The NYC Glossary

Gillian Osswald

In New York City, talking the talk is a key part of walking the walk. And sounding like a New Yorker isn’t about quoting Midnight Cowboy or imitating Linda Richman’s accent. It’s about the language New Yorkers use—efficient, with lots of abbreviations. Colorful, with terms that come from the many diverse groups who’ve come to live here over the years. And fun. Read on to learn which words to use—and, equally important, which ones you might want to stay away from—to blend in with the locals.

Photo: Marley White

Good for Everyday Use:

avenues
Avenues (like Broadway, Madison and Fifth) run north-south whereas streets run east-west to form Manhattan’s street grid.

Photo: Jen Davis

bodega
This is the corner grocery store where you can buy everything from your morning coffee to beer to toiletries to sandwiches, like that trusty bacon-egg-and-cheese.

Photo: Julienne Schaer

The BQE
You might run into this abbreviation for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway while cabbing between boroughs or heading to one of the airports.

Photo: Julienne Schaer

Dumbo
A trendy neighborhood named for its location Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. It’s got plenty of photogenic spots and galleries, along with solid pizza options.

Photo: Brittany Petronella

The FDR
In New York City, America’s 32nd president is a highway. Avoid during rush hour, but otherwise this thoroughfare (also known as FDR Drive, though officially it’s Franklin D. Roosevelt East River Drive) is an efficient route up and down the east side of Manhattan.

Photo: Brittany Petronella

Gansevoort Street
A cobblestone street in the Meatpacking District, pronounced in three syllables: GANN-zuh-vort.

Photo: Christopher Postlewaite

Greenwich Village
Pronounced GREN-itch, it’s the neighborhood surrounding Washington Square Park.

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Mike's Deli. Photo: Will Steacy

hero
Elsewhere in the US it might be a hoagie, grinder or sub; here it’s a hero, the Italian-style sandwich champion of cold cuts and cheese on a forearm-length loaf.

Photo: Julienne Schaer

Houston Street
You’re not in Texas. It’s pronounced HOUSE-tun (the downtown east-west thoroughfare named not for Texas governor Sam Houston, but for Georgia lawyer and Continental Congress delegate William Houstoun—the second “u” was lost somewhere in translation).

MacDougal Street
Avoid the scorn of NYU-ers everywhere by correctly pronouncing this Greenwich Village street’s name: mac-DOOG-al.

Manhattan
One of the five boroughs, of course…but also its namesake cocktail, reputedly invented there, composed of rye whiskey, vermouth and bitters.

Photo: Christopher Postlewaite

MTA
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, aka the Subway Gods.

on line
One of New York’s great regionalisms is used to describe all kinds of queueing up. We don’t get “in line” here, no siree.

pie
Forget the apple kind at the state fair; in NYC, it’s the whole pizza at your local slice joint.

Photo: Adam Kuban

plain slice
Outside of the City, it’s known as a cheese slice: a piece of pizza with sauce, cheese and no other toppings.

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regular coffee
Embrace the rules of NYC coffee: ordering this means you’ll get your joe with milk and two sugars.

Photo: Tagger Yancey IV

schmear
A bagel with a schmear has the perfect amount of cream cheese—just a little bit.

Photo: Brittany Petronella

Soho
An acronym for South of Houston Street, a Manhattan neighborhood—bounded elsewhere by Lafayette Street, Canal Street and Sixth Avenue—that’s one of the City’s chicest shopping districts. Its name goes way back to 1963, and even dyed-in-the-wool locals say “Soho.”

stoop
The steps leading up to a building or brownstone. A good place to do New York things like sipping a regular coffee, discussing rent prices or planning the fastest subway route.

Photo: Tagger Yancey IV

train
If you’re advised to take this to get around, don’t assume Amtrak or Penn Station; New Yorkers often refer to the subway as “the train.”

Photo: Alex Lopez

Tribeca
An abbreviation for “Triangle Below Canal,” this name describes a downtown neighborhood filled with prime real estate, lots of celebrity residents, restaurants, shopping and a famous film festival. The moniker dates back to the 1970s, so, like Soho, you’ll hear native New Yorkers use it.

The Village
A shortening of Greenwich Village, because fast-talking New Yorkers have rarely met an abbreviation they didn’t like. And as far as we’re concerned, there is no other village (well, there’s the East and West Villages, but they always take the modifiers).

Photo: Joe Buglewicz

Depends:

30 Rock
Short for 30 Rockefeller Plaza, this is the big art deco building you’ll look for when visiting the Top of the Rock or the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree; its also lent its name to the cult-classic sitcom created by Tina Fey.

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bacon-egg-and-cheese
It’s the on-the-go, cure-all breakfast sandwich you need in your life, most authentically pronounced as all one word when barking your order at the deli counter.

Photo: Alexander Thompson

BK
A common, minimalist abbreviation for “Brooklyn,” as opposed to your favorite fast-food burger joint.

Photo: Will Steacy

BX
New Yorkers don’t always have time for that gratuitous “ron” when they’re talking about the “Bronx,” OK?

Boogie Down Bronx
An alliterative nickname for the birthplace of hip-hop, NYC’s northernmost borough.

The City
New York City encompasses five boroughs (Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island), but some native New Yorkers—particularly those who live in other boroughs—use “the City” as a synonym for Manhattan.

Photo: Will Steacy

Noho
An expeditious way to describe where you are when in the downtown neighborhood “North of Houston Street,” a compact wedge of land between the East Village and Greenwich Village.

Photo: Will Steacy

Nolita
A portmanteau for the fashionable little neighborhood “North of Little Italy” (between Soho and the Lower East Side).

oy
A delightfully versatile Yiddishism and one of New Yorkers’ favorite interjections, it even merited a recent public art piece in Dumbo (it has since been moved north to Williamsburg).

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uptown/downtown
Subway speak for north/south or northbound/southbound, as in, “Take the uptown A train from Chambers Street to Columbus Circle.”

yo
Speaking of “oy,” that public art piece in Brooklyn also reads “yo” depending on how you look at it. Yo means “hello.”

Photo: Phil Kline

Don’t Say It:

Avenue of the Americas
The City government renamed this thoroughfare in 1945. More than seven decades later, almost all New Yorkers still call it Sixth Avenue.

The Deuce
During the grittier days of Taxi Driver–era Times Square, 42nd Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues was known as “Forty-Deuce” or “The Deuce,” a nickname revived by the 2017 HBO show of the same name.

FiDi
You might hear this recent-vintage abbreviation for “Financial District” pronounced aloud (perhaps with a touch of irony).

fuhgeddaboudit
An elision of New York-ese past. Please do forget about it—or at least saying it in public.

Nomad
Another neighborhood moniker defining the area “North of Madison Square Park”


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