Most people are familiar with New York City slang words. It’s no surprise that our big city phrasing trickles down the pipeline to the rest of the country. NYC is a major trendsetter. (Que Alicia Keys’ “New York.”) The English language because of its Germanic and Dutch roots, if often considered the language with one of the largest word counts. New York slang is constantly being updated to the OED—that’s the Oxford English Dictionary, son. The words “bae,” “yeesh,” and “fake news” were updated in 2019.
If you have been living in New York City for any given amount of time, then you are probably accustomed to NYC slang. New Yorkers know that “dead-ass,” is punctuated speech for: it’s serious and is often accompanied by “real talk,” maybe some hand clapping for added effect.
Thanks to popular TV shows like The Sopranos, words like “Gobagool” (Italian meat Capocollo) have infiltrated the New Yorker lexicon. Also, in large part to the popularity of another HBO show, Broad City, the phrase “Yass, Queen,” is often associated with NYC. You can find “Yass Kween” stitched on a Pier One pillow; NYC slang is mainstream.
New York City like any other city or region has its colloquialisms. For example, the slang “ratchet,” has been popularized in music and pop culture. Most people will understand the word to mean trashy or uncouth. Interestingly, “ratchet” although a common slang word in NYC, is a Louisiana regiolect from the term “wretched.”
Even Vermont has their schtick, the slang “freshies,” means fresh snow (cool story). In case you were not aware, “schtick” is a popular Yiddish word in NYC.
Below are 19 essential NYC Slang Words, to read while you are waiting on line for the train as we say. You don’t que up, it’s not London.
Tight in NYC Slang
“Tight” must be the most quintessential New York slang word next to “whack” and “thirsty.” Tight in normal usage refers to compatibility or a harmonious arrangement. In NYC speak, if someone says they are tight, then they are expressing anger.
For instance: These slow walkers and this L train got me mad tight. I am now going to be late for work.
New Yorkers love a good Yiddish slang term. Some other popular Yiddish phrasings are “putzing,” “schlepping.” Thanks to the show Seinfeld, many of these New York City words are commonplace. The word “Schvitz” means sauna. It is often used as a verb to mean sweating.
For example, Aaron’s girlfriend found make-up on his sheets that wasn’t hers and now Aaron is schvitzing with his guilty conscience.
Gucci in NYC Slang
Some say “Gucci” is an ’08 word. However, today it means something is good or cool.
In a text message, you might say, “Can you go pick-up some brie and a baguette at Trader Joes? We Gucci?”
If you haven’t heard Cardi B’s trademark, “okurrr,” then you’re probably living under a rock. Rapper, actress, and TV personality Cardi B was born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx. “Okurrr ” is best said in a Cardi- Esque high-pitch shrill to signify the sentiment: okay.
Sentence: I am going to straight-up quit this punk ass job, once I get my tax refund, okurrr.
The term “Boss,” really needs no introduction for New Yorkers. However, if you are not from the area, the word can be a bit of a misnomer. Cabbies and bodega guys say “boss” often. In the south, they say “coach.” It just means male, whereas “sis” means woman. Although, if someone calls you “mama,” then you know it’s legit.
For reference: Yo Boss, your blueberry bagel with onions and scallion cream cheese is on the counter. Also, that’s a whack combo, bro.
Everyone knows the New York City slang “tea,” thanks to all the Kermit the Frog memes on Facebook. Kermit is speaking the “tea” or truth while drinking his quite literal, Lipton tea.
For instance: I must spill some tea, I like Dr. Phil. His murder podcast and Texas accent is giving me new life in the morning on my way to work. No judgment.
Bodega in NYC Slang
The most vital word in all of New York City slang is the word “bodega.” Bodegas for many New Yorkers and Brooklynites, are our main lifelines. We buy cat food, guac, and BECs all in one place, the bodega. If you don’t know what a BEC is, check out our piece on the famous New York foods. Interestingly, “bodega” has Latin roots from the word apothecia (storehouse).
In usage: You see your bodega with the chandelier that is open even at 3 AM, is a magic house.
(N) A small locally owned corner store. “I’m going to run down to the bodega to grab some snacks.”
