So Very Cool In More Ways Than One

While generations seek to linguistically differentiate themselves from their predecessors, one word that has perennially weathered the generational changing of the guard is the word "cool." We asked teens and collegians if they ever use this word to describe something that they like or are excited about and more than 4 out of 5 teens and collegians have used it sometimes or often, regardless of gender. Only 1 in 7 teens and collegians would consider the word cool to be uncool.

Cool has multiple dimensions ... more than half of teens and collegians describe it as an appearance (56%), an attitude (53%) or a style (50%). Slightly less than half equate cool to a behavior (45%) and a third consider it to be integral to a product (34%). Of all that cool is to Millennials, it is less often considered to be something influenced by others (19%), and more often considered to be personal and subjective.

We asked teens and collegians to list words (aside from cool) that they use to describe what they like or find exciting. While the top 50 alternatives to the word cool can be found online, some highlights include:

  • Awesome: Without a doubt, awesome is the heir-apparent to cool. A frequent variant was Awsome, which was spelled this way far too often to be a typo.
  • Sweet: This all-purpose gem has variants such as shweet, suhweet, saweet and sweetness.
  • Nice: can be used literally as well as sarcastically. To stress a point, use as many i's as you'd (e.g. niiiice) or, tack on a bunch of extra e's for effect.
  • Amazing: an all purpose word that is a tribute to the late pitchman, Billy Mays (variants include Amayzing).



Reflexively applying the concept of cool to Millennials themselves, the media (in their efforts to protect this precious generation) focus a great deal of attention on peer pressure, bullying and cyber-bullying. The reality is that while there may be an isolated incident from time to time that garners a disproportionate media response, Millennials have higher levels of self-esteem than their predecessors.

This bold statement is not only evidenced by our research into how kids think and feel about themselves and the world around them, but is also based on evidence of their behavior as measured by government sources such as the Centers for Disease Control. Bad or negative behaviors such as drug abuse, alcoholism and teenage pregnancy are well lower than the peaks achieved by Boomers and Gen Xers. Less than one in ten college-aged students uses illicit or abuses prescription drugs, a number that would have been shocking to those attending college in the '60s, '70s and '80s.

If there's a shred of truth to the controversial headlines that surround teen bullying, it's that high school females have a tougher time feeling accepted than their male counterparts or the older female collegian cohort. High school females have deep connections with their friends and feel more pressure to fit into a perceived "in-crowd." Popularity is hard to achieve, easy to lose and, in the moment, seems like a life or death issue to teenage girls. Teen boys seem strangely inoculated to the pressure, convinced that they are surrounded by people that like them.

The importance of popularity decreases rapidly as teens enter their college years with a larger, more distributed social network offering more options and less pressure to perform. In tackling the pressure to be cool, helping teens to see past their temporary situation to a bigger picture is the best antidote to the pressures they face.

3 comments about "So Very Cool In More Ways Than One ".
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  1. Gary Senser, February 12, 2010 at 3:15 p.m.

    Great insight. Thanks! Can help but wonder why high school females have a tougher time feeling accepted than their male counterparts...

  2. Leyla Arsan from Lotus Marketing, February 12, 2010 at 3:47 p.m.

    Sweet. thanks for the vernacular update. good to know, I am still "with it" (totally not used by gen y)

    Here is a post I wrote about a Dr. Phil episode on what text acronyms stand for....

  3. Byron Wolt from Speak to Students, February 16, 2010 at 9:53 a.m.

    Thanks for the great insights! It is interesting to me to see how teens (and younger) take many buzz words/vocabulary from older generations. I don't really recall this from my generation where we consciously moved away from so many things parental.

    It is also interesting to me to see all the classic rock band t-shirts that students wear when I speak in high schools! While I cannot be sure if I used my parents’ vocabulary, I am certain I did NOT listen to my parents’ music.

    Girls do have a tougher time in their teen years than boys. In general, the lives of girls are far more complicated than boys. Boys are a fairly simple gender. Girl’s bodies change more than boys and change is always difficult. Boys can wear pants and a shirt and go almost anywhere and do almost anything. Girls have high heels, flats, pumps and more; they have dresses, long skirts, short skirts, pants and more clothing decisions to make daily. If a boy is "big" he can play the line in football; if a girl is "big" she has a much tougher time at school and the messages she receives in the media are far more harsh. I already notice the extra challenges my daughter faces with her friends at age 7 than my son did faced at that age.

    Thanks again for your insights.

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