May 4, 2021

What does cheugy mean? When you know…you know.

A picture of homemade lasagna with the caption "wait, is this cheugy?"

Cheugy means something or someone that’s just a smidge off-trend and “trying too hard.”  Never heard the word?  You’re not alone.  But why should you care?  Well, if you’re a marketer and you want to reach Gen Z…you should.  You might be using cheugy concepts in your marketing (oh the shame!) and you don’t even know it.

The trouble is, defining what’s cheugy (pronounced chew-gee, with a hard G) is subjective.  And a clear explanation is elusive, despite a multitude of sources that try to define it.  For example:

  • In Rolling Stone:  “…an aesthetic that is somewhere between basicness and cheesiness.”
  • In The New York Times:  “It’s not embarrassing or even always negative.”
  • In The Urban Dictionary:  “The opposite of trendy.”
  • But Insider said it best:  “Ultimately, cheuginess is a vibe, something you can sense without always being able to substantiate why.”

Wait…what?  I just read three articles and a dictionary definition and I’m still not certain I can identify something that would universally be considered “cheugy.”

Perhaps it’s my age.  The term is apparently a dig at Millennials by Gen Zers, implying that all the things Millennials thought were cool in high school are no longer cool.  So I guess if you’re a Gen Xer or a Boomer, you’d probably be wise to stay out of the dialogue.  Gen Z will just come up with another term (that none of us can understand) to describe how “older people” try too hard to use all the young people’s slang.  Or wait…does that just make us cheugy?  I’m so confused.

I remember being a kid in the early 80’s when a friend at summer camp tried really hard to define the word “preppy” for me.  It was another of those “you know it when you see it” kind of terms and I obviously didn’t see it.  She even gifted me her copy of The Official Preppy Handbook (“don’t worry, Grand-ma-ma will get me a new one”).  And still…it was pretty clear that if you weren’t preppy and didn’t have that magical essence naturally in you, simply flipping your collar up wouldn’t cut it.  You imposter.

Cheugy is the same way.  You just have to know it when you see it, so if you DON’T… don’t despair.  Our brains aren’t wired for everything, and just the way you may not understand calculus or be handy with mechanical things… so too, you may not be capable of identifying cheuginess.  Not even if they come out with The Cheugy Handbook.

However, if it helps, here are a few things that seem to be universally accepted as cheugy:

  • Ugg slippers
  • Barstool Sports
  • The Instagram caption “I did a thing”
  • Sneaker culture
  • Being an iced coffee addict
  • Starbucks pumpkin spice lattes

But don’t go thinking you’ve got the definition nailed, even if looking at that list gave you a good idea of the cheugy vibe.  Because even among those who coined and spread the term, there are regular debates about what’s truly cheugy…and that’s not even a permanent label.  Apparently, low-rise jeans were once considered cheugy, and now they’re not.  Try to keep up.

Here’s the big question though.  Now that the mainstream media have written all about the word, giving license for the uncool and uninitiated to bandy it about, will Gen Z even want to use it anymore?  Or will the term itself be deemed cheugy?  We’ll have to ask Gaby Rasson, the 23-year-old software developer who’s credited with creating the term back in 2013.  Gaby – clearly the idol of Gretchen in Mean Girls, who tried so hard to make fetch happen – will always reign supreme as the last word on cheuginess.

In the New York Times article, someone said “lasagna is cheugy.”  Dude, my mom just made a killer lasagna this past weekend and I cleaned my plate spotless.  If that makes me cheugy, I’ll gladly take that label with a side of meatballs and a glass of chianti.

And one last thought.  I recently wrote a blog post about Marketing Lessons from The Princess Bride.  It was wildly popular, but now I’m thinking…is The Princess Bride cheugy?  BRB. DMing Gaby.