New York, New York! Words to help you get around in the Big Apple

A lot of people are of the opinion that the version of English spoken in the US is a watered-down version of the English spoken in the UK. This is simply not true. Language is an ever-evolving phenomenon, which changes and adapts to the place and culture it is spoken in. Because of this, it is common today that we can find a number of differences between the English spoken in the US and the English spoken in the UK. 

In light of Black Friday, we will look into how English has evolved and adapted in New York, the most populated city in the US and one of the first European colonies in the continent. New York City is the most densely populated urban area in the US with approximately 8.5 million inhabitants and a large number of these people, almost a third, are immigrants from other countries, each contributing to give New York its distinct “version” of English.  First and foremost, New York is known for its distinct accent, but we can find a unique accent almost everywhere English is spoken in the world, be it UK, US or Australia and New York is no different. 

You might hear a New Yorker (or any American for that matter) use the expression “Real Talk”. This is a phrase used to get the attention of another to alert them to the idea that the next topic matter is serious. You could say that this blog is Real Talk because it dives into one of the most interesting aspects of the language, which is how it changes, adapts and diverges from time to time and place to place. 

There are many other such examples. If someone were to say to you that the weather is “brick” tonight you might think they are talking nonsense, but he is simply saying that it is very cold. Local expressions like this can make it hard to understand people if you are new in New York but will become part of your vocabulary if you live there. Essentially, “brick” is a New York slang term for very, very cold. The harsh, staccato sound resonates with the stark brick construction of urban project housing in New York. You’ll usually use “brick” to describe the weather, but it can apply to other things too.

To better understand how a word can come to mean something totally unrelated to its original meaning and to better illustrate the uniqueness of the New York colloquial language we can consider the word “whip”. While you might immediately think of a strip of leather, a New Yorker saying the word whip is talking about a car. Mind-blowing right? Even the verb would mean driving a car in the New York slang. 

You might find all of these to be lit. This would mean that it is amazing or super cool or you might find all of these to be whack, which means the opposite, appalling or crazy. To the rest of the English speaking world, this is getting more and more popular in day-to-day vocabulary, but you’ll be surprised to know New Yorkers have been using this expression for a lot longer! 

Part of our daily routine is to go to the convenience or grocery store or as a real New Yorker would say to go to the Bodega. Just remember to not say I am going to the bodega to anyone outside New York because they would never understand what you are talking about. This is a prime example of local words or phrases that have yet to travel outside of their place of origin.


Dare to walk around New York and tell locals that a lot of what they say makes no sense to an outsider and you might have a beef with everybody there. Having a beef with somebody means to hold a grudge against them. This actually originated in the old west among sheep farmers who were competing for grazing land with cattle farmers. The sheep farmers used the term with each other to refer to a conflict, which was what they had with the cattle farmers, or “beef” farmers.

And also remember not to grill anybody in New York (or anywhere else for that matter). This means remember not to stare at them rudely because it might seem to them like you are thirsty for a conflict. Being thirsty for something means to be desperate for something and grilling people might make you find yourself in a tight spot. We know for sure that you have heard “up in my grill” in a number of your favourite American shows. They might also get spaz-y which means to become physically or verbally aggressive, to be angry with someone. You could also get snuffed which means getting punched or hit. Be polite and you can avoid people buggin you. Buggin out means to act crazy, freak out or cause problems and arguments where there weren’t any before. 

You might also hear a New Yorker say to you, take care of that ice. What he is referring to is your jewelry, specifically expensive ones made with diamonds, gold or other costly materials. Did you ever wonder why Ice-T is called Ice-T? Well, now you do! 

One might also try to convince you to cop a piece of jewelry. To cop something simply means to buy something. 

No tale (or in this case no blog post) about New York would be complete without mentioning the stoop, one of the most New York-ish words in existence and a trademark of the city. The stoop is a slang term for the steps located right in front of an apartment building in the city. 

The Big Apple (which is a term for New York) has a large Jewish population and a lot a Jewish words have made their way into the slangs of the city. One of these words is Schvitz. It means to sweat, and this is a Jewish word that nearly all New Yorkers use. 

And our favourite New York slang is about one of our favourite things in the world, coffee. What New Yorkers call a regular coffee is one made with a large helping of cream and sugar, as opposed to a black coffee or espresso which is regarded as regular coffee by most of the world.  So be careful when you order a regular coffee in the city for you might be surprised. 

As we see, New York (and most of America) have very unique expressions and phrases which might not make much sense everywhere else but are part of the daily lexicon in the city. This is undoubtedly not unique to New York, and you can find such expressions everywhere English is spoken, with each person and culture adding its own unique flavour to the most spoken language in the world.

We all speak English, but we all speak a slightly different version of English, and it is a remarkable showcase of the adaptation power of the language. 

That is why we say, in English there is always something new to learn, every time! 


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