Cheugy is a recently-coined word referring to anyone or anything that's a bit behind the times and trying hard. It's neither basic nor uncool, suggests Taylor Lorenz in the New York Times, but a kind of authentic cheesiness that's both obvious yet highly subjective amid the finely-gradated and self-conscious world of Tik Tokkers. One may revel in one's cheugyness—but don't get too ironic.
Ultimately words like cheugy are as much about establishing who you aren't as who you are. "A word like cheugy is a way of labeling an in group and an out group," said Gretchen McCulloch, a linguist and the author of "Because Internet," a book about how the internet has shaped language.
She said that though the notion of cheugy has probably been around for a while, the term itself is new and novel enough to be trendy itself. "Certain types of words go through trends just like clothing and accessories do," Ms. McCulloch said. "They're fashionable for a while and go out of fashion. The word for cool gets replaced every few years, cool sticks around as a background world. Groovy meant cool, now it's dated. Coming up with a word like cheugy is a way to distance yourself from something that used to be really popular until very recently."
The tentativeness of cheugy and other currencies of identification is the most important part of it. It comes from the unease people feel knowing that online trends and fashions are algorithmically mediated and triggered. Anything could become cool again at any moment and no-one will ever know why. They'll know they might turn a corner and suddenly the thing they just made a show of saying is uncool has become cool again, around that corner. There is no Miranda Priestly to explain cerulean blue here, just the mindless mill of engagement optimization and automated testing suites and the deep quiet fear of personal context collapse.