What's The Deal With Everyone Saying 'Delulu'?

For many Gen Z-ers and millennials, delulu is 100% the solulu to life's problems.
Delulu isn't just an abbreviation ― for Gen Z, it's a state of mind.
Illustration:Jianan Liu/HuffPost; Photo:Getty Images
Delulu isn't just an abbreviation ― for Gen Z, it's a state of mind.

Think you’re going to get that 25% raise you requested in this economy? Delulu.

Convinced that the good-looking guy you see on your daily walk is smiling at you and not your dog, whom he’s clearly making direct eye contact with every time? Delulu.

Believe that this is the year you’ll end up on Forbes 30 Under 30, all while traveling the world like you’re Anthony Bourdain incarnate? Definitely delulu, but we love that for you.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the word “delulu” is everywhere lately. On TikTok, videos with the word have more than five billion views. Places like The New York Times and The Guardian have published explainers on the phrase. And your 15-year-old niece will almost certainly use it at the dinner table this Christmas.

On the surface, delulu is just an abbreviated version of delusional. If you’re delulu, you have a false or unrealistic belief or opinion on something. The shorthand was first used in K-pop fandom culture to describe fans’ parasocial relationships with the genre’s stars. (“It might be delulu, but I think I’d have a chance with Jungkook if we ever met.”)

To be delulu is to be unyieldingly confident, even when it makes you look kind of silly in the process. Like “fake it til you make it” and “manifesting” before it, the phrase generally has a positive association. As Gen Z and young millennials will tell you, the stakes are generally lower when you’re delulu.

“I define delulu as more as pretending to be confident to an extreme level that often results in actual confidence,” said Brandon Edelman, a 27-year-old influencer from Philadelphia who hosts the podcast, Between us Girlies.

A “key delulu moment” for Edelman was when he first started posting on TikTok. At the time, he had close to zero followers, but he refused to pay that any mind. He posted as if he were pulling in Kardashian numbers, like people were deeply invested in what he had to say.

“For a while it was just me being straight up delulu: talking about things in a video that would get 396 views,” he said. “I was telling minute long stories, sharing my favoUrite products, and talking about people in my life as if they were characters in a TV show.”

But with supreme confidence, he kept posting, and two years later, he has over a half a million followers who really are invested in what he has to say.

“Delulu was 100% the solulu,” he joked.


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Elleni Mehari, a 31-year-old from Colorado, said the core difference between being delusional versus being delulu is that the latter involves having “playful self-awareness.”

She likens it to another Gen Z-beloved concept: “Doing it for the plot,” where you make a not-that-serious life decision to spice up your life.

“To me, ‘delusional’ indicates that a person is truly not aware, or unwilling to recognise, their reality for a given situation,” she said. “With delulu, the difference is you know you’re being unrealistic. Often this comes with a brazen confidence to continue living in that reality, for better or worse, but not always.”

Sometimes, a moment of delulu just comes over you, said Rocky Rare, a 26-year-old from Chicago, Illinois. The other day, he acted delulu in public while on the subway.

“I was two stops away from my station, and Nicki Minaj and Lil Uzi’s new song ‘Everybody’ came on in my headphones, and I literally had a moment where I stopped and thought, what if I just started dancing on this train full of people?” he said.

Feeling himself ― and feeling a little delulu ― Rare couldn’t help but start grooving and doing the TikTok “hips hips” dance for a moment.

“A couple people right by me definitely rolled their eyes and looked at me like, ‘What the hell,’ but I don’t know, I just didn’t care because the song was slapping,” he said. “Yes, it was a little embarrassing, but it was a funny little harmless moment, and I’m likely to never see those people again.”

Rare said he probably won’t make a habit of impromptu subway dancing.

“It was a little more character development in my own little personal ‘life’ storybook in my head,” he joked.

For young people, being delulu can serve as self-protection in an unkind world.

Some, like The Guardian, have summarised being delulu as “self-deception as self-care.” There’s a lot going on right now ― the rising cost of living, multiple wars, the tail-end of a pandemic, and a political divide that’s only growing ―so it’s understandable that young people would lean into checking out sometimes.

In that respect, the term is similar in spirit to two other Gen Z-beloved phrases: romanticising your life (even when it’s pretty boring and mundane) and dissociating, the latter ― which is a genuine psychological syndrome that’s used glibly on TikTok ― like bipolar before it. (“Sorry, can you repeat that, I was totally dissociating.”)

As Rare put it, “[being delulu] is like a choice to temporarily escape.”

“I definitely think it’s like personal armour, too, because nowadays everybody feels like they’re under a scope and judged online for every little thing that goes against the norm,” he explained. “You can’t really shame somebody who’s choosing to be confident in their mistakes!”

"'Delulu' has reached widespread popularity with a broader meaning of just ‘crazy but in a cute way’ now,” said Adam Aleksic, a Harvard University linguistics grad who goes by EtymologyNerd on Instagram and TikTok.
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"'Delulu' has reached widespread popularity with a broader meaning of just ‘crazy but in a cute way’ now,” said Adam Aleksic, a Harvard University linguistics grad who goes by EtymologyNerd on Instagram and TikTok.

Given the broad use cases, Adam Aleksic, a Harvard University linguistics grad who goes by EtymologyNerd on Instagram and TikTok, thinks that delulu ― has what it takes to last in our lexicon.

“At this point, it’s reached widespread popularity with a broader meaning of just ‘crazy but in a cute way,’” he said.

On TikTok and in an interview with HuffPost, Aleksic broke down the etymology of the word and how many transformations “delusional” had to go through to get to “delulu.”

“Obviously, it just comes from ‘delusional,’ but the way it developed follows regular linguistic patterns,” he told us. “The first is called ‘clipping,’ when a word is shortened, so ‘delusional’ became ‘delu.’”

Then, he said, the second syllable underwent a process called “diminutive reduplication,” when a sound is repeated to achieve a cute effect.

“So ‘lu’ became ‘lulu’ for the same reason you might say, ‘here, kitty-kitty’ instead of just ‘here, kitty.’ It just sounds cuter for us to say it again,” he explained.


And since we now have words like "solulu" and "trolulu," we can consider -lulu a semi-productive suffix! More on reduplication: @etymologynerd More on productivity: @etymologynerd #etymology #delulu #linguistics #language #greenscreen

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“‘Delulu” also went through a process called ‘semantic widening,’ as it expanded from just a K-pop definition to refer to any kind of cute craziness, although it still shows up most frequently in a romantic context,” he said.

Camilla Tran, a Gen Z-er from Central Piedmont in North Carolina, told HuffPost she had a delulu moment in her love life recently. She’d been texting a guy constantly and would get giddy every time he responded, even if it was dry two-word responses.

“I would say things like, ‘He texted me good morning,’ when in reality, I was the one who texted him first,” she said. “My storytelling was very good apparently because my friends thought he liked me. Eventually, I got the confidence to tell him I liked him and then I was rejected.”

She took the rejection in stride, though, because she knew she was reaching to begin with.

“I knew deep down that I was just being delusional, so it didn’t really affect me or bother me,” she said. “For younger people, I think being delulu is more about having a sense of fun in life. I’m always aware of when I’m being delulu, and I continue on with it anyway because it makes life more interesting.”