As someone who was born in New York City and left it for my young adult life, I’ve come across a wide variety of diverse regional accents and dialects. And maybe I’m biased because we’re arrogantly the Best City in the World, but no other place in the US has a vernacular as expansive, creative, and idiosyncratic as New York City.
Many different things make a New Yorker, from our bagels to our pizza and delicious tap water, but our slang is one of the quintessential elements. Despite being born and raised in the Big Apple, I didn’t appreciate how special New York City slang was until I left for college in Indiana, where suddenly language became cut and dry, and the vibrant words that existed during my upbringing in Queens suddenly meant absolutely nothing to my Midwestern colleagues and peers.
The next 59 words are New York slang terms I grew up with, have learned from younger generations while being back, and have collected from the block, the bodegas, the public schools, and the streets of New York City.
Table of Contents
NEW YORK SLANG WORDS & THINGS NEW YORKERS SAY
DISCLAIMER: If you are not native to New York City, do not adopt this vocabulary as your own. It is part of its own culture, and if you don’t actively participate in that culture, please use these words with respect and appreciation. AKA don’t be out here looking silly trying to sound like a New Yorker when you’re immersed in another region of the United States.
Aight. We out.
I’d be a menace if I didn’t start this list with a hearty welcome. Yerrr is the call heard through the concrete jungles of the boroughs. Need to get someone’s attention? Need to make your presence known to a familiar face who’s two blocks away from you? Just a simple season’s greeting? Yerrr is the way to go.
2. “A minute”
If you’ve never heard this phrase before, you’ll be surprised to know that it does not actually mean a minute at all. “a minute” means a very long time. If a New Yorker says they haven’t seen you in a minute, then you’re looking at at least one year.
“Damn sis I haven’t seen you in a minute! What was that, Christmas 2016?”
This is one of those words that’s been around for a minute. For as long as I can remember, I have been saying the word dub in all its definitions. Check out all the different meanings for the word dub:
- Let me cop a dub. (20 dollars worth of herb).
- I’m tryna catch a dub! (dance with a woman).
- Man, she a dub. (My older brother who spent time in a more ruthless New York says the roots of this one are not so nice— it mean that the girl was a two out of ten looks wise).
- Yo, did I just get dubbed? (ignored).
Bet is another classic. In this context, it is less about a wager and more about a done deal. “Bet” is short for “you bet”, allegedly popularized between drug dealers in Brooklyn and the Bronx in the ’80s. Useful synonym for “sure, alright, okay.”
- “Babe, can you help me take out the trash?”
Given the hustle and bustle of living in NYC, New Yorkers tend to like the one-word answers. Quick and efficient communication. I like to think of “heard” as “bet” adjacent. “I heard you” becomes heard, and it signifies that the intended message was received. Another synonym for “bet” and “okay”. Basically like saying “roger that”.
- “I need you to work the closing shift tonight.”
This word refers to a person… the beloved New York bodega/deli man. It is definitely more popular with the youth, especially in New York City Tik Tok. Look at this wholesome Tik Tok account of Ock appreciation.
- Yo ock, let me get a chopped cheese, no mayo.
Wack is what it always has been and will be: tacky and uncool. It’s used to describe situations that are not ideal.
The 7-train stuck at Queensboro again? Man, that’s wack!
A grill across the United States can mean a few things: a type of dental jewelry worn over the teeth, the device intrinsic to any great cookout, and in New York, the deathly cold stare and smug smirk that only a New Yorker can muster. Most commonly used in the form of “grilling.”
- That chick over there is totally grilling you. Tf is her problem?
Another contender for the longest-running word in my vocabulary… Odee is OD, which means to overdose. But in NY, to odee is to do the most in any context. You can also use it as an expression when shocked by the grandeur of a situation.
- Let’s stay in tonight because it is odee brick out right now.
Like the popular lyrics go “CASH RULES EVERYTHING AROUND ME. CREAM. GET THE MONEY, DOLLA DOLLA BILLS Y’ALL.” You guessed it, guap and mula are just two more terms used interchangeably with money. Hip hop culture popularized the use of guap and mula as a synonym for that cold hard cash.
$4.00 for a slice? That’s mad guap.
11. Mad (An NYC Classic)
Alright, we’ll need to break this one down a bit. In New York, locals get mad when tourists stand in the middle of the sidewalk. Nothing special there. New Yorkers are also generally mad, as in city stir crazy. But this particular “mad” is a unit of measurement that means a lot, or a sh*t ton, or odee (see later in the list). Mad is the New Yorker’s intensifying adverb of choice.
