Sometimes New York City seems like it isn’t even on this planet. It’s more like it’s own little universe, especially with all the crazy slang that originated there. But of course a place that is its own little universe needs its own language!
One stereotype about New Yorkers is that they are mean. This is not true. Let’s break it down from a New York point of view. New Yorkers are not mean to each other. What happens is a confused tourist stops us to ask directions and we can smell a mile away that they are not from ‘round here. Then the tourist goes home and tells everybody we’re mean. Nope. Our time was just wasted, of which we never have any.
Why You Need To Learn NYC Slang
Want New Yorkers to treat you with respect? The best way is to respect their language. You gotta appear to be a fo’real New Yorker. That means ‘real talk,’ no ‘frontin’”. See, you’re already learning! Read on to find out what both those words mean and 50 more!
Because if you don’t use the words New Yorkers are used to, they might think you’re out of their world. This article will help you not sound like an alien and blend in on your next visit to the Big Apple or if you decide to try your hand at success in the city that never sleeps.
As much as possible, the words will be used in an example sentence. Also, we will refer back to previous slang if the current definition can be used in a similar context, helping drill them into your head. Every opportunity will be taken to use the slang multiple times. Be sure to practice at home first or with a friend before applying them to make sure it sounds natural.
Don’t forget to polish your accent! For that, you’ll need the YouTube video we posted above. Combine when possible! Enough Pro Tips. Let’s get started. Terms are handily broken down into helpful categories but are by no means alphabetical.
Classic movie slang
New York City’s slang often shines in classic films. This part of the guide spotlights those famous phrases you’ve probably heard on the big screen, giving you a taste of how they’re used in the real NYC.
|Fuhgeddaboutit!||The most famous of New York terms? Fuhgeddaboutit! Associated with the rich history of the New York City mafia, it’s known the world round thanks to Johnny Depp and Al Pacino’s characters throwing the term left right and everywhere in between in the classic film “Donnie Brasco”. |
Basically, it means kind of, it’s hard to explain..you know what? Fugeddabout it!
|I’m walking here!||The other world famous cinematic classic, spoken by Dustin Hoffman as he almost gets mowed down by the stereotypical New York taxi driver while crossing the street. Hoffman, in an improvised moment, slams his fist on the hood and proclaims “Hey! I’m walkin’ here!” |
To many, this quote represents the quintessential New Yorker attitude. Hope you don’t have to use it. But if you venture into Times Square, it might be handy to have in your arsenal. And a kick to say!
Understanding how New Yorkers address each other is crucial. This section decodes common terms and their underlying meanings, helping you navigate conversations like a local.
|Boss||Usually used ironically, in that passive aggressive style New Yorkers have mastered. Or it can be used just to show respect, when asking a casual stranger for a favor, like “Yo, boss, can you toss me the tongs?” at a salad bar.|
|Kid||A term of endearment, believe it or not. “Waddup, kid?” is a common greeting and is based on the idea that kids are friendly and endearing and usually form close relationships with each other.|
|Sus||A shortened form of the word suspect. Like I said, New Yorkers ain’t gotta alotta time, knowhadimean?|
|Yooz/Youse||As in “Hey Youse Guys!” It’s one of those ‘wayyy improper grammar use but it somehow makes sense’ slang words of NYC. Youse is kind of plural for You. Some schmuck thought to himself: ‘Hey how come we still say you even when it’s alotta people? Shouldn’t it be plural? Like Youse?’ And a New York classic was born.|
Compliments in NYC
Here, we delve into the art of compliments, NYC style. Learn how expressions like ‘lit’, ‘mad’, and ‘tight’ are used to convey admiration and enthusiasm in the city’s everyday language.
