Usually it’s the students who are constantly brushing up on their vocabulary so they can be as prepared as possible for school.
But in the case of James Callahan, a teacher in the social studies department at Lowell High School, it’s the other way around.
Callahan, who has been teaching at the school for 15 years, keeps an alphabetized document of all the slang words and phrases that his students throw around and use regularly so that he can stay abreast of the latest lingo.
Last week, the document became the talk of Twitter after one of those students shared screenshot images of a selection of Callahan’s entries and definitions, making it go viral.
“My sociology professor keeps an alphabetic list of new slang terms he learns from students and I will never get over it,” the student tweeted.
As of Monday afternoon, the student’s tweet had been retweeted more than 169,000 times, and racked up more than half a million “likes” on social media.
So, what’s on Callahan’s spreadsheet?
“Pull up/Come thru,” which he defines as an invitation; “rashing,” which means to make fun of someone; and “real one,” a noun used to describe a “valid person,” or someone who can be trusted, according to Callahan’s interpretations.
Other entries include “Take the L,” a term for willingly conceding a loss; “sus,” a noun that describes a suspicious or suspect individual; and “I’m dead,” which Callahan says is the state of a person’s being when something is “amusing.”
Callahan was not immediately available to comment on what he titled the “Generation Z Dictionary.” But he confirmed in a brief e-mail that the tweet was from one of his students and that the document indeed exists.
Callahan told the Lowell Sun last week — as the student’s tweet picked up steam, and was featured on USA Today and the Daily Mail — that while the growing list is “pretty innocuous,” it’s actually a helpful tool for him to keep around as an educator, and serves as “a heuristic device.”
“I get to learn some of the nuances of how teenagers communicate with each other, and I believe that can help me become a more effective teacher,” he told the Lowell Sun.
Many people who read the excerpts shared from the document applauded Callahan for his efforts to decode the meanings of the words in a teacherly manner.
“I‘m dead, your sociology professor is high key a real one,” one person wrote, using phrases that made the list.
Others suggested words that could be added to his growing dictionary.
Eventually, as the list began making waves online, Callahan made a public PDF version available for people to read. He also used the opportunity to promote educational programs that need funding.
“I’m happy to offer this to the world for free,” Callahan wrote at the top of the document, before sharing it on Twitter. “But if you’re feeling philanthropic today, please consider two options that would greatly help the students of Lowell, Massachusetts. The Lowell String Project, and Mrs. Bauer’s Donors Choose page.”
He signed it, “Stay up, Mr. Callahan.”
Check out a sample of the list:
Gotta blast = I have to leave
Hardo = Try hard
High key = Very obvious
Hop off = Mind your own business
Jams = An enjoyable old song
Low key = Not obvious