Yooo, there are mad words on this list! I should keep reading!
In the past decade, I’ve seen this word go from my New York City public school to national television to niche random white people Tik Toks. No matter how much time passes or how much new slang hits the internet, the younger generations in and outside of New York keep this word alive from coast to coast. It is probably one of the most prolific New York Slang words, deadass. No– seriously. Legit. Dead*ss means seriously and can be used as such.
I can’t believe they dead*ss shot and killed Pop Smoke. He was a New York City legend in the making.
I feel very privileged typing this one out because this might not be an experience all New Yorkers share, but I grew up in Queens so a couple of my friends had whips. We were 16 years old, drunk off life (don’t drink and drive!) whipping it up and down the Long Island Expressway and the Grand Central Parkway, basking in the rare glory of being teenagers with cars in New York. I still personally don’t know how to drive but shout out to all my friends who welcomed me into their whips.
Yo, did you see Sam’s new whip? Now he can drive us to some cute towns in Upstate New York.
Tight is one of my most consistent vocabulary words, spanning about 13 years of my existence, probably because I am always tight. As a Virgo moon, I think I was probably born tight. It means to be annoyed, mad, or angry– and is a contender with the word aggy (continue reading for definition).
- That lady across the street got splashed on by the taxi, she must be mad tight!
This one is the one that confuses most of the people I meet who are not from New York. I cannot really say why this word was chosen to describe extreme frigidity, but brick really encapsulates the level of teeth-shattering cold New York City has to offer in the winter. When you go outside and your nips do a standing ovation? Brick. Washed your hair and it turned into an icicle just halfway down the block? Brick. The air conditioner in Target is odee? Yes. Odee brick.
16. The City
Technically, all of NYC is the city. That includes the five boroughs: Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. And… and… What’s the last one?
Just kidding! This is a Staten Island bully-free zone. We love taking the Ferry.
Anyway, when a New Yorker says “the city” they are always referring to Manhattan. Why? Because when people think New York City, they think of Broadway, Times Square, Central Park, and the Empire State Building. When movies are shot in NYC, where do they go? To the city. Usually. Shout out to that one rom-com starring Rebel Wilson whose opening shot is in my hometown of Corona, Queens.
Once we leave NYC and go to places in upstate New York, we then refer to NYC as a whole as “the city”. This distinguishes the rest of New York State from New York City in casual conversation.
To bag someone means to get their number or secure a date with them.
- She really tried to bag my ex boyfriend in front of me. Hell nah.
This is another common slang word for all New Yorkers. Wylin/wilding means to be absolutely absurd, preposterous, outta pocket, or unpredictable. It is to be wild in an unforeseeable matter, so much show it comes as a shock to another.
- McDonalds is wildin for removing the crispy chicken snack wrap from their menu.
An adjective to describe something, someone, or a situation that is undesirable, dirty, or unclean.
- The Starbucks bathrooms near Union Square be so crusty bro.
This one is pretty popular regardless of location but is a heavy lifter in the day-to-day NYC dialect. To front is to lie about your interest in something or someone.
- You don’t got to front ma, I know you feeling me.
21. To book it
In New York City, to book it, means to run near the speed of light. You can book it to the bus that’s about to leave you, from the cops that are trying to harass you, or from the F train to the L train at 14th Street.
- Yo, you see that old lady booking it to the bus? It’s tryna leave her!
Aggy is a state of being for some, especially for those who resonated with the usage of the word “tight.” Originating from the word aggravating, aggy is a condensed way of expressing extreme annoyance. People, places, things, situations can all be aggy, depending on which borough you’re from. Disrespectful behavior is aggy. The perpetrators of this behavior are aggy. The person on the receiving end of this behavior is not aggy, but tight. An important distinction to be made.
- I find commuting to be mad aggy so I rather run up my credit card with Uber charges.
A bev describes the most important companion– a drink! Be it an Arizona, Canada Dry ginger ale, or a hefty Poland Springs bottle, you need a bev to accompany the New York classics like the baconeggandcheese, the dollar slice, and the chopped cheese.
Are you really about to raw dog that Reuben sandwich, no Bev? Wild.
A bird is someone, usually gendered as a woman, that is loud, rambunctious, and full of energy. It’s used as an insult, but I think we should consider reclaiming it. I aspire to be a bird and take up more space in my day-to-day!
“She’s mad loud, what a bird.”
