Hey, a question for the GenZed readers of this fine blog—is low-key now a simple intensifier?

I saw an ad for a Disney streaming series that declared that they (or someone, anyway) was low-key excited about the premiere, and while first of all I assume that means that this particular bit of slang is now officially dead, second I found it a slightly jarring use of the term as a simple intensifier—they’re not just excited, they’re low-key excited.

I should say that I don’t really have an ear for this term. My experience of being near people who use it has been that it has two uses, the first and less frequent a straightforward usage such as that suggested by the Urban Dictionary, and the second and (to my ear) more frequent usage being the reverse of that one. That is, a person might well say something like Braden was fucked up last night and low-key hitting on the bartender at the Half-Door, meaning that he was not low-key at all but rather intense and embarrassing to everyone around him, with the added connotation that he thought he was being nonchalant. This seems like a very useful term! And in general, from context, I can tell (I think) whether a person saying I low-key hate that class means that they only hate it mildly or that they hate it a lot. On the other hand, I could be wrong, and I generally don’t have an opportunity to eavesdrop long enough to tell.

Of course, it isn’t unusual for an intensifier to have opposite meanings. This one could continue to have both meanings for as long as people want to use it that way. But I am wondering if it is going to slide from the notion of nonchalance (or failed attempt at nonchalance) to just being an all-purpose intensifier of feelings, thoughts or intentions.


2 Responses to “low-key”

  1. Jed

    Interesting! I’m no help in answering your question, because I was unaware of the intensifier use, but I’m intrigued.

    (Side note: Urban Dictionary seems to suggest that low-key can also mean “secret.” I haven’t encountered that usage either. Or maybe I have and I just didn’t know it.)

  2. KTO

    I don’t think it’s ever an intensifier. I think it’s mostly a modifier.


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