The United States is a large, diverse country. Not only do the 350 million or so citizens of this country come from different backgrounds and exist in all shapes, sizes and colors, they all live in vastly different areas and states. So even though most Americans speak English, they all speak it a bit differently. And that means one thing: funny slang terms from each and every state.
There are some things only people in the Midwest say — "ope," anyone? Meanwhile, Southerners have slang all their own. But even within those smaller regions, phrases exist that are completely and totally normal to citizens of one state is totally and completely hilarious to people from one of the other 49 states.
Alabama for most everyone else in the country is just Alabama, but for the natives it’s ‘Bama. The shortened form is used as a nickname for the state and the University of Alabama. According to Dictionary.com, “bama” can also be slang for someone who is unstylish or uncool, though we doubt Alabama folks subscribe to that version of the word.
The word "outside" may just mean leaving the house or being without shelter for most, but for people from Alaska, the term “outside” refers to any land beyond Alaskan borders.
A swamp cooler is what people in Arizona call an evaporative cooler, which is an air conditioner that uses the evaporation of water to both cool the air and add moisture. It’s a great way to cool your home in the dry heat of Arizona.
Cattywampus is funny to hear and fun to say, but in Arkansas and other states down south, it means something unconventional or askew.
A sure sign of someone who grew up in California is the use of the term “hella” in regular sentences. There’s a chance the word was made even more popular by Gwen Stefani, a California native, in the No Doubt song “Hella Good.” “Hella” simply means “very” “really” or “a lot.”
Fourteener means a mountain that is more than 14,000 feet above sea level, Colorado has more fourteeners than any state in the union and it’s how the Coloradans refer to their majestic mountaintops.
Connecticut has some truly incredible pizza, or as the locals in New Haven call it, “apizza,” pronounced “ah-BEETZ.” It’s a Neapolitan-style pizza that you can get topped with fresh-shucked clams or shrimp among other delicious add-ons. It might not sound like a traditional pizza with tomato sauce, but it’s one of the best pizzas in America.
What do you call the night before Halloween — if anything at all? Most people in the country don’t have a word for this, but in Delaware, a whopping 88% of people call it “mischief night,” according to a state-by-state linguistic survey done by the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. In fact, mischief night has a strong presence in the coastal Northeast of the country.
You know that brief, 15-minute rainstorm that happens while the sun is still out? If you’ve visited Florida for the summer, you may have experienced it. This very specific weather phenomenon happens when just one cloud bursts into rain. People from Florida are so accustomed to this, they not only have a name for it, they also likely just walk 50 feet away to be dry again.
A lot of the slang terms in Georgia are likely to have come out of Atlanta. The phrase “no cap” is used in place of “no lie” or to emphasize that someone is telling the truth about something that appears exaggerated.
“Da kine” is a phrase in Hawaiian Pidgin, a Creole language based partially in English that is commonly used by Hawaiians at the beach. “Da kine” has endless uses — it can be a placeholder like the English slangs “thingy” or “whatchamacallit” and be used as a noun, a verb, an adverb or an adjective. It’s not that the speaker can’t think of the word, but it’s the speaker and the listener have a common understanding of what the speaker is trying to get across.
In Idaho, a prairie dog is more commonly referred to as a whistle pig. Prairie dogs are also the same thing as ground squirrels or groundhogs.
Slang terms in Illinois vary across the state, but there’s one thing almost everyone says: gym shoes. Most people in other states refer to them as sneakers or tennis shoes, but in this Midwestern state, they are the shoes you wear to the gym — gym shoes. Another more Chicago-specific slang word in Illinois is “LSD.” Not the psychedelic drug LSD, but the road Lake Shore Drive with its mix of city architecture, beaches and a view of the lake.
When something small, but silly, startling or surprising happens, you’ll hear a little “ope!” from some Midwesterners, including those in Indiana. It’s somewhere between an “oops” and an “uh-oh.”
In Iowa and across some of the Midwest, this silly slang term is used to call out a car with a missing tail light. If you come across one while on a road trip, hit the ceiling and say “padiddle” to initiate a common car ride game for Iowans.
You might not be one of the overly polite people that use “shucky darn” as an exclamation of awe, wonder or frustration, but if you’re from Kansas, you’ve probably at least heard it. It loosely translates to “wow!”
No, this one isn’t a beautiful scenic hiking spot. It’s a mullet, a signature haircut for the people of Kentucky, according to this slang phrase.
In Louisiana, folks commonly use the word “cher” when referring to a man or a woman as dear and beloved. It originated from Cajun French.
There are plenty of ways to say yes in the English language — sure, yup, yeah, definitely, etc. In Maine, there’s a completely different one: “ayuh.” Ayuh is an informal version of yes, or simply a way to acknowledge someone or something. Bibliophiles can hunt for the term in some Stephen King novels.
Hon is short for honey, used as an endearing way to address someone. In Maryland, and more specifically in Baltimore, conversations are filled with “hon.”
Though most of the English-speaking world might use “wicked” when referring to something evil, Massachusetts natives use it as an alternative to the word “very” or as an adjective meaning awesome. As in: “That game was wicked!” And “it also snows a “wicked” amount in Mass.”
Sometimes a slang term gets so much steam, it gets added to the dictionary. That’s what happened in Michigan, where they call people who live upstate, “yoopers.” According to Merriam Webster Dictionary, “yooper” is a term referring to people from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
In Minnesota, “uff da!” is used to express emotions like surprise, astonishment, exhaustion, relief, dismay and almost anything else. The brief statement gets a lot done.
