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California is an incredibly diverse place. From the arid landscape of Death Valley to the snowy mountain peaks of Lake Tahoe, the Golden State has a lot to offer, so matter where you go, you are guaranteed a completely different experience. Each region in California not only has its own distinct scenery, but also its own unique community and slang words.
Northern California is famously home to the vibrant city of San Francisco and the booming tech hub of Silicon Valley, while Southern California is known for its beautiful beaches, surf culture, and movie industry—and the differences between NorCal and SoCal don’t stop there. The slang words used in these areas greatly differ, too.
In SoCal, you might hear locals say, “Drive down the 101” when referring to freeways, and in NorCal, you may hear residents say, “That’s hella cool” when describing things. Each region is proud of its California slang, so the words make up a big part of Californians’ vocabulary and contribute to the state’s broader culture.
Whether you’re planning a trip to California or looking to learn more about the place you live in, here are some of the strangest slang words used in Southern and Northern California.
Especially if you live in the Bay Area, you know that when people say “the city,” they are referring to San Francisco (aka “The City by the Bay”). San Francisco is the most revered and well-known metropolis in Northern California, so locals just call it “The City.”
This word is a remnant of the hipster culture from the 1960s, when youths took to the streets and advocated for peace. Now, wherever you go in NorCal—but especially Berkeley and San Francisco—you will hear everyone around you say “hella.” Synonymous with “very,” this slang word has an incredible amount of cultural significance for Northern California.
Through the years, Californians have called their friends many names such as “bro” or “homie.” While those words are still used statewide, in the Bay Area, some have resorted to using “man” as a term of endearment.
If you’ve ever been a BART rider and noticed someone who absolutely refuses to look up from their phone (or bumped into something because you were staring at your phone very intently), then you’ve probably been subject to “Zombie Mood.” Given the rise of the technology industry in Silicon Valley, it’s not a surprise that many Bay Area residents have developed a severe addiction to various technological devices—so much so that the influence can be felt all over California. Just remember to look up every once in a while…
While this slang word is used all over California, it’s particularly popular in SoCal, thanks to the surfers who began saying it a lot. “Dude” has more than one meaning, though; it can be used as a term of endearment (like “man”) or be used to say “hey,” “wait,” or “no way.”
Before the movie Clueless came out in 1995 and all of California was introduced to the Valley Girl, “like” was used by any and all who grew up in SoCal. Nowadays, many native Southern Californians use this word in every single sentence without even noticing.
The southern end of the state has long been famous for its gorgeous weather and beaches, it is also notorious for its congested highways. (It is reported that SoCal residents spend an average of 119 hours a year stuck in traffic.) Southern California highways used to be called specific names, but this became increasingly difficult to keep up with as more and more highways were built, so locals just started putting “the” before any highway. You will frequently hear people say, “I’m stuck on the 101,” which simply means they are in traffic on the 101 highway.
There have always been many different ways to ask a friend to meet up—such as, “let’s hang out” or “come through”—but there is yet another slang term that means the same exact thing: “post up.” Originating in Southern California, this word simply means to chill somewhere; however, it can also mean to stay in a particular location. You may hear many SoCal natives say, “Post up here until she shows up” or “Post up at the In-N-Out Burger later tonight.”
Each California slang word represents the unique history and culture of a particular area and allows us to appreciate the different regions of the state. So hopefully, the next time you hear Californians say, “post up” or “The City,” you’ll know not only what the terms mean, but also exactly where they came from!
What are the California slang words you often use or hear?
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