How to Sound Like a Local in New York City
New York City is made up of millions of people from every state and nation and their many different languages are the truest sign of the melting pot that makes The Big Apple great. Despite whichever language they speak at home, all of them know how to pronounce Houston Street. (Hint: it’s not like the city in Texas). It’s just part of the New York patois—the distinctive way of speaking that quickly becomes second nature to the city’s residents.
While it takes native-born status to master the different boroughs’ complex dialects as seen in movies like Good Fellas and television shows like The Sopranos—check out this YouTube video for a fun breakdown of NYC’s diverse accents—everyone can master a taste of the city’s distinctive lingo, which borrows from Spanish, Dutch, Yiddish, Italian, and more.
T+L compiled a New York City dictionary of sorts, which should help you on your next trip to "The City That Never Sleeps." If your goal is to sound like you’ve lived all of your years as a Brooklyn native, well, fugeddaboutit, but here are some hints to help you sound a little more like a local:
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New York City is made up of five boroughs—Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island. However, in conversation, “the city” means Manhattan. An example: “You headed to the city tonight?” “Nah, I was there all day for work.”
On Line Versus In Line
When you’re waiting in New York, you’re standing “on line” not “in line,” as in, “I waited on line for 20 minutes to try Dominique Ansel’s new pastry.”
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Uptown Versus Downtown
Uptown is north, downtown is south. For example: “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Take the R train uptown.”
Pronouncing Houston Street
Houston Street is not like the Texas city, but pronounced HOW-ston as in, “How did they come up with this pronunciation?” If you’re looking for a more extensive pronunciation guide to NYC’s streets and restaurants and more, check out this interactive website from New York Public Radio.
The Ambiguous ‘Upstate’
“Upstate” is anywhere North of the Bronx. Example: “I spent the weekend Upstate near the Finger Lakes.”
The Hamptons may be on Long Island, but they’re referred to as “The Hamptons” and never Long Island. Example: “I live in Long Island, but I spent the weekend in The Hamptons.”
Addressing the Subway System
It’s “the train” or the subway, never the Metro, tube, or underground. Additionally, no one calls the trains by the color of their lines on the subway map. It’s the 4 Train or the F, as in “If you want to go to Long Island, take the C train to Penn Station.”
New York City Yiddish
A lot of Yiddish words have made their way into New York lingo: “schlepping” means hauling stuff around, as in, “I schlepped my gym bag around with me all day and never went to the gym.” “Tchotchkes” is another word for knick-knacks as in, “The tchotchkes in Chinatown are so cheap!” “Oy vey!” roughly translates to “Oh no!” and it’s so ubiquitous, you can now find it featured on a traffic sign on the Williamsburg Bridge that says “Leaving Brooklyn, Oy vey!”
Brownstones are townhouses built out of a unique brown stone traditionally found in Brooklyn and some parts of Manhattan. All brownstones are townhouses, but not all townhouses are brownstones (e.g., if it’s not brown, it’s not a brownstone)
The stoop is the front steps of many townhouses, brownstones, and apartment buildings. Many times, they’re a favorite place to sit and people watch for residents.
How to Order Slices
At a pizza shop, you order “a slice” not a piece of pizza. If you don’t specify toppings, they will assume you want a plain cheese slice. Then you fold that slice in half and eat it on the street or on the nearest stoop.
The “bodega” is a convenience store found on most blocks in the city. Here you can buy everything from late-night laundry detergent, emergency cookies, and a six-pack of beer.
A deli is where you grab a sandwich, hit the salad bar, or buy a cup of soup to eat at your desk or in the nearest park.
Alphabet City: A section of east Manhattan south of 14th Street and between 1st Avenue and the river where the avenues have letter names, like Avenue B.
Tribeca: Triangle below Canal St., also home to many celebrities—the only ones who can afford the neighborhood’s sky-high real estate prices.
SoHo: South of Houston Street, the neighborhood is known around the world for its shopping opportunities
Stuy Town: Stuyvesant Town is a private residential neighborhood on the east side of Manhattan. It’s pronounced “Sty-town” but don’t hold that against it.
NoHo: North of Houston Street, a great spot for restaurants, picturesque residences, and shops.
Nolita: North of Little Italy, filled with all of the shopping and restaurants a person could want.
FiDi: Financial District, lower Manhattan area surrounding Wall Street—bustling during the day, dead at night.
Meatpacking District: Far West side of Manhattan, south of 14th Street and north of the West Village—filled with shops, restaurants, and the must-visit Whitney Museum.