The GuardianThe Guardian

Vibe check: What does the most overused word of our era actually mean?

By Naaman Zhou

22 Mar 2023 · 9 min read

Editor's Note

These days, everything is “a vibe.” But should it be? The Guardian explores how the overuse of today's most popular slang word threatens to diminish its meaning to nothing.

The most important people in the history of the word “vibes” are the Beach Boys. Before the release of Good Vibrations, in 1966, if you heard someone say “a vibe”, they were probably talking about a vibraphone – the xylophone-like percussion instrument with ringing metal bars, invented in 1916. The thought that a person could give off “vibes” was a niche, mostly hippy concept that Brian Wilson heard about from his mother.

At first, it was frightening. “[She] used to tell me about vibrations,” Wilson told a biographer, years later. “She told me about dogs that would bark at people … that a dog would pick up vibrations from these people that you can’t see, but you can feel.

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