|Lit||Anything exciting can be lit! But it’s only lit if it’s extra exciting. Anybody can have a party but in NYC you want your guests saying “yo, that party was lit!” Basically, the meaning is another hip-hop marijuana allusion. Like when you light something on fire, spark it up, when it’s burning and you catch the buzz, that’s when it’s lit!|
|Mad||The word mad has multiple meanings but the NYC version is not any of the ones you’re used to. It’s not angry or insane, it actually means to possess a lot of something. Like “that kid’s got mad magician skills” or “Yo, that dude mad crazy.” It emphasizes the word that comes after it, much like a modern ‘very’.|
|Tight||When a screw is tight or best friends are tight, that means it is working well. Same idea here. When something is ‘tight”, it is well done. If you’re tight and lit, man that means you got it mad goin’ on. Tight means something is run with precision.|
New York City’s slang is rich with descriptive terms that paint vivid pictures of everyday life. This section guides you through various terms that describe everything from the weather to someone’s behavior.
|Beef||Okay, so grill doesn’t mean barbeque and guess what? Beef doesn’t mean the meat you put on the grill. Beef refers to arguments or conflicts with others, often ending in blows. The best thing to do is always to just squash the beef and let bygones be bygones. Then celebrate with a barbecue together.|
|Bodega||Bodega is a unique word for corner market or what might be called a convenience store in the suburbs – that’s Brooklynese for the suburbs.|
|Brick||Cold. Very cold. Freezing. And New York winters are as cold as the summers are hot. If you’re in New York City between November and March, expect to use this particular slang frequently.|
|Dead ass||This one can mean a couple things, but mostly, ‘seriously’. ‘Yo, listen up, this real talk is dead-ass serious, kid.” It can also be used again for emphasis, like mad, as in “The club was dead-ass empty.”|
|Grill||This slang word has double meanings so be careful. Neither of them is what you do on Long Island – barbeque – so pay attention! ‘Grill’ can refer to a dental grill, which is a way to show off in hip-hop culture, as in “diamond-studded” grills. It also means when someone is giving you the ‘third degree’ or interrogating you.|
|Kicks||Ever heard that song ‘Pumped up Kicks’ by Foster The People? Then you know what this one means: sneakers. If not, then find the song and spotify and get a danceable education in New Yorkese!|
|O.D.||Short for overdose, so this one is probs – probably- one of the more self-explanatory, means what it sounds like. To OD is to overdo something, like be way into it, just like you would ‘overdose’ on drugs or medication or McDonalds.|
|Thirsty||Plenty of people come to NYC seeking fame or fortune or both. The big apple dream, like Frank Sinatra sang about. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. |
These people are what New Yorkers call ‘thirsty’. It can be used to describe any time someone is ruthless or obsessive about something they want. ‘Yo, he thirsty for that whip.” There are a lot of thirsty people in New York City.
|Thirstbucket||You could say this is the plural version of thirsty. And you would be right.|
|Whip||‘Yo, catch my whip!’ A whip is a fancy or an expensive sports car that the owner is usually driving just to show off, or be frontin’. A badge of honor in NYC.Originates, as much NYC slang does, in the hip-hops cultures of Brooklyn and The Bronx.|
|Wilin/Wildin’ Out||This one has definitely gone national, having been the title of an MTV show hosted by Nick Cannon. |
Wilin’ or Wildin’ Out – both are acceptable – means to have crazy fun, to make the most of something or be really excited about it. “I was wilin’ out at that concert in Central Park!”
NYC Slang Insults
Navigate the edgier side of New York slang with this section. Understanding these terms can help you decipher conversations and avoid misunderstandings, even when the talk gets a bit sharp.
|730||It’s not so much a slang word as a slang number. It’s the official code for the motion you would file in court to be deemed incompetent to stand trial by reason of insanity. It’s also the official shorthand way to say someone is acting crazy.|
|B+T||Short for “Bridge and Tunnel”. One of the best and most classic New Yorkese expressions. This term refers to the people who come into New York City only to work or to play. Because they get into the city via bridge or tunnel. |
One caveat: “B+T-ers” as they are called come from New Jersey and Connecticut and other tri states. It does not refer those who live in the boroughs and take for example, Brooklyn Bridge to come into Manhattan. A New Yorker is a New Yorker, boroughs included.
