They finally did it. They made “fetch” happen.
OK, not “fetch,” exactly. The thing that’s been made to happen is a made-up word: cheugy. As with “fetch,” though, the word’s inventor was a high school girl, and the people spreading, defining, and discussing it are young women. Unlike “fetch,” which in the 1997 2004 film Mean Girls was supposed to mean “cool” or “desirable,” cheugy is the opposite: out of date, trying too hard, inauthentic.
Taylor Lorenz wrote about cheugy for the New York Times (“What is ‘Cheugy’? You Know It When You See It,” April 29, 2021):
It’s not quite “basic,” which can describe someone who is a conformist or perhaps generic in their tastes, and it’s not quite “uncool.” It’s not embarrassing or even always negative. Cheugy (pronounced chew-gee) can be used, broadly, to describe someone who is out of date or trying too hard. And while a lot of cheugy things are associated with millennial women, the term can be applied to anyone of any gender and any age.
(It’s closer to CHOOG-ee. Here’s a pronunciation guide from the hypnotic #EnglishWithJulien.)
Cheugy was coined by Gaby Rasson in 2013, when she was a student at Beverly Hills High School. Now 23 and a software engineer, Rasson told Lorenz that she’d “wanted a way to describe people who were slightly off trend”:
“It was a category that didn’t exist,” she said. “There was a missing word that was on the edge of my tongue and nothing to describe it and ‘cheugy’ came to me. How it sounded fit the meaning.”
What sort of sound symbolism did Rasson have in mind? That remains unclear, as does any specific meaning of cheugy. (It has “slight negative connotations,” Lorenz reports, but is also “totally open to your interpretation,” according to one of her sources, another 23-year-old woman.) It may be worth pointing out that similar-sounding slang terms have been circulating for decades. A 1997 commercial for Sprite poked fun at a fictional soda brand, “Jooky,” the antithesis of Sprite’s authentic flavor. The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) recorded a 1968 citation for chookee in Louisiana: “a country hick”; the author Shelby Foote, who was from Mississippi, used chookie in his 1977 novel September September: “One of those hungry little nineteen-year-old chookies—hair ironed flat, pullover sweater a couple of sizes too small, white socks.”
Cheugy spread among Rasson’s friends, and then to their friends. Someone called @cheuglife posted a definition on Urban Dictionary on November 8, 2018.
Cheugy finally went mainstream (-ish) when 24-year-old Hallie Cain, aka @webkinzwhore143, posted a TikTok about the word on March 30. Cheugy, Cain told her 4,000+ followers, “is the opposite of trendy … it’s used when someone follows these out-of-date trends.” The following day, Cain defended cheugy against accusations of “classism”: “Really expensive designer things can be cheugy, the same as inexpensive things can be cheugy,” she insisted.
Oh man, "cheugy" is a wonderful word. Thank you SO much Gen Z, once again, for finding the perfect word for a feeling I've been trying to put my finger on for 15 years.— Oweeeeendennis (@OweeeeenDennis) April 30, 2021
if I could buy stock in a word... cheugy is going to go up in value to be one of the words of the year pic.twitter.com/45m8HztLFl— Joe (@joeburgertweets) April 27, 2021
And some people don’t.
The word "cheugy" doesn't exist; it's a mass hallucination, not unlike the persistent belief that "dilemma" is spelled "dilemna."— Benjamin Dreyer (@BCDreyer) May 1, 2021
Using the word "cheugy" is cheugy.— Emily Nussbaum (@emilynussbaum) April 30, 2021
There’s also a backformed noun: a person who’s cheugy is a cheug.
Discovering chuegy reminded me of two things: 1. Girls and young women are constantly inventing slang, and hurrah for that. 2. A lot of that slang is designed to police one’s peers: Who’s out? What’s ugly? Who should we shun? Girls need to keep tabs on that stuff, and it takes a long time to outgrow the need.
The cheugy of my own Los Angeles adolescence was sosh, pronounced with a long O. It was a vague put-down; in my junior high school, girls were constantly rolling their eyes and saying so-and-so was such a sosh. (In my memory, boys never used the word.) It apparently was clipped from social, but I never figured out why “social” was a bad thing to be, or what sosh really meant. As far as I could tell, it had something to do with trying too hard, which overlaps with cheugy’s connotations. And if there’s one thing a girl or a woman must never do, it’s look like she’s trying too hard; just ask Hillary Clinton. Fortunately, I eventually went on to high school, where there was a whole new set of vocabulary words, and customs, to master.
Related: An excellent word invented by a teen girl: bershon.