There’s no place that looks, smells, or sounds quite like New York City. If you’ve spent time in the city, or plan to, you might want to take a look at some of the most common slang terms you’ll find in the Big Apple, which are every bit as distinctive as the jargon found in Philadelphia or Chicago.
When you want a bagel with a generous helping of cream cheese, New Yorkers will ask for one with a schmear. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, when the word (sometimes spelled schmeer) was coined in the early 20th century, it originally meant “everything possible or available,” which comes in handy when ordering anything you want more of. It specifically came to mean “a spread for bread or other foods,” especially cream cheese, by 1914.
A kind of shared expression among New Yorkers and New Jersey residents, fuhgeddaboudit is to “forget about it,” or to dismiss some concept undeserving of a person’s attention. According to the OED, the full phrase first popped up in The Detroit Free Press in 1919. But it seems that we have Hollywood to thank for popularizing the truncated version. As former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 2016 (which is when the borough unveiled road signs with fuhgeddaboudit emblazoned on them), the term likely made its debut on the 1950s sitcom The Honeymooners, which was set in Brooklyn. From there, the phrase’s star only rose: Johnny Depp offered an explainer on the term while portraying undercover cop Joe Pistone in 1997’s Donnie Brasco (see above); the writing staff of The Sopranos probably had a keyboard shortcut for it.
New Yorkers frequent convenience stores, but unless they have a 7-Eleven emblazoned over the entrance, they often refer to them as bodegas, the Spanish word for “cellar.” The term stems from the independently-owned Puerto Rican quick-shop storefronts, which began opening up as early waves of immigrants arrived in NYC in the early 20th century and increased in number after World War II. Bodegas differ from other corner stores in that owners tend to take a personal interest in customers, and vice versa. The stores are also known for their quasi-legal cats.
Not to be confused with a courageous person, hero in NYC parlance refers to a submarine sandwich—a long roll stuffed with meats, cheeses, and vegetables. (Hero has also found use in other areas of the country, but not in Philly; there, this type of sandwich is called a hoagie.) Some believe the term originated in 1936 with New York Herald Tribune writer Clementine Paddleford, who remarked that someone “had to be a hero” to eat a sandwich that large. She wasn't kidding: In 1940, one Chicago newspaper alerted readers that an oversized hero had dislocated a man’s jaw.
Yes, many NYC buildings are bricked, but that’s not what brick means in city talk. According to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, when used as an adjective, brick means it’s ice-cold outside. One possible explanation is that a brick’s surface typically feels colder than the ambient temperature. If it's brick, it’s as cold as it gets.
If you don’t live in the city, you’re a tourist, and therefore a rubberneck or rubbernecker—a person constantly craning and contorting their neck to take in the sights.
7. Bronx Cheer
When New Yorkers want to be dismissive, they invoke a Bronx cheer—or what most of the rest of the country calls raspberries. Making a thbptttt fart noise by blowing through your lips is suggestive of the perceived uncouth manners of those in the Bronx. In 1923, The New York Times reported that “The crowd gave the hero a Bronx cheer for the effort and razzed him frequently thereafter, with some justice, too, for [Babe] Ruth’s actions were an insult to the intelligence of the people who had paid their good money to see him play baseball.”
For most people, pie invokes a steaming apple pastry fresh out of the oven. For denizens of NYC, though, it means a piping hot pizza. The preference may have come from Italian immigrants who wanted to avoid confusion stemming from people ordering an entire pizza and those ordering just a slice. One New York Tribune article from 1903 remarked on the “pomidore pizza,” or “tomato pie,” which involved the then-novel idea of putting tomato slices on flattened dough. The slang term red hot was used to describe it.
When you need to empty out your apartment—or help a friend do the same—you’ll be schlepping belongings from one place to another. The word is derived from the Yiddish shlepn and German schleppen, both meaning “to haul.”
Schlep is especially good to use when transporting heavy items long distances (you’d schlep a bookcase across town, but not a hero across the street), and it can also be used when talking about going somewhere yourself: If you’re visiting a friend in a neighborhood far from your own, you might say you’ll have to schlep all the way over there. The word has found other uses, too; in the Diamond District, a schleper is someone who pays their bills late.
Are you serious? Then New Yorkers may label you deadass, a term dating back to the 1950s that once referred to resting on one’s posterior but now means something more like sincere. The word gained national recognition on the heels of singer Billie Eilish being fond of it.
11. Regular Coffee
Do you want a black coffee? Ask for black coffee. Do you want a coffee with cream and sugar? In New York (as well as in Boston), that’s a regular coffee. Order that anywhere else and you’ll probably get asked what you want in it.
12. Bridge and Tunnel
Coming into Manhattan from one of the outer boroughs (like Queens) or New Jersey? New Yorkers may refer to you as one of the bridge and tunnel people, since those outside the city will need to travel via bridge or tunnel to get there. Is it a pejorative? Well, yes. But ah, fuhgeddaboudit.