Yaass queen! How drag culture has revolutionised language

Bob the Drag Queen
Bob the Drag Queen
Image: Getty Images

The next time you perfect your face beat, just remember that drag queens the world over have beeen working it! Previously marginalised, the drag culture, which sees men take on feminine roles for the purpose of entertainment, has slowly but fiercely sashayed its way into pop culture.

This week sees the return of reality show, RuPaul's Drag Race, which not only marks a milestone for the reality series which is celebrating a decade, but also celebrates 10 years of drag queen culture on mainstream television.

With ever growing popularity, the show has given viewers a peek into the fabulous world of drag queens.  So popular is the show, that VH1, where it is broadcast, has increased the running time from 40 to 90 minutes.  The waves have also been felt on social media, with audience measurement system, Nielsen, rating the show in the top seven for social media engagement for the previous season.

Whether you knew it or not (or whether you like it or not), drag culture is here to stay, and has even heavily influenced, not only pop culture, but also the way in which we speak.  Here is a collection of words you probably didn't know comes from the fantastic world of drag.

"Shade/Throw shade"

To shade means to publicly criticise or express contempt for someone, with the act of doing this referred to as throwing shade.  The term was first defined by drag queens in the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning which explored drag and gay culture in New York. RuPual's Drag Race incorporates a segment called "Reading is fundamental" where contestants throw shade at each other.

"Snatching wigs"

The term originated from snatched, a term used when someone's hair, clothing or make-up looks fantastic.  Snatching wigs is commonly used to express excitement when someone has done something amazing.  On RuPaul's show, the term is commonly used by contestants participating in the segment "Snatch Games," which is a display of the contestants' celebrity impersonations and a game of wits.

RuPaul's Drag Race All Stars 3


In Paris is Burning, the terms was used to describe "truths," but over time, the word has come to be used to describe gossip. The word is even used by talk show host, Wendy Williams on her celebrity gossip segments and interviews, where she refers to "spilling tea" or asking "what's the tea?"  The term is also used to express information an individual has exclusive details about. See an example of tea being spilled by Ru Paul's Drag Race All Star Season 2 winner, Alaska.


Whether you spell it work, werk or werq it still means one thing: to do your utmost best. The term was popularly used in balls (an event where drag queens and members of the LGBT+ community performed and also dressed up for prizes) when someone was showing off their dancing or modelling skills to which observers would yell: "work it!" The term, "you better work" became synonymous with RuPaul as a catchphrase he often used while in drag. See below for Ru Paul's 90s song, Supermodel (You Better Work) featuring a number of other drag terminology and his own catchphrases.

Official music video by RuPaul performing "Supermodel (You Better Work)". Directed by Randy Barbato. (P) & (C) 1993 Tommy Boy Records. More from Telegenics: Facebook Fanpage: https://goo.gl/WA7Dvw Follow us on Twitter: https://goo.gl/iGQKbK

"Yaass Queen/Kween"

Like a number of drag terms, the word or phrase is used in a moment of excitement. And like most other terms, it originates from the drag balls where it is common to hear "queen", or "yaass" being shouted to congratulate the contestant doing well. While "yaass" and "queen" were commonly used words, within the community, the phrase "yaass queen" was popularised by the television show Broad City.

"Face beat"

You may have come across the term when someone describes a well made-up face as being "beat". The popular term was coined as "beat face" by celebrity makeup artist Tatiana Honey but was popularised and defined by the contestants of RuPaul's Drag Race who used the term to explain the process of beating powdered makeup onto their faces. See the tutorial for a drag queen style face beat from former contestant, Aja Saint Tropez.

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