The fascinating history of the LGBTQ+ term ‘slay’ – including where it originated

drag queen walking on the crosswalk

You’ve probably heard the word “slay”, especially in LGBTQ+ circles, and particularly in reference to doing something cool or interesting. But where did it come from?

The word originally means “to kill a person or an animal”, which you’ve probably heard in shows such as The Witcher or Game of Thrones, and has Germanic roots. In many Old English texts, it was used to refer to heroes vanquishing enemies and saving innocent people from scary, mythical beasts: for example, slay a dragon.

But, according to, the 1920s flipped the word and brought a more colloquial and fun meaning to it. In the era of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby, to “slay” someone would mean you made them laugh hard.

It evolved again in the 1970s and 1980s through Black, Latinx and queer ballroom culture – as in the cancelled show Pose – where “slaying” became a metaphor for “killing it” and was used to mean someone’s outfit, hair, makeup, dance moves or attitude were amazing.

The word later featured heavily in the documentary Paris is Burning, which was about drag culture, then came into the vocabulary of millions of more queer and straight people because of RuPauls Drag Race.

Beyoncé had a hand in thrusting the word into the mainstream too, through her album, Lemonade, around the same time “yass, queen” began popping up on social media. Both phrases had origins in queer-ballroom culture.

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Given that it originated in the ballroom scene, predominantly made up of Black and brown queer and trans people, it’s helpful to understand its history before using it, if you are not a queer person of colour.

“Slay” is now an established part of Gen Z slang, used widely on TikTok and Instagram, by people who don’t know how the ballroom scene and the vernacular used within it were an escape for LGBTQ+ people and people of colour who were experiencing unprecedented levels of discrimination.

That’s not to say you can’t use the word if you are not LGBTQ+ or a person of colour, but understanding the context behind it might make you sound more discerning.