Bizarre slang words and phrases from every state
Bizarre slang words and phrases from every state
The United States is a vast and diverse nation with a huge assortment of languages and dialects. It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that in a country with at least 350 languages, you find a great deal of variation in the slang terms—some of which are downright strange.
These bizarre phrases come in all types, some of the most common of which are place descriptions—highways, intersections, concert halls, mountain ranges, etc. In Colorado, for example, they use the term “Mouse Trap” to describe the junction of Interstate 70 and 25 in Denver. Everyone knows what this is even though it might baffle outsiders. Similarly, in Kansas, the word “kaw” is synonymous with the Kansas River. In Atlanta, they use “OTP” or “ITP” to describe one’s proximity to Interstate 285 (“OTP” is “outside the perimeter” while “ITP” means “inside the perimeter.”) Out-of-towners have no idea what the natives are talking about.
Another common source of regional slang team is local sports—nicknames for teams, stadiums, fans, rivals, and everything in between. Tennesseans refer to the “Preds” in “Smashville” (it’s code for their hockey team and the city of Nashville), and Oklahomans use the phrase “thunder up” (a reference to their basketball team). Food is another major source of local jargon. “Hot brown” in Kentucky, for instance, is a regular lunch staple, even though most non-locals don’t know what it is (an open-faced sandwich). Muffuletta is something they eat in Louisiana and any local will recognize the nickname (a popular Italian lunch item). Montanans know that “Hoot Wine” is an alcoholic beverage brewed by the Hutterites.
Nicknames for non-locals are another source of slang in many states. Alaskans like to call non-Alaskans or newcomers “cheechako,” for example, while they call themselves “sourdough.” North Carolinians call tourists who arrive in autumn “leafers” since they come to see the fall foliage when the leaves turn colors. Then there are examples of regular words that have different meanings in certain parts of the country. The word “poke,” for example, normally means to jab someone with a long object. In West Virginia, however, it’s a term for a grocery bag. A whale is usually a large marine mammal but in Nevada, it refers to a high-rolling casino gambler.
To give a shoutout to some of the country’s most bizarrely endearing slang, Stacker has put together a slideshow featuring the weirdest phrases from each state. Take a look to see how many you recognize.
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In Alabama, the "houndstooth," refers specifically to the black-and-white checkered pattern associated with University of Alabama football—aka the Crimson Tide. The pattern's association with the university's football team can be traced back to Coach Bear Bryant who led the team from 1958 to 1982 and was known to wear a hat that showcased the pattern. Today, it can be seen on hats, T-shirts, scarves, sashes, and all manner of fan gear at football games.
Alaska: “going Outside”
In other states, “going Outside” means leaving the house or going into an outdoor setting. In Alaska, however, it’s something people say, often jokingly, when they have to leave the state for some reason. The term is so widely used that it’s even been cited in newspaper articles and other prominent places.
Arizona: “Big Ditch”
When you live in a state that’s home to something as impressive as the Grand Canyon, you’re likely to come up with a few nicknames for it. That’s the case for the people of Arizona who lovingly refer to the giant geological wonder as the “Big Ditch.”
Arkansas: “Arkansas toothpick”
An “Arkansas toothpick” isn’t something you use to clean your teeth. Instead, it’s a thick, single-edged hunting dagger also referred to as a bowie knife. When describing the knives in the 1840s in the Foreign Quarterly Review, geographer George William Featherstonhaugh said: “These formidable instruments...are the pride of an Arkansas blood, and got their name of Bowie knives from a conspicuous person of this fiery climate.”
Although the phrase sounds like a made-up word to out-of-towners, a “sigalert” (SigAlert) is actually something that the California Highway Patrol puts out when there are lanes closures or other traffic-related delays. The word is thrown around with particular frequency in places like Los Angeles and San Francisco, where traffic is notorious for being atrocious.