A “buggy” is best known in most of the country as the cart horses tug around. But in Mississippi, buggy is what state residents call a grocery cart.
Even though Missouri is spelled with an “i” most people in the state pronounce it “MissourAH.” A general rule of thumb is that "Missourah" is heard more frequently in the western region, deeper into the state. Both pronunciations are acceptable, but they are sure to start a debate.
Graupel is snow-like precipitation that happens when extremely cold droplets of water are collected and freeze on a falling snowflake. You may not have a phrase for it, but in Montana, they call it “graupel.”
What do you call something that is across both streets from you at an intersection, or diagonally across in general? Diagonal, probably. In Nebraska, most people call this “catty-corner.” In the survey done by the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, 55% of Nebraskans said they say catty-corner instead of diagonal.
Toke used in certain instances can have something to do with possibly illicit drug use. But in Las Vegas, it is actually a tip given to a casino dealer. It may be short for “token of appreciation.”
What the rest of the country refers to as a catfish, people from New Hampshire get really specific with. They call one type of catfish a “hornpout.”
Jug handles exist all over New Jersey but are not nearly as common in other states. Jug handles are right-hand exit that allows a left-hand turn, removing the driver from the highway and then allowing them to turn left. It is shaped like the handle of a jug. They are basically intersections that make drivers turn right in order to turn left.
It’s Christmas in New Mexico year-round if we’re talking about spicy sauces. The duo of both red and green chile sauces is festively called “Christmas.” Try it if you’re ever there: “Can you pass the Christmas? I want more spice on these enchiladas.”
New Yorkers tend to have lingo all on their own, and some words are making it into official dictionaries. “Schlep” is one example — the word, meaning to drag or haul something around, is a popular one amongst New Yorkers and made an entry in Merriam Webster.
This is more a nickname than a slang term, but it’s popular all the same. “North Cackalacky” is a nickname for North Carolina. It’s not obvious where the term originated, but two linguistics professors at North Carolina State University think it may have developed as a parody to poke fun at the rural ways of people from the South.
In North Dakota, “hot dish” is slang for a warm, bubbly casserole right out of the oven. Around the Midwest it isn’t uncommon for any meal served in a baking dish to be called a hot dish.
“Sweeper” sounds like another term for a broom, but it actually refers to a vacuum. For people in Ohio, sweeping the living room means that you break out the Hoover. Context has to count for something.
A “quakenado” is not an official extreme weather term, but Oklahomans use it as both a joke and a badge of honor when referring to an earthquake that happens at the same time as a tornado.
In Oregon, and in other states in the Northwest, things that are pricey or expensive get the slang name “spendy.”
Similar to the Southern “y’all,” Pennsylvania's contribution to American vocabulary is “yinz.” Yinz is a substitute for “you all” or you guys.
In Rhode Island, if you order a frappe, you’re going to get a simple milkshake. Not a fancy, texturally slushy Java Chip you might order at Starbucks. And Rhode Island frappes don’t have any caffeine either.
Down South, including in South Carolina, if something is “over yonder,” it’s a significant distance away. It’s a fairly ambiguous form of direction, almost like “it’s over there.”
In South Dakota, saying something is close by or pretty near is too boring, so they say “pert’near.” It’s a versatile word that can be used for distances or as a synonym for almost. As in, “This delicious kuchen is pert’near done cooking in the oven.”
“Fixin’ to” is one of those quintessential Southern slang phrases — and it doesn’t get more Southern than Tennessee. Fixin’ is used in place of “I’m going to” or “I’m getting ready to.”
That sweet fizzy beverage we all know and love is “pop” in the Midwest, soda in the Northeast and around the country, but in Texas, it’s simply “Coke.” Cartographer Alan McConchie created a web project called “Pop Vs. Soda” to see how the terms vary across the country. In Texas, out of the 20,000 people surveyed, more than 14,000 said they use the word “coke” when describing any carbonated, fizzy drink.
If you’re cutting class or playing hooky from work, in Utah, you’re “sluffing” it. It’s fun to say and even more fun to do.
Vermont has a name for the folks who drive up to see their stunning trees in gold, red and orange during autumn. “Leaf-peepers,” they call them are city dwellers who travel up the coast to take in some of that gorgeous fall foliage.
Most of the country refers to a bag as a bag, but in parts of Virginia, they call it a “poke.” It’s related to an old colloquialism “to buy a pig in a poke,” which is when grocers would try to pull a fast one on customers in the Middle Ages by selling them a cat or dog in a bag instead of a pig.
Washington natives call a yard or garage sale, a “jumble sale."
The word holler typically means to yell or to call attention to someone. In West Virginia, though, it means something completely unrelated. “Holler” to a West Virginian actually means a remote road or area, and considering the Appalachian Trail passes through the state — there are quite a few “hollers” to adventure down.
You’ve heard of being discombobulated, and in Wisconsin, you can also get “recombobulated.” Dictionary.com doesn’t say it’s a word, but people in Wisconsin don’t seem to mind. In fact, the General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee has officially designated the in-between, sort of chaotic area after you get through TSA as the “Recombubulation Area.”
According to Suzi Taylor, Reference Archivist for the Wyoming State Archives greenies are people from Colorado, usually tourists and folks who recently moved to Wyoming. The term is sometimes used in reference to outsiders in general and originated from the color of the old Colorado license plates. No matter what the Wyoming locals call tourists, all are welcome to explore one of the most amazing mountain towns to visit in the winter.
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