If you’ve ever watched videos on social media platforms like TikTok, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook Reels, or Twitch (so, basically, everyone), you may have noticed a slew of coded words and emojis that weren’t immediately decipherable — but whose meaning you could infer alongside the right context clues.
Similarly, if you’ve ever created content for internet consumption, you know the number one rule: Don’t upset the algorithm. Modern-day social media algorithms are like the Wizard of Oz — cloaked, all-powerful puppeteers who can seemingly perform miracles for the right creators, instantly propelling their content in front of millions of eyeballs. But they are as fickle as they are promising, often trapping content in a dungeon of 53 views for no discernible reason. While the inner machinations of algorithms are largely unknown, being blackballed by one can suppress your content and seal your doom — and one of the quickest ways to do that is to use language that could be flagged as a violation of the platform’s content guidelines or terms of service.
So internet content creators have developed a growing glossary of terms designed to circumvent automated brand safety filters. This evolving lexicon of euphemisms, abbreviations, deliberate misspellings, symbol insertions and emojis known as “algospeak” is used to disguise sensitive and potentially problematic words having to do with polarising political topics, controversial global events, cultural taboos, death, drugs, and just plain sex.
Here’s a sample of key words in the current glossary of algospeak that are heavily featured in the new online lexicon.
Unalive: Used to describe any reference to death or suicide.
Accountant: Sex worker or Only Fans creator. (Chosen because who’s going to ask more about your job after you say you’re an accountant? No one.)
Spicy eggplant: Vibrator. Or, you know, the other thing that looks kind of like a flesh-coloured eggplant.
P⭐️: Porn star.
Leg booty: A phonetic reference to the LGBTQ community.
Seggs/Seggsytime: Stand-in for sex.
SA: Sexual assault.
Corn emoji: A stand-in for porn. Which is unfortunate given the fact this kid went viral for being obsessed with actual corn.
Sunflower emoji: Symbol for Ukraine.
Panini/Panorama/Panda Express: Euphemisms for the word pandemic, when it was all anyone talked about in 2020 and 2021 (and algorithms were flagging posts for spreading potential misinformation, of which there was plenty).
Dance party/Dinner party: A euphemism for anti-vaccine Facebook groups.
Swimmers: Vaccinated people.
Nip nops: Nipples.
Yt: White people.
Saltines: Also white people. But modified since Twitch banned a leftwing creator for using the word “cracker.”
Le dollar bean: Lesbian (a literal text-to-speech pronunciation of Le$bian, the precursor to “le dollar bean.”)
Opposite of love: An expression used instead of saying “hate.”
Bink in lio: Many variations on this exist as a stand in for “link in bio,” used to indicate where more information on products featured in sponsored posts can be found.
Going camping: A euphemism for having an abortion, prevalent in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. The term was used to indicate it was still legal in your state and you would provide a safe haven to any woman seeking an abortion. (As in, “If you need to ‘go camping’ you can stop at my house for supplies.”)