|Buggin||Buggin’ is wack. Buggin’ is when someone is getting really upset or out of sorts about something “Yo, he been buggin’ out since he heard she cheated on him.” See also, spaz.|
|Frontin’||I won’t be frontin’ when I say that there are a lotta words you may never even have a chance to use on this list. Frontin’ is when you are boastful about something that is kinda wack, you know? Without being able to really back it up.|
|Herb||Yes, a slang term for cannabis, which by the way is legal now in NYC. You can smoke a joint on the street or in any designated smoking area. But that’s national slang. In NYC, it means something different. It means your classic nerd, a wimp. A weak person whom is easy to mock. “Nathan’s little brother is such an herb, kid.|
|Spaz||A person who is buggin’ is a spaz. You mighta heard the word before. It can also be used as a verb, like someone ‘spazzed out’ Spazzing is doing something violent, unexpected and uncontrollable.|
|Wack||You heard wack used more than once in this article, even in this section. What is wack? Wack is another hip-hop term, for when something is not cool. It’s been around since the eighties. Most famous use? “Crack is Wack!”|
|Flying Rats||As in: ‘Uh Oh look out for the flying rats!’ Why is it in the category ‘potentially offensive’? Because it could be. To pigeons. And you don’t want to mess with the flying rats, uh, pigeons, because New York City’s got an army of them!|
Exported NYC Slang
New York’s influence stretches far and wide, and so does its slang. This section highlights phrases that have made their way from the streets of NYC to the wider world.
|Gucci||Seems like such a common word now that it’s almost unbelievable some people say it dates back to ‘08. Not 1908, but 2008. It is arguable that it’s been used since the Nas Queensbridge Foxy Brown days in the wayback nineties machine. If you listen to some of those records, it gets thrown around a coupla times. |
Gucci is a reference to the fashion designer, which is a high-end luxury brand, so describing something as “Gucci” means it is top of the line and achieves high standards of quality.
|OKURR||It’s probably the most recent addition to the New York City slang fam. It’s thanks to Cardi B, the esteemed singer of ‘WAP”, who hails from The Bronx. It basically means, or is a variation on, “Okay” but with a little more of that New York sass the world has come to know and love.|
Food And Drink
A big part of New York’s culture revolves around its food and drink. Learn the local jargon for some of the city’s most beloved culinary delights, from street food to that quintessential NYC coffee order.
|Dirty water dogs||A snack unique to unique NYC. You know you love unique New York, and you know New Yorkers love their unique dirty water dogs. Dirty Water Dogs are hot dogs that come from corner carts all over the city. They’re cheap and you can stuff them with toppings like ketchup, mustard, sauerkraut, relish, the list goes on and on.|
|Pie||Pie actually refers exclusively to pizza pies in New York City. So don’t order a pie in NYC and expect lemon meringue. You’re getting sauce and cheese and toppings of your choice. You might also hear “Let’s get a slice a ‘za” which means pizza also. Maybe the only word New Yorkers don’t use for pizza is pizza.|
|Plain slice||While we’re on the topic, another variation on pizza – a plain slice refers to just the sauce, the cheese and the crust. Oh, that crust. Mmm..getting hungry. Anyway, so yeah, New Yorkers have almost as many slang words for pizza as they do for money. You’ll see. Keep reading|
|A regular||Just like pizza is called just a pie, a regular refers to the other gas that fuels New Yorkers: coffee. It’s a great way to wash down that pizza. It’s what makes the city that never sleeps run. |
Even in a land full of Starbucks, it’s still a mandatory term in the vernacular. Be warned: regular means coffee with milk and sugar. Otherwise, be sure to specify no milk or no sugar. PRO TIP!
New York City is a Jewish town. Thus, New Yorkers have adopted a number of Jewish terms and slang. This section explores words that have seamlessly integrated into everyday NYC lingo from Yiddish and Jewish culture.
|Schlep||In this case, schlepping is something everybody does everyday in New York, mostly on the subway but plenty by foot. Because it’s a big city, especially if you dwell in an outer borough – not Manhattan. You schlep your suitcase, you schlep your groceries, you schlep to work, you schlep the kids to school, you get the idea.|
|Schmear||Of course, the most famous New yorker on the go breakfast is the bagel and a schmear is what you put on a bagel. Cream cheese. Lox. Whatever’s spreadable can be schmeared.|
|Schmuck||More Jewish heritage. Are you sensing a pattern? Schmuck means an idiot or just someone who has no social grace. It is often used to refer to tourists New Yorkers encounter.|
|Schvitz||Kind of sounds like what it is. Another derivative of Jewish heritage, it|
literally means to sweat. And in New York City summer heat, you’re likely to break one heckuva schvitz. That’s when you’ll hear the term thrown around most. “Can we go to the Hamptons? I’m schvitzin’ here!”
