TikTok For Dummies
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Like others in my generation — the brief generation known as xennials, for those born on the cusp between Gen X (born in the 1960s and 1970s) and the millennials (born in the 1980s or 1990s) — I've become adept at adapting to ever-changing tech cultures and jargon. After all, we invented the familiar LOLs and BRBs of AOL Instant Messenger, along with social media emojis and other forms of shortened communication styles.

Now my kids, who are in Gen Z (born in the late 1990s and early 2000s), are claiming new forms of communication, much of it gaining popularity on TikTok. TikTok culture is shaping the way we, their parents and grandparents, have to learn to communicate with them. No cap! (I explain that last term below, under "Speaking TikTok jargon.")

Becoming familiar with TikTok culture

TikTok has developed a different culture than other social networks you may be used to, such as Facebook or Twitter. You'll be most successful understanding this culture when you begin creating content on the platform. The key to understanding TikTok’s culture is to know these principles:

You’re not alone!

TikTok has an estimated 1.1 billion users. (A second version of TikTok, called Douyin, is available only in China.) You’ll find thriving communities in just about any genre and interest you can think of, including religion, mental health, sports, music, arts, crafts, and cooking. For example, popular TikTok user @catieosaurus uses her TikTok account to talk about ADHD, as shown below.

Screenshot showing the TikTok personality @catieosaurus ©Catie O.
@catieosaurus highlights living with ADHD on TikTok.

TikTok is about being yourself

Many popular accounts convey the person's normal, everyday life. Big-name celebrities, such as Andy Grammer, use TikTok to share the behind-the-scenes of their everyday lives. Chef Gordon Ramsey’s daughter pranks her dad (he goes along with it!) for the world to see. On TikTok, everyone is human. You get to be as well.

TikTok is one very large conversation

The comment, like, duet, and stitch features get people interacting in fun and creative ways. For example, popular influencers might start a dance, or begin a conversation, or sing a song and ask their audiences to join in. (An influencer is a person on social media with many followers or the ability to make content go viral and even affect product purchases.)

As you surf the For You page, you might discover one of their followers joining in, and get inspired to do your own creative twist for your own audience. Your audience comments and participates themselves, and the conversation continues. You can also use hashtags so that the conversation you’re participating in is categorized with similar videos.

Screenshot of Aaron Hanania on TikTok ©Aaron Hanania
Aaron Hanania sparking joy in his audience

TikTok is about creativity and having fun!

TikTok’s mission statement is, “TikTok is the leading destination for short-form mobile video. Our mission is to inspire creativity and bring joy.” As you create content on the TikTok platform, don’t assume that you have to know how to dance, sing, or draw. Think about what you have to offer that is unique and creative and might spark joy in whoever watches and interacts with your content. For example, Aaron Hanania, shown in Figure 5-2, spreads positivity to his audience. Most importantly, have fun! A welcoming community is there to cheer you on.

There you go! I now dub thee, Sir or Madame (or whatever your preferred royal pronoun) reader, a part of the TikTok culture.

Speaking TikTok jargon

Knowing a little TikTok jargon can help you sound like one of the cool kids. Trust me on this.

Here are some of the top TikTok slang words and jargon you might come across as you’re using the app. Many of these are used by Gen Z, so when I'm in doubt, I just ask my kids (sheesh, I feel old):

  • X TikTok: When creators say they’ve stumbled upon Dog TikTok, or Cat TikTok, or TikTok For Dummies TikTok or any other number of TikToks, they’re talking about a specific group or community of people with similar interests.
    • Usage: “Congratulations, you’ve stumbled upon Fruit Snack TikTok, where all your Fruit Snack cravings can come true!”

Using the X TikTok verbiage can be a great way to encourage your audience to join your club of followers obsessed with something as silly as fruit snacks. They might even make their own videos and duets about the exclusive club you’ve created.

  • Cap or No Cap: These were popularized by the song “No Cap” by rappers Young Thug & Future in 2017. Cap (designated by a baseball cap emoji) means lie. No Cap (designated by the prohibited emoji followed by the baseball cap) means no lie or for real. You often see the emojis used in comments if someone agrees (the no cap emoji sequence) or doesn’t believe you (the cap emoji).
    • Usage: “No cap! TikTok For Dummies will teach anyone how to get acclimated to TikTok!” (See what I did there?)
  • Extra: When someone’s a little extra, they’re being overly dramatic or over-the-top.
    • Usage: “David seems to get into everyone’s business and always wants to be the center of attention. He’s so extra!”
  • Simp: The original Gen Z users started using TikTok to meet and date other users. They’re all about flirting, and simp is a term that means someone is doing too much for another person he or she likes.
    • Usage: “She’s such a simp towards Allen. He doesn’t even give her much, but she can’t stop trying to please him!”
  • Karen: A Karen is a woman who gets in everyone’s business, feeling she’s entitled to do so. The male equivalent is a Chad.
    • Usage: “He’s such a Chad — he thinks he runs this town, reporting every violation he can find!”
  • Bet: Short for you bet or sure. It means you acknowledge what’s being said.
    • Usage: Person 1: “Y’all better finish reading this book soon so I can read it next!” Person 2: “Bet.”
  • Thirst trap: You’ll see this term a lot on TikTok. When people create a post solely to get attention from those who might be attracted to them, it’s called a thirst trap.
    • Usage: “Ha! This video is such a thirst trap. Look at all the guys simping on her!”
  • Sus: If you’re familiar with the popular computer game Among Us, you’ll recognize this term, which suggests someone is suspicious. On TikTok, it's used anytime something seems suspicious.
    • Usage: “I don’t know — this video seems a bit sus. I think that hair looks like a wig.”
  • Boomer: Originally used to define people in the baby boomer generation, boomer now means someone deemed too old for a younger person to grasp.
    • Usage (I'm quoting my kids here): “You’re such a boomer, Dad. You don’t even understand what sus means.”
  • Yeet: This term is used to convey excitement, approval, surprise, or just energy.
    • Usage: “Can’t wait for my mom to get on TikTok! Yeet yeet!”
  • Clown emoji 🤡: Appearing in comments, this term usually means something is foolish, scary, or suspicious. It’s usually not a positive term.
    • Usage: Person 1: “I’m going to climb up this rock wall.” Person 2: 🤡

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