The term “14ers,” which is also used in mountain climbing circles, originated in Colorado and is universally recognized throughout the state. It refers to any mountain peak more than 14,000 feet high. Among Colorado’s mountaineers, it’s common to hear someone declare they “bagged a 14er,” meaning they made it to the top. The phrase is a point of pride given that Colorado boasts 58 of the nation’s 14,000-foot mountains—more than any other state.
If you order “apizza” in Connecticut, you’re not asking for pizza with a funny accent. “Apizza” is actually the name of a New Haven-style thin-crusted pie. It’s so popular throughout the Green Mountain State, in fact, that lots of locals refer to all pizza as “apizza.”
Delaware: “baggin' up”
In Delaware, people don’t say they are cracking up, they say they are “baggin’ up.” It means they are laughing hard—a synonym for cackling, howling, or roaring with laughter. Although the term is strongly associated with the state of Delaware, it is not clear where it originated.
In parts of Florida, “bobo” is a term used to mean bad, crazy, or weird. It may be a loanword from the Spanish “bobo” (meaning silly or foolish) that originated in Cuban-influenced parts of Florida and spread to surrounding states like Georgia and North Carolina. However, there are also theories that it comes from the Korean word “pabo” (idiot) or from a brand of cheap shoes made in the ‘80s or '90s.
“Mama’nem” is a phrase that’s popular in Georgia and other parts of the South, which is essentially a contraction of “mama and them.” It’s widely used as a greeting to inquire about your family (“How’s your mama’nem?") or as a descriptor (“I’m heading over to mama’nem’s house”). In 2011, rapper Tech N9ne released a single called "Mama Nem" on his album “All 6's and 7's.”
Hawaii: “da kine”
Similarly to the more widely recognized “aloha,” the phrase “da kine” is an extremely versatile word in Hawaii that can be used to say hello, goodbye, and everything in between. As Dan Nosowitz wrote for Atlas Obscura, “Hawaii’s ‘da kine’ is not only an all-purpose noun, capable of standing in for objects, events, and people: it’s also a verb, an adjective, an adverb, and a symbol of Hawaiian people and the unique way they speak. It may be the most versatile phrase on the planet.”
Idaho: “watching the potato drop”
If you were to tell a friend that you were going to watch the potato drop anywhere else in the country, they’d have no idea what you were talking about. But in the Gem State, this means you are taking part in New Year’s Eve festivities. Every year, the city of Boise hoists a giant potato in the air with a crane and slowly lowers it down as crowds count down to the New Year.
Illinois: “woo wap da bam”
Although most people in Illinois understand the phrase “woo wap da bam,” its roots are strictly in Chicago. The versatile phrase is used as a sentence filler, often to express the concept of “so on and so forth,” “yadda yadda,” or “et cetera.” It became recognized outside of the Windy City in 2016 when Chance the Rapper used it on Kanye West’s hit “Ultralight Beam” (“Now they wanna hit me with the woo wap da bam”).
Indiana: “hoo hoo”
When college sports season rolls around, you’ll hear a chant throughout Indiana that you won’t hear anywhere else in the country as the crowds yell out, “hoo hoo.” The strange phrase is the rallying call for Indiana University sports and it’s unmistakable anywhere in the Hoosier State.
Iowa: “pork queen”
Although it sounds rather insulting, being dubbed a “pork queen” in Iowa is actually a great honor. Every year, the Iowa Pork Producers Association crowns pork princesses, along with the prestigious pork queen, during the Iowa Pork Congress in Des Moines. The young women go on work as ambassadors at the World Pork Expo.
Kansas: “rock chalk, jayhawk”
Another college sports-derived piece of slang, “rock chalk, jayhawk” is a chant that’s commonly performed at University of Kansas Jayhawks games. The odd phrase is a two-part war cry that begins with one party yelling “rock chalk” and the other responding with “jayhawk,” sometimes adding “Go KU.” However, some spirited Kansans use it as a general greeting, too.
The phrase may sound like a nonsense word to outsiders but in the state of Kentucky, a “burgoo” is a classic stew. Typically served with cornbread, the spicy soup gets its name from a simple oatmeal porridge that English sailors used to eat in the 18th century. However, today it’s often served during fundraisers and community events.
