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Slay is a slang term that has had its meaning slightly change over the course of its usage. Though its use as part of making someone laugh uncontrollably has lessened over the centuries since the 1800s, its most common function of noting when someone is dressed very well has persisted alongside its more modern use in memes being roughly considered an LGBTQ+ version of Sigma Grind.
Language historians believe the term was colloquially used in the 1800s in three different ways. First, meaning to literally slay, as in slaying a dragon in stories, followed up by causing someone to lose control of themselves through laughter so they can't breathe. It was also used in ball culture, meaning to be dressed exceptionally sharp.
This colloquial usage had some of the meaning die down over the centuries until it was brought online and cemented in an Urban Dictionary definition. On January 30th, 2003, Urban Dictionary user ThrashBastard wrote the definition of slay as "to kill," as well as "really good." This more recent usage during the 2000s online shifted the definition of only referring to clothes to meaning anything that either kills or is very good (shown below).
The word still remained in relative obscurity online during the early-to-mid 2000s, with its first more modern usage as part of doing something really well coming via Twitter on October 13th, 2009, by Twitter user @tommygotachoppa, who used the hashtag "#SLAY" as a hype tweet for the singer Rihanna (shown below).
In 2016, pop musician Beyonce released an album called Lemonade that featured the song "Formation," which had an entire section of the song devoted to her saying "I slay." The music video for "Formation" was uploaded to YouTube by the official Beyonce account on December 9th, 2016, where it went on to get over 280 million views in five years (shown below). This usage rapidly resulted in an uptick of the slang term becoming more prevalent online during the mid-to-late 2010s.
Yas Bitch Slay
Yas Bitch Slay refers to a four-panel exploitable image macro involving one character, oftentimes a parent or guardian, telling another character to change their outfit because it's not provocative enough. The first character then changes into a skimpier outfit, prompting the response, "Yas bitch slay," referencing LGBTQ+ lexicon and other memes like Yassification. The original meme was shared on Instagram in 2016. Its usage picked up in early 2022 as meme creators on Twitter referenced their own subcultures and fandoms within multiple iterations.
Hit The Slay Button
Hit The Slay Button refers to an image of a cartoon RuPaul from the 2021 mobile game RuPaul's Drag Race Superstar saying "hit the slay button." The image became an exploitable in memes including image macros in November of that year, with many jokingly interpreting the word "slay" literally to mean "kill". It also inspired photoshops where people replace the RuPaul cartoon or paste the "slay button" speech bubble onto other images to change the context. It is also used similarly to the yassification meme, where "hitting the slay button" is used as a euphemism for undergoing a glow up.
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