as well. “Aiyoh” appears more idiosyncratic to Asian (particularly Indian and Chinese) cultures, and “sweet like a lemon” might have a wider usage than Otis suggests, but is obscure compared to the rest. 

Work Slang: Rate-Limiting Factor

Main Piece: 

“One of my favorite expressions that we use in my industry… It’s a common phrase that’s used in chemistry, in a chemistry classroom. Because I work with a lot of scientists, they use it for our projects, and it’s the expression ‘rate-limiting factor.” So, a rate-limiting factor in chemistry is, you know, whatever causes the reaction to go the slowest, but a rate-limiting factor on a project might be that fact that we don’t know what the budget is or that we haven’t gotten a site up and running.”


My informant is a freelance medical writer for a variety of pharmaceutical companies. She describes the industry as a relatively enclosed one, but one in which you can bounce between companies. She’s heard this slang term only in her industry but all around within it. It was a term she’d only heard in chemistry classes before entering her field. She presents it as a catch-all term for anything slowing a project down.


Occupational folk groups are bonded by the fact that they share the same day-to-day experiences and ostracized from each other by judging each other on merit of skill. Robert McCarl states that new entrants into an occupational folk group are subject to scrutiny from the “in-group.” I believe that this work slang, the understanding of which is based on a certain education background that the majority in the industry share, is a way of creating an in-group. By using a scientific term, this in-group could be able to scrutinize new entrants to see if they have the proper knowledge base.

Ballroom/Queer Slang

Main Piece: 

The informant provided examples of ballroom slang which are all used in situations with positive connotations:

“the category is”



“that was a serve”

“the house down”

“sissy that walk”

“work that pussy out”



“And like another slang trend is assigning everyone feminine pronouns, and even assigning feminine identify to inanimate objects. For example, like how we call our Roomba ‘miss Roomba’ or say, ‘oh that plant, she is everything.’” 

How did you get connected to this slang?

“Initially, through gay pop culture, like musical artists, friends, RuPaul’s Drag Race and Pose, documentaries and stuff.”

Do you use these words in your day-to-day life?

“Absolutely! I have to not use ‘miss’ or ‘she’ for everything because people don’t understand what I mean, and like my parents aren’t going to understand queer slang because they’re straight older people (laughs).”


My informant is my roommate. She identifies as queer and sees herself in queer culture. These slang terms were recorded during a dinner conversation about queer media and culture.


Most general queer slang has been lifted straight out of queer subcultures, such as ballroom and drag. Most queer people who live in accepting environments understand the meaning of all the phrases listed above. In general, these phrases aim to empower the receiver through the emphasis of feminine characteristics (like making “pussy” a positive word), while some others come directly from ballroom culture, like how “the category is” and “the house down” reference competition categories and Dance Houses. As society has become more accepting and queer culture has taken over digital media (through shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race), these terms have become well known to the general public. It was definitely a shock when I heard my 10-year-old cousin shout “Yaaaaas queen” when I showed her an outfit, but that really illustrates how mainstream some of these terms have become.

Gamer Culture: Pwned

Context: When you’re playing competitive online games, one of the most important things to learn is how to most effectively show off to the enemy. You won’t always have the time to curse them out or otherwise eloquently explain your skill to them. For this reason, different kinds of slang have been adapted to meet the needs of competitive gamers. From this, we get the gamer slang “pwn.”

Main Piece: To “pwn” someone is to, essentially, annihilate them, destroy them, or otherwise completely defeat them when it wasn’t even close. Similar slang would be “curb-stomping” or “bitch slapping.” The gist is that gamers need more ways to tell people how bad they were beaten as a part of the psychological warfare of gaming. If somebody gets angry, or “tilts,” they’ll play worse, and if they’re angry enough, they might even quit! Pwning became the go-to affirmation of dominance in gaming lobbies for much of the mid-2000s because of both its simplicity and its meme status. Informant GG shares his account of his origins in Counter Strike, a competitive first person shooter game. 


GG: I first heard [pwned] (pronounced p-owned) in 2003; I was playing Counter Strike with my buddies, and one of them just goes “pwned!” and I said “what?” and he said “pistol owned!… so owned is like to dominate someone or to make someone your bitch using your skill, and pistol is like how we whipped out the pistol and shot a guy…” I don’t know the exact origins of it, but I’ve seen it everywhere from YouTube to memes, it’s all over the place.

Example of a meme using the term “pwned”, from KnowYourMeme.com

Thoughts: In gaming culture, defeating a rival is a moment of great pride that one may be too excited to put into eloquent words. It is for this reason that I believe “pwn” arose from a need to accurately describe the feeling of dominance over an opponent, regardless of it’s roots as either a keystroke error (because p is next to o on the QWERTY keyboard) or as a combination of pistol and own. From GG’s perspective it certainly makes sense that killing an opponent with your pistol, a relatively weak weapon compared to rifles and machine guns, would warrant pwning, but the folklore aspect of pwning is more through why people used it and less of how they began to use it. In the mid-2000s, pwned became apart of internet meme culture because of its applicability to other scenarios. Anytime that something goes catastrophically wrong for someone, they’ve been pwned (See Know Your Meme). Using the term pwn also includes you in apart of the culture of the internet. Therefore, I believe that people used pwned primarily because of its attached feelings of dominance as well as its inclusion in internet culture. 

Annotation: Pwned photo from Know Your Meme https://knowyourmeme.com/memes/owned-pwned