Louisiana: "fais do-do”
Given the heavy French influence in Louisiana and particularly in New Orleans, it’s no surprise that one of the state’s most recognized regionalisms is a French word. The exact origins of “fais do-do” are unclear, but it’s generally agreed that the word was used by mothers when rocking their babies to sleep, similar to “hushabye.” Today, it’s widely known as a Cajun dance event involving fiddles and accordions, typically held on Saturday nights.
Used in Maine and other parts of New England, “cunnin’” is a word that means cute or endearing. It’s most commonly applied to babies and small animals. For example, a Mainer might say: “Have you seen Betty’s new kitten? It’s most cunnin’ little thing I’ve ever seen.”
Maryland: “Jimmy and Sally”
Everywhere else in the country, “Jimmy” and “Sally” are regular old names, but in Maryland, locals know that these are terms for blue crabs. “Jimmys” are males and “Sallys” are females, distinguished by their undersides. “Jimmys” have brown, candle-shaped markings while “Sallys” have dome-like markings. “Only crab experts (aka Marylanders) would know this,” wrote Kim Rodriguez for Odyssey.
The phrase “packie,” which is what people in Massachusetts call a liquor store, is thought to have originated in the post-Prohibition era when alcohol had to be packaged up after it was sold. Today, it is used widely in the Bay State as well as in other parts of New England.
Although the word “yooper,” which connotes anyone from Mighigan’s Upper Peninsula, is still mostly foreign to people outside the Midwest, it actually landed in the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2014 after a decade-long campaign from an Escanaba man. “I was playing Scrabble with a friend, and he called me out on the word yooper, and to my amazement he was absolutely correct—it wasn’t in the dictionary,” Steve Parks told WWJ News. “And so I began this quest to make it happen.”
Minnesota: “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck”
Everywhere else in the United States it’s “Duck, Duck, Goose” but in Minnesota, they call the popular children’s game “Duck, Duck, Gray Duck.” The rules are the same, but Minnesotans have a special sort of pride in their unique naming conventions. As Alex Pareene wrote for Deadspin: “It honestly is a shared, strange moment in the life of most Minnesotans when they first learn that no one else in the country calls it this. It is not taught to us as Our Special Version of the game, it’s just...what the game is.”
If you ask any one in Mississippi what “nabs” are, they will describe peanut butter crackers that come in tiny packages––popular treats throughout the south. Although today they’re made by ToastChee, Nabisco once made a similar product called the “Peanut Sandwich Packet,” which was formerly named NABS. The snack is so well-liked that lots of folks in the Magnolia State make them at home by smearing peanut butter in between saltines.
Another slang term that denotes a type of food, “T-ravs” is short for “toasted ravioli.” It’s a special dish with meat or cheese-filled ravioli that’s fried, covered in crunchy parmesan, and served with tomato sauce. It became popular in St. Louis and is a point of pride for many Missourians.
Montana: “hooky bobbing”
Although this bizarre word is used commonly in Montana, especially when sledding or dragging on ice, it is not the exclusive domain of the Big Sky state. It is also used in a handful of other frigid Northwestern states where snow and ice are common. It describes the practice of dragging behind a vehicle by the bumper, getting towed over the snow. It is popular among rebellious teenagers.
Nebraska: “Der Viener Schlinger”
“Der Viener Schlinger” is an example of a regional phrase where the object itself is as strange as the word. Known distinctly to the folks of Nebraska, the device is a large sausage-shaped gun that shoots Wimmer’s Wieners hot dogs into the crowd at Cornhusker games. Unsurprisingly, it is a huge crowd favorite.
Although you’ve likely never heard this odd word if you live anywhere outside northern Nevada, a “pogonip” is a thick, icy fog known to envelop the northern part of the state in the winter. It originates from a Shoshone word meaning “white death.” In 2015, Slate dubbed it the Silver State’s unofficial state word.
