A crosswalk sign in New York | LivingIn
NYC Guides

How to Speak New York

August 2, 2018

If you aren’t a local native, you’ve likely had your share of mix-ups when it comes to New York slang. Perhaps you scratched your head the first time someone told you they were “schvitzing” on “the train” into “the city.” Spend any amount of time here, however, and you’ll quickly adapt to the phrases and slang used by New Yorkers every day. Check out our listicle of New York slang, and be sure to share it with recent transplants or out-of-town guests.

Bodega (noun): A neighborhood convenience store where the man or woman behind the counter knows your name, how you like your coffee, and what toppings you like on your sandwich.

Bridge and Tunnel (adj.): A term that refers to folks who commute into Manhattan via a bridge or tunnel.

Gotham (noun): Most people think the nickname “Gotham” comes strictly from the dark, noir city in the Batman comic books, but the name as a moniker for NYC actually dates back to Washington Irving who wrote short stories like “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.” He referred to the city as Gotham in 1807, likely invoking a proverb from the Middle Ages about a town called “Gottam” (Goat’s Town) which was known as a village of simple-minded fools.

Hero (noun): A meat and cheese sandwich.

Local vs Express (adj.): If your train is going slowly and seemingly stopping every eight blocks, it’s running “local,” stopping at every station on that line. “Express” trains skip local stops and only stop at the busiest neighborhood hub stations.

Outer Boroughs (noun): Any borough besides Manhattan, that is: Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Staten Island.

Pie (noun): In New York City there’s only one pie people care about: Pizza pie.

Schmear (noun): A hunk of cream cheese, best enjoyed on an everything bagel with lox. One of several Yiddish words (see below) repurposed into New York slang.

Schlep (noun/verb): Another Yiddish word that’s entered the NYC lexicon. Used as a verb, it means “to haul or carry,” usually a large item. As a noun, it describes “a tedious or difficult journey.”

Schvitzing (verb): Sweating (another Yiddish word New Yorkers have adopted).

Showtime! (noun): Easily the coolest and most gravity-defying form of busking there is. Refers to the only-in-New-York style of dance in which dancers use only the poles and handrails of the subway to catapult themselves into the air. If you hear the word “Showtime!” while on the train, pull in your legs and get ready for some impressive moves.

Stoop (noun):  small staircase that leads into the entrance of a building, usually an apartment building. Comes from the Dutch word “stoep,” meaning step.

The City (noun): New York City is made up of five boroughs. But if someone says “the city” they’re referring to Manhattan.

The Hudson (noun): The river running along the west side of Manhattan.

Train (noun): Most often used to reference the New York City subway. However, commuters might be referring to Metro-North, Long Island Rail Road, PATH, New Jersey Transit, or Amtrak when talking about the train.

Waiting on Line: Unlike the rest of the USA, New Yorkers wait “on line” rather than “in line.”

Check out our neighborhood guides to find the perfect place where you can practice your New York City slang!

Share this