“Don’t be rude loser.”
If you live in a real lively New York neighborhood, you might hear bops blasting through car windows all night and day. For me, I whip out the Shazaam whenever I hear a dembow song I don’t recognize. A bop is simply a really good song.
What’s that El Alfa song spinning the block right now? It’s a bop.
This term describes something huge, big, or strong. Think muscly big. The Rock? Brolic. The Hulk? Brolic. Me after arm day? Brolic, my friend.
I heard Greisy’s fingers got really brolic after typing this long blog post.
27. Shoot the fair
Okay this one is fun. Back in my Queens middle school, this term meant LET’S GO FIGHT, JUST ME AND YOU. Allegedly, the roots of this word can be tracked to the late 1950s, when “shoot the fair one” meant to fight one on one without help from others or weapons.
You can keep talking wild or we can go shoot the fair real quick.
Smacked literally means to get hit, but in New York City slang, the word also means to be high from the married iguanas. But like, really high. Now that New York allows recreational mary jane usage, remember to practice safe consumption!
- I only took two hits from her pen and I’m already smacked.
Similar to smacked, this New York lingo refers to the effects of mixed substances like mary jane and/or drinks. New York synonym for crossfaded.
- You know that song Cruzao by El Alfa? It’s about being chopped.
Whenever a New Yorker wishes to acquire or purchase something, usually drugs, they wish to cop.
- I asked my mom to cop me those new Jordans for Christmas.
31. Cut *ss/Get your *ss cut
This one was the most confusing for my non-New Yorker friends. To cut *ss is to make fun of, or roast someone. This can encompass both friendly and non-friendly roasting. I spent most of my time in middle school quiet and observant so I wouldn’t get my @ss cut.
- Our history teacher accidentally shaved his eyebrow and now we won’t stop cutting his *ss.”
Similar to dead*ss, dead means “seriously”, but it adds a level of certainty and conviction to a sentence.
- Don’t ask me why but I dead don’t like her. She got mala vibras.
33. Yeah nah
Do not be confused by the initial yeah– the nah is what matters here. Yeah nah usually means no.
- Yeah nah, I’m not going to Santa Con this year, not with that new variant going around.
34. Nah yeah
Given the previous definition, nah yeah means yes or of course.
- Nah yeah, I can pick up some backwoods from the bodega in a few.
I’ll tell you this much– between the lackluster subway system, the cost of living, and the gentrification, native New Yorkers are drid— annoyed, irritated, and over it.
The transfer at Grand Central to the 7 makes me mad drid.
This one has some notoriety and is pretty straightforward. Facts is said in agreement with another fact, as affirmation or recognition of said fact.
- “Cuomo def had to go.”
37. Good looks
This word is a variation of “good looking out!” So if you do something kind for a NYer and they say good looks, no worries, they’re not commenting on your appearance or hitting on you. They are showing gratitude.
- “Hey bro your shoe is untied.”
- “Oh word, good looks!”
Mean, unfair, messed up, selfish, Ebenezer Scrooge *ss behavior makes a person deemed grimy.
- He’s real grimy, I heard he cheated on his girl twice.
This has nothing to do with the brand, and everything to do with a creative and fun option for saying “good”. It is usually used in interpersonal matters.
- “Hey bro can I Venmo you back tomorrow?”
- “Yea man all gucci.”
When someone from your community achieves some level of stature or achievement, they run the risk of becoming “hollywood.” This means the person thinks they’re a celebrity and acts brand new.
After she went viral with that tarot Tik Tok, she’s been mad hollywood!
Jack is another word that takes on multiple meanings in the United States depending on the region. In New York, it is most commonly phrased as “I ain’t jackin’ that”, and to jack means to claim.
Yeah I grew up here, but I was born in Brooklyn so I’m not jackin’ Queens.
Personally, there are so many people that I have yet to link with because of the pandemic and general existential depression. To link means to meet up with someone.
- Let’s link at Uptown for some mangu, I been craving it for a minute!
Alexa, play Return of the Mack by Mark Morrison. I can’t say for sure that this word comes from the song, but to the New Yorker, to mack means to flirt or spit game with someone.
- She’s really cute, so I’m tryna put the mack on her.
New York City subway riders are no stranger to the word schlep. We often have to schlep our belongings and our whole bodies across the city. It has roots in the Yiddish word “schlep” which means to haul or drag something.
- I had to schlep my luggage all the way from LaGuardia to Williamsburg last night.
