America’s 10 Most Commonly Misunderstood Slang Terms

A dirty bird in Kentucky is a good thing, actually.
Blucifer, anyone?
Blucifer, anyone? / (Map) RLT_Images/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images; (Emojis) Dimitris66/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images; (Ditch) annick vanderschelden photography/Moment/Getty Images; (KFC) Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images; (Feet) Sean Murphy/Stone/Getty Images; (People) Image Source/Getty Images; (Blue Mustang) Mike Sinko,

It’s no surprise that a country as large as the United States is teeming with terms that aren’t understood from coast to coast. Preply recently set out to determine which ones cause the most confusion.

First, researchers used data from two sites, OnlyInYourState and, to create a list of state-specific terms. They then asked 1028 U.S. residents to guess what they thought each one meant. The 10 terms that were wrongly defined most frequently are listed below (along with some entertaining honorable mentions).

There are a few things to note before you dive in. For one, state slang is a lot like state food in that it doesn’t exactly adhere to state boundaries. Many of the terms below can be heard outside the states associated with them in this single study.

For another, the study positions all the terms as slang—but some of them might be more aptly classified as regionalisms. Slang is typically very informal and mostly confined to informal spaces (e.g. on social media or in conversations with friends). Regionalisms aren’t necessarily unofficial; their defining characteristic is just that they’re specific to a certain region. For example, the term borrow pit, which refers to an excavation ditch, boasts an entry in the dictionary and is featured on Montana’s state website.

Lastly, what survey respondents thought a given term meant wasn’t always “wrong,” per se; it was often just an alternate (and more common) definition for that term. But they did invent a few funny definitions when no other well-known options came to mind.

You can explore more takeaways from Preply’s study here.

Tavern // South Dakota

In South Dakota, a tavern isn’t always—as most survey participants assumed—a bar. Sometimes, it’s a ground-beef sandwich similar to a sloppy joe. There’s a contingent of people who feel strongly that the difference between a sloppy joe and a tavern is tomato: Sloppy joes feature a tomato-based sauce, and taverns typically don’t. But there are tavern recipes that call for some form of tomato (ketchup, for example).

Right out straight // Maine

Preply’s survey-takers generally thought right out straight involved telling the truth—perhaps influenced by straight in the “honorable” and “upstanding” sense. (Not to mention the phrase give it to me straight.) If you’re right out straight in Maine, though, it means you’re really busy.

Carry // Mississippi

The common assumption was that carry in Mississippi meant “to have a gun on your person.” And it does mean that—but it can also mean “to drive (someone),” in the same way you might say, “I have to take my mom to the airport.”

Grill // New York

group of people staring right at the camera
They do also look like they're about to interrogate you. / Image Source/Getty Images

The New York–specific definition of grill is “to stare rudely.” Most respondents identified its not-so-regional meaning: “to ask a lot of questions.”

Gnarly // California

Gnarly is such a classic bit of ’80s slang that you can’t fault respondents for assuming it’s a synonym for cool. If a Californian (or any surfer) calls a wave “gnarly,” though, they probably mean it’s huge and daunting.

Dirty bird // Kentucky

KFC logo showing Colonel Sanders on a red background
Dirty bird for dinner? / Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images

Using dirty bird to describe “an unappealing individual,” per Green’s Dictionary of Slang, dates back to the mid-20th century. Many survey participants correctly named that as a possible definition, but they didn’t realize that Kentuckians also use it to mean “KFC.”

Grinds // Hawaii

Respondents assumed grinds means the same thing in Hawaii as it does everywhere else: “works really hard.” But it’s actually slang for food, often spelled with a z: grindz.

Borrow pit // Montana

water-filled ditch beside a tree-lined road
Borrow pits can become more than just ditches. / annick vanderschelden photography/Moment/Getty Images

A borrow pit is a pit formed when material is excavated (i.e. borrowed) from it and relocated somewhere else. It can also refer to a drainage ditch beside a road. Respondents unfamiliar with the term dreamed up a pretty creative definition of their own: “donation box.”

Put out // Missouri

Survey participants defined put out as a somewhat vulgar euphemism for agreeing to have sex. In Missouri, though, it’s often not something you do, but something you are: angry or peeved.

Blucifer // Colorado

a massive blue fiberglass mustang, with glowing red eyes, standing on its hind legs
If Homelander were a horse. / Mike Sinko, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

If you’ve never heard the term Blucifer before, you might do what Preply’s respondents did and assume it’s another term for blue devil. (That said, it’s unclear what kind of blue devil people were picturing: It’s Duke University’s mascot, the sobriquet of a U.S. infantry division active in both world wars, and also an old-timey expression for a bout of depression.) But Blucifer is actually the colloquial nickname for the seemingly sinister 32-foot-tall fiberglass blue horse that looms over Denver International Airport. The official name of the statue, created by Luis Jiménez, is simply Mustang.

Honorable Mentions

These five terms weren’t misunderstood by quite enough people to make the top 10, but we still think they deserve a shout-out.



What It Means

What People Thought It Meant

Jiffy feet


Dirty feet from walking around shoeless

Skills on the dance floor



Frozen custard with mix-ins—so thick it's like concrete (and not unlike a Dairy Queen Blizzard)

A sidewalk



A synonym for you all

A made-up word with no meaning



A dust storm that typically sweeps through as a giant roiling wall of dust

A derogatory term for an Arizona resident


West Virginia

A skunk

A dancer of the adult entertainment variety

Learn More Regional Slang Terms Here: