There’s a cliché that New Yorkers think they are multi-lingual because they can curse in so many languages. And what’s wrong with that? Menus are translated for you. Your phone takes care of the rest. But when someone is really pissing you off, how great is it to be able to reel off a string of well-placed sentiments in their native tongue? Linguists agree: nothing focuses attention faster.
Of course, languages of the world aren’t just for cursing. There are many untranslatable words that get pulled wholesale into the English language, because “carry” and “schlepp” are not really the same thing. The list of possibilities is endless. With what delight did my Al husband translate the vanity plate of a car from Pennsylvania that proudly sported “Pingon” as its message to the world? Those poor saps at the Philadelphia DMV probably thought that was an unusual family name.
You can always get by with plain old English (not real Old English – that’s something else). It’s the most common language spoken in New York City, followed by Spanish, and then Chinese. You can see the map for the whole US here. Newcomers to New York City who already speak English and can curse in a few other languages will think they don’t need any pointers. Not so fast, pal. Every place has local idioms, and NYC has more than most. As you settle in, you’ll find that you will need to master these simple vocabulary words before you can go native.
New York Vocabulary You’ll Need to Know
Borough | BURR-oh
One of the five districts of NYC. Other places might call them “counties” or “parts of town”. Here, they’re boroughs.
How to use it: “As usual, traffic ground to a halt in all five boroughs today.”
Out of Towner | OUT-a-TOWN-a
Anyone not currently living in NYC. Anyone.
How to use it: “Why is the FDR is closed? Queen Elizabeth and the Pope are both at the U.N.? What, they close it for every outtatowner who comes in for the weekend just so I can’t move one inch in traffic?”
Frickin | FRICK-un
It’s the f-curse, but you can use it in front of a PG audience.
How to use it: Go ahead and frickin use it every frickin place where you frickin can.
Soda | SO – duh Don’t say SODE – er, unless you really are from Queens
Carbonated, non-alcoholic flavored drink. Generally, ginger ale, Pepsi, or Coke. Can also apply to a myriad of bottled and flavored “natural” fizzy drinks sold by Whole Foods and the Fairway. Seltzer is unflavored fizz water, and you should always have some around.
You can even make your own with various contraptions or get it delivered. “Mountain Dew” is what you mix with “Southern Comfort” to unclog drains or kill cockroaches. “Coke” is a brand of soda, or it’s a drug; it is not a generic description of soda as used in some parts of the U.S. “Pop” is what you do with a cap in someone’s ass. Try to keep it straight.
Get Out Of Here | get OUTTA heah
This is an exclamation of incredulity. Basically, it means “That’s unbelievable! You’re kidding me!” Another variation of this — “get out of town” — was popularized by Seinfeld, but technically, you would only use “get out of town” when “get out of here” is too mild.
Use it: “You stood in line for 4 hours just to get to the top of the Empire State Building? Get outta here! And THEN, right after THAT, you stood in line for 4 hours to get to the “Top of the Rock”??? Get outta TOWN!!”
Special Note: be careful where and how you use this. An acquaintance once accidentally exclaimed this at a checkout counter in foreign climes (I think it was in Alabama), and the offended clerk told him “no, you. YOU get out of here.”
A couple of | uh CUP ela
This means two. It only means two. The closest translation is “a pair of”.
Use it: When someone tells you “hand me a coupla straws”, don’t ask them how many they want, because they just told you. Yes, I know “a coupla” means “a few” or “several” where you come from, but in New York it means two.
Wrong: “Hand me a couple-a-three straws”
Fuggedaboutit | Forget about it.
Archaic. Used to indicate either agreement OR disagreement with something someone just said. No one in New York has said this since 1985. Acceptable substitutes are those two old chestnuts “Whatayou, CRAZY?” or “Whatayou, STOOPID?” Even better is “What the hell is WRONG with you?” and “Whattayou TALKING about?” if you disagree with a statement. Use “You’re telling me!” or a quick exhale of your breath through pursed lips while nodding your head and raising your eyebrows if you agree with the other person.
Use it: Please don’t.