|Schtup||Betcha wouldn’t guess this one. It’s a regular in the Jewish nomenclature category and it isn’t a twist on shut up. It actually means to get it on! That’s right, sexy time! “You didn’t hear? They’ve been schtupping on the side for months now!”|
In a city that’s all about the hustle, there’s no shortage of slang for money. This section covers the various terms New Yorkers use to talk about cash.
|Cake||Not the kind of cake you want to eat too. The kind you want to have and spend too. Money.|
|Cheese||Money. Like the chedda, to be even more specific.|
|Ice||Money. As promised, New Yorkers have lotsa words for money.|
New York City is more than just a place; it’s a collection of unique neighborhoods and landmarks, each with its own slang. Here, you’ll learn the nicknames and colloquial terms for some of the city’s most iconic locations.
|The City||Short for Manhattan. New York City is composed of five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx and Staten Island. All of which are accessible to Manhattan by metro, mostly, on the bridge, which is an amazing view. With the exception of Staten Island – you can take the ferry across the water. In any case, the city refers to the master of all boroughs, Manhattan. If you live in Queens but have a job in downtown Manhattan, like on Wall Street for example, you go to work ‘in the city’. But I repeat, you are not ‘B+T.’|
|DUMBO||Not the big flying elphant, or even an extension of the term dumb. No, it’s a neighborhood, and every genuine New Yorker has been there. If you haven’t, New Yorkers know you’re not “one of us”. DUMBO is an informal name, an acronym for Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Neat, huh?|
|Gotham||Our own personal word for the city. Everybody knows Gotham City, home of Batman, is really a thinly veiled variation of our proud town. So why not call it like it is? It’s what New Yorkers do best. Now thinking about it, Superman’s Metropolis is also a veiled NYC but a much shinier variation. Anyway, New Yorkers have adopted Gotham as shortwave code for home.|
|Howstun||Huh? It means Houston St, stupid. It’s written like you would say it. Not you-stun. Nobody will know what you mean. How-stun. Won’t forget it now, will you? It’s one of the most famous downtown areas in Manhattan and a major subway stop, so you’ll probably need to know it.|
Lastly, we explore some of the city’s quirky and playful phrases. These expressions add color and character to the NYC vernacular, often encapsulating complex emotions and situations in just a few words.
|Catch these hands||If you have some beef and it comes to blows, this is what you will most likely say before you start swinging. Like, “You best squash that beef, kid, or you gonna catch these hands!|
|Take it there||Man, you shouldna gone there! It means to turn a conversation in an uncomfortable or intense or embarrassing direction, often to deflect attention or make a point. We know you got beef, but you ain’t gotta take it there.|
|Real talk||Yo, it’s time to get serious. You gotta be honest with me. Let’s have some real talk, kid. You get the point, right? Usually comes at the beginning of the sentence to warn you what’s coming.|
|You woulda thought||is another example of the world famous New Yorker passive aggressive witty retort. It means something that might be obvious, but is actually almost always followed by ‘but no’, the reality is… it’s the opposite. ‘You woulda thunk’ is also acceptable.|
One last example sentence before we close out your lesson: ‘You woulda thought I would give you an example. But no, you’ll have to figure it out yourself.’
The article started with movies, so we’ll leave you with one last classic New Yorkese insult, delivered by Harvey Keitel in the famous film ‘Taxi Driver’ – also where ‘you talkin’ to me?’ originated. Here it is: “You’re funny. But looks aren’t everything.”
Now don’t fuhgeddaboutit!
Born and raised amidst the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, I’ve witnessed the city’s many exciting phases. New York is not just a city to me; it’s a living, breathing entity. When I’m not exploring the city or penning down my thoughts, you can find me sipping on a cup of coffee at my favorite local café, playing chess or planning my next trip. For the last twelve years, I’ve been living in South Williamsburg with my partner Berenike.