New Hampshire: “hornpout”
Most people call the fish famous in southern cuisine a “catfish.” However, in the state of New Hampshire, they refer to this creature as a “hornpout.” It’s not clear why New Hampshire residents use a different name but it’s likely that the origin of the word is a combination of “horn” (derived from the fish’s spines) and the Middle English word “pout,” which once described a class of wide-headed, bottom-dwelling fish in Western Europe.
New Jersey: “jughandle”
Few places in the United States outside New Jersey recognize the word “jughandle” because few places feature the awkward traffic ramps. Although they exist to some degree in a handful of states, New Jersey is covered in them. Also called “Jersey lefts,” “jughandles” are basically roadway ramps where left-turning traffic is diverted to the right side of the highway or intersection.
New Mexico: “red, green, or Christmas?”
Born of New Mexico’s Latino-influenced cuisine, “red, green, or Christmas?” is a local phrase that your waiter might ask you. The question is whether you want red chile, green chile, or a combination of the two. As the Light My Nest blog explains: “New Mexico might be the only state with not only a state bird, but a state question.”
New York: “schvitzing”
Derived from Yiddish, “schvitzing” refers to a steam bath, which is why New Yorkers use it to describe sweating profusely. It’s not shocking that in a state where the largest city is known for uncomfortably muggy summers, the slang word is in common usage.
North Carolina: “Cackalacky”
The word “Cackalacky” may be bizarre-sounding, but to North Carolinians, it’s synonymous with their home state. The phrase, which was popularized in A Tribe Called Quest’s 1992 hit “Scenario,” is used interchangeably as a nickname for both North and South Carolina. According to George Goebel, review editor for the Dictionary of American Regional English, it's not clear where the term came from but it may not have a meaning. “It may well just be an invented ‘nonsense’ word that sounds vaguely like Carolina,” he said.
North Dakota: “eating puppy chow”
If you say you’re “eating puppy chow” anywhere outside the Midwest, your friends might be disgusted. But in North Dakota, as well as parts of other Midwest states, folks will recognize it as a snack made of Chex smothered in peanut butter, chocolate, and powdered sugar. Writing for Taste, Naomi Tomky explained: “It has all the elements of a good party food: sweet, salty, crunchy, and just messy enough to allow you to use ‘Gotta go wash my hands’ as an excuse for leaving an awkward conversation.”
Ohio: “devil’s strip”
This strange phrase sounds rather risque but in Akron, Ohio, the “devil’s strip” is simply the patch of grass between the sidewalk and the road. There’s a great deal of debate about its origins. Some say it’s a term rubber factory workers used to scare their kids so they wouldn’t play in the streets, telling them the devil lurked there. Others believe it came from railroad jargon where the “devil strip” was the bit of land between two railroad tracks.
The word doesn’t quite make sense when read alone but when you view “j’eet” as a contraction, it makes perfect sense: "Did you eat?" becomes "J’eet?" It’s not clear exactly where the phrase came from but it’s used widely throughout Oklahoma and other parts of the South.
Rather than saying something is expensive, Oregonians often refer to it as being “spendy.” The phrase is so prevalent that local newspapers regularly use the term in headlines. “‘Spendy is a regionalism that's both instantly understandable and conversational,” explained Michael Walden of The Oregonian. “...Though it may not be in the dictionaries yet, I bet it will be.”
Pennsylvania: “gum bands”
Known to the rest of the world as rubber bands, these stretchy all-purpose tools are “gum bands,” to Pennsylvanians––particularly in the Pittsburgh area. Since “gum” is sometimes used interchangeably with “rubber” (“gum boots,” “gumshoe,” etc.), the term may have originated there, according to the University of Pittsburgh’s website, which has postulated they might have been sold under the trade name “gumband.”
Rhode Island: “No School Fostah, Glosatah”
When it gets snowy in Rhode Island, locals sometimes say, “No School Fostah, Glosatah.” The phrase is confusing to folks from out of town but Rhode Islanders recognize it from an old radio DJ named Salty Brine. He would read the school closures over the airwaves, which almost always meant no school for the Foster-Glocester district, where snowfall was particularly heavy.