“Mad” is NYC slang to emphasis “very.” It does not denote anger.
Meaning: She has a full-time job and three side hustles, mad respect.
SVU’d in NYC Slang
Personally, the slang “SVU’d” is my new favorite expression. The term came about when a character on Broad City lost her iPhone. If you have ever watched Law and Order: SVU, then you know that the opening of a female jogger running through Central Park is a prelude to rape, kidnapping, or murder.
Sentence: Hey, I just downloaded this app that pinpoints all crimes committed within my radius. Could you stay on the phone with me, while I walk home? I don’t want to get SVU’d, kay thanks.
(ADJ) Freezing or extremely cold. “I don’t want to leave my house, it’s brick outside.”
Anyone who has felt winter knows what brick feels like. It’s the level of cold where no amount of fuzzy sweaters and jackets could keep you warm. If you move to New York from somewhere with warmer weather, you’ll learn the meaning of brick very quickly.
Bridge and Tunnel
(N) Someone who is not from New York City. Usually someone from New Jersey. “She pretends like she’s from Manhattan, but she is really a bridge and tunnel.“
Chances are if you are reading this article, you are probably a bridge and tunnel. If someone is commuting from Jersey, but pretending they are a New Yorker, they are definitely a bridge and tunnel. The term “bridge and tunnel” shows how exclusionary living in New York can be.
(ADJ) Very muscular, usually causing someone to be too large in size. “I’m really into guys who are brolic cause I feel like they could carry me.”
We all know some guy who is incredibly brolic. Someone who goes to the gym every day and could literally pick you up with one arm. Maybe you are just looking for some brolic arm candy, and that is totally acceptable.
(V) To buy something. “You should cop that dress, it looks cute on you.”
You’ve probably heard this term used with other definitions. Elsewhere, it could refer to the police or feeling someone up (when you “cop a feel”). You need to know the New York difference. Of course, cop could also mean those other things, but you’ll need to pay attention to context. In New York, you can go to your bodega and cop some ice cream.
(V) To stare at someone in an aggressive way. “That guy over there is grilling me and it’s freaking me out.”
Much like with “cop”, you have probably heard grill in other contexts. Grill could be something you could with, a gold plate for your teeth, or being asked a lot of questions. So know you context for slang in New York. Here you are more likely to be grilled because a crackhead is staring at you on the subway.
(ADJ) A person who is a backstabber. “She told everyone my secrets, she’s so grimey.”
We have all known someone who is grimey. It is probably your former best friend Karen from high school who slept with your boyfriend. It is never good to be grimey, but we all know someone who is.
(N) An exceedingly large amount of money. “My new car cost a guap.”
Living in New York means you are probably working three jobs and don’t have a lot of guap, but you aspire to. It is like when celebrities buy million dollar houses that they pay for in cash.
(N) Someone who is uncool or mockable. “He is such a herb, we should avoid him.”
Unless you are in high school you might not have a lot of use for this word, but it is always a good one to know. You probably remember all the herbs from your school days and how annoying they were.
(ADJ) Abbreviation for overdosing or over doing. Excessive. “I can’t deal with his ohdee behavior, he needs to calm down.”
While this can refer to overdosing, odee has a much wider breadth of meaning. It can mean being extra, over the top, too much. Ohdee shows the reach of meaning words can have in the english language
(N) A coffee with a lot of cream and sugar. “I don’t want my coffee black, I want a regular coffee.”
Coffee is very important in New York; you get it with your bagel and schmear. In other places, a regular coffee could be a black coffee, or it could be corresponding to the size of the cup. But not in New York. If you are a coffee lover and you are very particular about what you like, make sure you know what you are ordering.
There are so many slang words that originated in New York: sus, B, dead-ass. Where would slang even be today if New York hadn’t come up with terms like “lit”? But while so many of New York’s slang words have been popularized, there are many words and phrases that are only used in The City.
It is not enough to know the terminology that’s widespread in the United States. If you want to sound like a New Yorker you need to know the slang in New York that is only used there.
You need to learn the endemic vocabulary that all native New Yorker’s use. So here is a basic vocabulary lesson for anyone trying to sound like a real New Yorker.