Call it magical thinking or manifesting, but the belief that people can influence their reality through sheer will has existed for centuries. Now, there’s a new term for this idea: “delulu.”
Derived from the word delusional, delulu first gained popularity this summer as shorthand for unrelenting confidence. (Posts with the word have more than five billion views on TikTok.) Though it has roots in the K-pop community to describe a fan’s parasocial relationship with a celebrity, delulu is now widely used by Gen Z-ers and young millennials to describe the process of making the seemingly impossible possible — or at least of coming to believe that they can.
In the words of Bianca Bernardo, a 23-year-old content creator in Los Angeles: “May all your delulu come trululu, because being delulu is the solulu.”
Sabrina Bahsoon, also known as tube girl, gained popularity for posting clips of herself on TikTok, dancing on the train in London and pretending to be in a music video of her own. According to the internet, she is also one of the unofficial leaders of the delulu movement, which she said should inspire others to “reject cringe” and embrace “being confident and amazing.”
Ms. Bahsoon was a law student at Durham University in England when her career as a model and a TikTok star was still nascent. She said she was confident in the fact that her dreams would be realized and would regularly tell her friends so.
“Tube girl was a manifestation I put out into the world of who I wanted to be,” Ms. Bahsoon, 25, said. “I think it’s the most delusional thing that could possibly happen, like becoming a worldwide trend, but now it’s my reality.”
Wemi Opakunle, a life and career coach in Los Angeles, ties a healthy amount of delusion — or in this case, delulu — to success. On her Instagram account, Ms. Opakunle has spoken extensively about how “next-level delusion can completely change your life,” citing the billionaire Richard Branson and her grandfather, an entrepreneur, as examples; she believes delulu is just a more playful motivational framework for young adults.
“It takes a certain level of belief, faith and audacity to know that you can be something that you want to be,” Ms. Opakunle, 39, said. “Delulu makes it fun.”
Words change in meaning as people collectively repurpose them in different contexts, said Matthew Barros, a professor of linguistics at Washington University in St. Louis who was first introduced to delulu by one of his students.
Like “crazy crazy” or “haunted haunted,” the repetitious element of delulu is “funny and it has a sort of cutesy feel to it,” Professor Barros said. That cutesy feel is what separates delusional (which can prompt concern) from delulu (which Ms. Bernardo, the content creator, likens to being in a “silly, goofy mood.”)
Similar to trends like “main character syndrome” and “romanticizing your life,” delulu has also become a way for young people to have some degree of control in their lives, especially when they may otherwise feel like everything — rising costs of living, multi-industry layoffs, political polarization — is stacked against them.
“There’s so many different things going on in the world, and everyone is impacted differently,” said Semra Ezedin, 26, a senior product data analyst in New York City. Many Gen Z-ers graduated from college during the pandemic. “Everything was shut down, so we really relied on escapism to escape our current reality,” she said.
Ms. Ezedin came across the word in a TikTok video this summer and decided to rename a group chat with her friends as “delulu Barbies.” “In the group chat, we’re a bunch of Black women who have really exceeded expectations that society has set,” she said. “We’re really well educated. We have really good professions, and we’re so kind, smart and beautiful — Ken is just an accessory.”
Combining delulu and Barbies, Ms. Ezedin continued, is a commitment to the “unwavering faith in ourselves in order to get things done and accomplish our dreams — and we have fun while doing it.”