South Carolina: “Frogmore Stew”
This strange phrase doesn’t sound terribly appetizing, but folks in South Carolina know that Frogmore Stew is a delicious dinner entree. The local Lowcountry staple is more of a messy pile of food than an actual stew, typically including shrimp, red potatoes, kielbasa, corn, clam, and crab legs. It’s also known as Beaufort Stew or a Lowcountry Boil.
South Dakota: “taverns”
In the rest of the country, “taverns” are small pubs on your corner that serve alcoholic beverages. But in South Dakota—especially east of the Mississippi River—“taverns” are the messy beef or pork sandwiches known elsewhere as “sloppy joes.” To make the vernacular even more confusing, another portion of South Dakota calls this food a “barbecue.”
Tennessee: “meat and three”
When someone in Tennessee says they want a “meat and three,” they’re referring to a meal selection consisting of their choice of meat with three side dishes. The Southern dining concept originated in Nashville and remains exceptionally popular throughout Tennessee—though other parts of the South have adopted the tradition, too. “Meat and three” meals are often served with cornbread and sweet tea.
To non-Texans, this strange phrase sounds like a place where you might take a shower or eat a cafeteria meal; however, a “washateria” is actually another word for a laundromat. The whole concept of self-serve laundry originated in Texas, where the first facility opened in Fort Worth in 1934 and dubbed itself a “washateria.” While the rest of the county quickly adopted the phrase “laundromat,” Texans have continued to say “washateria.”
One of those weird words that isn’t really used outside the state of Utah—or anywhere in the English language for that matter—”sluffing” means to skip school, work, or other obligations. It is so widely used throughout Utah that newspapers and digital publications frequently refer to it in headlines, and both teenagers and adults know what it means.
If you think hard about it you might be able to guess the meaning of this word, but unless you’ve spent time in the Green Mountain State, it will be a stretch. “Creemees,” to Vermonters, are helpings of soft-serve ice cream. It’s a cute way of drawing out the second word, although some people say there’s more to it than that. Victoria Anne of Delishably, for example, says the nickname derives from the fact that Vermont ice cream was historically made with a higher butterfat content than average, so its texture was creamier.
Virginia: “the mixing bowl”
Despite the way sounds, the “mixing bowl” is not a piece of kitchenware used to stir ingredients. In Virginia, this phrase refers to the well-known interchange in the northern part of the state, where Interstates 95, 395, and 495 all come together. Or as Anna Strock of “In Your State” calls it: a “lesser known level of hell.”
Washington: “liquid sunshine”
Given that Washington is the country’s fifth wettest state during the winter months, it’s not terribly shocking that one of its weird slang phrases has to do with rain. “Liquid sunshine,” as Washingtonians strangely and euphemistically call it, is the wet stuff that comes down from the sky a large portion of the year (although it is also a type of LSD, so use the phrase carefully).
West Virginia: “holler”
Sure, in other places, “holler” is a verb used synonymously with “yell,” or “shout.” But in West Virginia, it’s a noun that describes a remote backcountry area, typically at the end of a road or in a small valley. It often overlaps with the word “hollow” (as in a depression in the earth), so it’s likely that the slang phrase evolved from this word.
On college campuses throughout the U.S., “bubblers” are water pipes or bongs used for smoking marijuana. However, in Wisconsin, the phrase strangely refers to drinking fountains. A commonly told story attributes the nickname to a water works employee in the 1880s who designed a fountain he called a “bubbler." However, historian Beth Dippel has rejected the myth, instead theorizing that the name originated from a Minnesota-based water container that had an attachment called a bubbler, which users leaned over, similarly to today’s drinking fountains.
In the state of Wyoming, the license plates are blue. However, in Colorado, the license plates are green—one of many things that makes their southern neighbors stand out. Wyomingites love calling Colorado tourists “greenies,” and harbor varying degrees of disdain for these visitors. Some of it is in jest, and some of it is downright serious. It all depends on who you ask.
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