45. Real talk
Yo, real talk… the phrase “real talk” almost always comes as a precursor to some inevitable truth that’s about to be shared.
Bodied/to body in NYC is less like what Beyonce describes in her underappreciated single “Get Me Bodied”, and more like to get absolutely demolished in something or to absolutely demolish someone else in something.
- I was at Bryant Park just watching the old chess dudes body each other!
Not necessarily to see, but to notice. For a New Yorker, it’s important to peep— you need to stay on alert on the trains and on the streets by peeping (noticing) your environment.
- Did you peep the new terminal at LaGuardia yet?
In New York City, to scrap means to fight.
- If you’re tryna scrap we can go right now.
This word seems to be more common with young people. A person is MADE staticky by a situation that causes unnecessary friction or the desire to fight.
- I don’t know bro, homie bumped me on the train and got all staticky like it was my fault.
This is another personal favorite because of how long it’s remained in my life, probably because as an introvert, I tend to flip often. In NYC, to flip is to cancel at the last minute.
- “Is your sister still coming?”
- “Nah, she flipped this morning when I asked her.”
I remember this adjective dominating Instagram captions in Queens in the early 2010’s because everyone wanted to be wavy, which means fly or cool.
- Hey bro, nice fit. Your shoes are mad wavy.
52. You Good (?)
In New York, these two words can mean a spectrum of things. It can mean:
- Are you okay?
- Don’t worry about it.
- You’re cool.
- How have you been?
- Is there a problem?
- What’s up? (in a threatening way)
53. Regular Coffee
Lou from the deli hears this phrase come out of my mouth every morning. A regular coffee in New York is hot coffee straight from the pot with milk (yup, from the cow) and sugar.
- Wassup Lou let me get a regular, milk and two sugars and a Loose Change please?
This word is one of the words I started using ironically and then cemented itself in my actual vocabulary. In NYC, when something is on fire, amazing, or fun, a millennial New Yorker will say “it’s lit.” It can also sometimes used to refer to a person who has consumed too many drinks.
Did you go to Jason’s party? It was lit.
A bodega is a convenience store, usually located at the corners of Black and Latinx neighborhoods in New York City. Popularized by Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants, the bodegas are hubs for local products, and a quick stop for snacks, groceries, and breakfast foods. Check out this video on the importance of small businesses from a Dominican bodega-deli owner in Queens.
Beef is a pretty standard slang term across the United States, and its usage is alive and well in New York. Essentially, when there is unfinished business or an unresolved tension between two people, those people have beef.
My friend had beef with our middle school teacher because he took her freshly bought bagel with cream cheese and bacon from her in the middle of class. She threw a desk at him.
Similar to wildin and odee’ing, beastin’ means to do the absolute most. However, I’ve seen this used in a positive context as motivation.
This is a Yiddish/Jewish word meaning to slather, often with culinary implications. Fun fact: We use a lot of Yiddish words in NYC influenced by the Jewish diaspora.
- Hey ock let me get an everything bagel with a schmear of scallion cream cheese.
59. Word to
A consistent New York classic, word has always been used to show agreement. The phrase “word to” developed as a shorthand for another popular NYC slang phrase, word to God, as in I swear to God.
“Only people who never been to the Bronx got stuff to say about the Bronx.”
Dear reader, I hope you found this blog post enriching, and that it expands your knowledge of New York City culture and dialect. If you’re traveling to New York soon, you’re bound to hear some of these words floating around as you commute through the five boroughs. Check out some more of our New York specific blog posts to best prepare for your trip:
- Easy NYC Weekend Getaways for Every Traveler
- Visiting Green-Wood Cemetery: A Brooklyn Hidden Gem
- Beautiful Day Trips from NYC
- Refreshing Hikes Near NYC
- Cute Small Towns in Long Island to Visit
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Greisy Genao (she/they) is a published poet and filmmaker from Queens, NY with a BA in English Writing and Film Studies. As a Fulbright U.S. Student Researcher, she has researched Dominican folklore and film in the Dominican Republic. Their award-winning film work has been celebrated across the Dominican diaspora and praised at film festivals from Santo Domingo to New York City.
Greisy has also produced “Stories of the Diaspora,” a series dedicated to capturing the narratives of multi-generational Dominicans in New York. As a multidisciplinary storyteller, Greisy seeks to explore and honor the connection between folklore and nostalgia as it appears in the hyphenated Dominican experience.
Follow Greisy on Instagram @Grei-mg.
ABOUT DOMINICAN ABROAD
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