It can be a little difficult to understand everything you hear on the streets of New York. People speak quickly and words morph into others at warp speed. On top of that, New Yorkers have developed their own unique slang over the years, the kinds of words and colloquialisms that wouldn’t show up in your standard text book or English dictionary. Some of these can be attributed to the waves of immigrants that settled here, while others were born out of the city’s vibrant music and arts culture. Still, a few are just simple abbreviations to make life a little easier. All in all, slang is as much a part of the city as skyscrapers and pigeons. So if you’re planning a trip to NY, you’ve just moved here, or you’re simply trying to figure out what the guy on the train is talking about, here are some of the most common slang words, acronyms, and colloquialisms used in New York City:
Unlike in Spain, a bodega is not a wine shop or wine cellar. A bodega is what most New Yorkers call a corner grocery store. They are usually pretty small and stocked with a little bit of everything, including a hodgepodge of snacks, beverages, and household necessities. With gentrification in full swing, some New Yorkers have adopted the expression “fancy bodega” to describe a corner grocery store that sells upscale organic products, craft beer, and absurdly expensive gummy bears. A common interaction might sound something like this:
A: Hey man, I’m going to the bodega to get a bag of chips, do you want anything?
B: Sure, could you grab me a six pack of beer. I’ll pay you back later.
You should never ask to use a bodega bathroom…
This is what New Yorkers call the outdoor staircase leading up to an apartment building. Going back to the early Dutch settlers of the City, it comes from the Dutch word stoep, which in the 16th century meant “ a sitting bench in front of a house or a raised drive- in.” In the summer, New Yorkers can be seen hanging out on their stoops with their friends and neighbors. A common interaction might go something like this:
A: Hey, I ran into Sarah on the stoop. She told me she was having a party at her apartment later. Do you want to go?
B: Sure, let’s pick up some beer at the bodega first.
While most tourists would consider “The City” to be a reference to all five boroughs, when New Yorkers say, “The City”, they are exclusively referring to Manhattan. A typical conversation might sound like this:
A: Hey, I think I might go into the city later and do a little shopping. Do you want to join?
B: Not really, I don’t feel like leaving Brooklyn today.
If you’re ordering your morning cup ‘o joe from a coffee cart on the sidewalk, they will inevitably ask you how you want your coffee. If you say you’d like a “Regular Coffee” that means you’d like a cup of coffee with a good amount of cream and sugar. If you would like a black coffee with no sugar, it’s best to say, “ Black-No sugar.” If you just ask for black, you run the risk of getting a pile of sugar in your coffee. I know, it’s very confusing. A common interaction might sound something like this:
A: Good Morning, What can I get you?
B: Can I get a regular coffee, please?
A: You got it, that will be one dollar.
“A Bagel With Schmear”
New Yorkers have a special place in their hearts for bagels. Arguably, a bagel is best served with a thick layer of delicious cream cheese. I myself am a big fan of veggie and strawberry. If you order a bagel “with schmear” you will be served a bagel with a hefty spread of cream cheese. This word is of Yiddish origin and is not commonly used by foreigners or transplants. So if you’re not Jewish or a time traveller visiting NYC from the 19th century, it’s probably best to just order a bagel and specify what flavor cream cheese you’d like.
If you’re ordering a sandwich from a bodega or deli, they will ask you if you’d like it on a roll or a hero. In New York, a hero is a term for a long sandwich. In other parts of the US you might hear the words sub, grinder, or hoagie to refer to the same thing.
“Wait On Line”
In all the other states people wait “in” line. However, for some reason New Yorkers will without fail change the preposition to “on.” A common interaction might go like this:
A: Next on line! Please step up the register!
B: I’d like two tickets for the 9pm show, please
Common Acronyms and Abbreviations
LES: Lower East Side
SoHo: South of Houston Street
DUMBO: Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass
Tribeca: Triangle Below Canal Street
Nolita: North of Little Italy
FiDi: Financial District
The Village: Greenwich Village
Downtown : Anything south of 14th Street in Manhattan is considered to be “downtown”
B.Q.E. : An acronym for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway
and last but not least, BSL : Brooklyn School of Languages
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By Cory Keny
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