That Gives Me the Ick


A is one of my best friends. She is a senior in high school from my hometown. She very much enjoys writing as well as consuming literature.

The context of this piece was during a facetime call in which I asked her to share some pieces of folklore with me, and when we got to folk speech, I asked her to break down what the “ick” was, a now popular saying especially amongst users of TikTok and other social media for members of Gen Z. 


A: “I would say in the context of when I’ve heard it used, it’s always been the lifting of the rose tinted glasses, whether that’s like permanently or just for a moment, in that moment when you’re like, if you really like someone and they do something that makes them seem super real. Maybe too real. Like if a guy runs with his backpack and it’s bouncing up and down, like I’ve heard that described as an ick because it’s just too real and doesn’t fit within your perception of them.”

Me: “How do you use it?”

A: “Just when people do things that turn me off; not sexually but it’s when something’s really off-putting in terms of someone’s behavior and it’s off putting it away that might alter my perception of them for the worse. I think we’re all prone to like seeing people differently from how they are when they’re forced or for the better, but more in the sense of, ‘Oh, okay, maybe I don’t like you as much as I initially did before having this knowledge.’”

Me: “Could you name some examples of what would give you the ick?”

A: “Obviously, they’re different for every person. But if anyone who can’t appreciate literature, or if I send them a poem [on Instagram], and they like the poem and they won’t say anything else. Now, I can’t romanticize you in my head as someone who appreciates literature, so that’s and ick. Or if someone types in a very specific way or uses certain emojis, it’s just like, ‘Ew, just stop.’ So that would be an ick. I would also say that I feel like these days, it’s very obvious that people often confuse icks with basic standards. Where it’s like, ‘Oh, I got the ick because he’s talking to another girl.’ It’s like, no, he’s just not a good person and you shouldn’t be with him if he’s talking to you and another girl at the same time. Or, ‘I get an ick when he cheats on me.’ It’s like no, that’s not what it is.” Those are deal breakers. Icks are just [more minor] things that change your perception of a person for the worse.


The ick is a rather new term, and in a contemporary sense, it tends to be used in regards to relationships—if someone behaves in a manner that doesn’t advocate for them as someone to date, then that would be an ick. However, it’s also begun to be used in a manner less related to relationships, as indicated by A’s commentary. The ick can refer to normal friendships versus the pursuit of relationships, and it is seeing more common use, especially by young people. Especially in an age of the digitization of dating and the more speedy nature of it, along with hookup culture, the presence of a quick way to stop the romanticization of a person in one’s mind is symptomatic of a culture that is rooted in the idea of a soulmate, but doesn’t behave as such. The ick, romantically, seems to function as a threshold of sorts, or an invisible standard — that to find the “perfect” person or one’s soulmate, they can’t gross one out like an ick would.