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SoCal Slang: The Words and Phrases Everyone in Southern California Needs to Know
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SoCal Slang: The Words and Phrases Everyone in Southern California Needs to Know

Southern California has unique lingo influenced by weather, traffic, surfing, Tinseltown, and a handful of strange fun facts.

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5 min read

July 02, 2021

So you think you know the Ins-N-Outs of SoCal slang? You’ve watched reruns of SNL’s The Californians, debunked all the common stereotypes, and know better than to refer to the state as “Cali”—but there’s so much more than that. The southern end of the Golden State has unique lingo influenced by weather, traffic, surfing, Tinseltown, and a handful of strange fun facts. We know you can walk the walk; it’s time to talk the talk.

Using "like" is a hallmark of Valley Girl lingo that serves as a filler. It's like, totally relatable.

Like 

Let’s start with the obvious. Interjecting the word “like” into sentences without realizing is SoCal speak: 101. The filler word pops up in any casual conversation adding rhythm, tone, and dynamics the way “um” or “er” might. Originating in the San Fernando Valley, ‘like’ is used across the board.

Example: Basically anything Cher from Clueless says, “So, okay, you’re probably thinking is this, like a Noxema commercial, or what?”

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Angeleno

“Angeleno” is one of the basics of Southern California slang. This is a term used to describe those who hail from the City of Angels or have lived there for a long time at least. If you want to sound like an L.A. native when you speak, use this word. But overuse it, and people will start figuring out you’re probably not an Angeleno.

Example: “Is he from here?” “Yeah, he’s an Angeleno through and through.”

Originating in 60s surfer culture, "stoked" is when you're super excited for something. We're pretty stoked to go on a road trip this summer.

Stoked

Sure, you can stoke a fire, but being stoked is way more fun. This California slang term was born at the best surf spots and grew even more popular when the documentary The Endless Summer came onto the scene. From then on, whenever you’re excited in SoCal, you’re stoked.

Example: “I’m so stoked for Tara’s birthday party tomorrow.”

Shred 

If you want to compliment someone’s surfing, skating, or skiing activities, you use the word “shred”. When someone tells you that you shredded some waves, go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back.

Example: “You legit shredded those waves, dude.”

Ya'll want to post up at my place later? Or do you prefer to post up here for a while until we decide where to go? That's how you use "post up."

Post Up

There are plenty of ways to make plans with your friends. You can use “let’s hang”, “come through,” “let’s hang out”, etc, but there’s one more way to say it—“post up. This slang term basically means to chill somewhere. 

Example: “Want to post up at my place until she shows up?”

The 101

Southern California has long been famous for its congested highways. It’s reported that SoCal residents spend an average of 119 hours a year stuck in traffic. And while highways used to be called specific names, it became increasingly difficult to keep up with them—more major roads were being added at lightning speed. To avoid confusion, locals just started putting “the” before any highway.

Example: “I’m running late again, I’m stuck on The 101.”

Despite the fact that "dude" originated from surfer culture, it is now used all over the world as a term of endearment.

Dude 

While this slang word is used all over the Golden State, it’s particularly popular in SoCal. “Dude” was popularized by surfer culture and gained more than one meaning as people began using it more often. The California slang word is used as a term of endearment, a cheer of excitement, or simply means “hey”, “wait”, or “no way.” Just watch The Big Lebowski and you’ll know how to use it. 

Example: “I passed all my exams” “Dude, congrats!”

Gnarly

Something that’s gnarled is knobby and knotty, like an old tree branch or a frayed rope. But in Southern California lingo, “gnarly” describes a wave that is difficult, dangerous, and awesome. The water in the wave literally appears curled and messy, and if you can ride it—well, gnarly, dude.

Example: “Wow man, that wave was pretty gnarly.”

Imagine going to the library to study but forgot to bring the material. All of a sudden, your friend shows up with it. Phew, that came in clutch!

Clutch

When someone comes in clutch, that means they unexpectedly have or do the one thing that saves the day. For instance, if you forgot your sunglasses on a hot summer’s day but your friend has an extra pair in his backpack, that’s clutch for sure. 

Example: “That pizza really came in clutch, I was starving.”

The Industry

Vague references to “the industry” in L.A. might be a little confusing for a newcomer. When someone says they work in “the industry”, they most likely don’t mean that they’re an industrial worker. Instead, they belong to a different kind of labor union consisting of actors, directors, producers, musiciansbasically anyone from the entertainment industry.

Example: “Wow, did you know she founded a production company?” “ Yea, she’s pretty high up in the industry.”

Hoping to star in the next Game of Thrones? The best time to seek for breakout roles is during pilot season.

Pilot Season

You might hear your friends in the industry go on and on about pilot season—a time when new TV shows come to life, and actors seek to get cast in what they hope will be the next Friends. Pilot season typically occurs in the first four months of the year, however, streaming services have made TV debuts a year-round thing.

Example: “Everyone knows the best time to get discovered is during pilot season.”

The Santa Anas 

Santa Ana is a city in Southern California known for harsh, hot, and dry winds that come down from the high-pressure air masses in the Great Basin. The downslope winds are the subject of an urban legend, with many associating the weather pattern with higher crime rates, allergies, and fraying nerves.

Example: “I was wondering why he's been very moody recently, then I figured it’s the Santa Anas.”

You might be familiar with the term “poser”, meaning someone who tries to be something they're not. "Kook" is the surfer lingo for that word.

Kook

He wears goggles while surfing, paddles with the nose of his board pointed skywards, and smiles at you as he snakes your wave. If you’ve encountered such a creature in SoCal, hit them where it hurts—call them a kook. This term was popularized by surfer dudes and is used to describe someone who tries a little too hard while interfering with somebody else’s fun.

Example: “Oh my god, that guy is wearing his wetsuit in the market.” “Gosh, what a kook.”

Heavy

If you hear something described as “heavy” in SoCal, you should know that it has nothing to do with weight. Instead, the slang term is used to talk about something emotionally difficult, serious, or sad.

Example: “My golden retriever has been pretty sick this week.” “Wow, that’s got to be heavy, man. I’m sorry.”

Something that's excellent or very impressive is "bomb." That new restaurant in Downtown L.A. is bomb!

Bomb 

Even though it was used in the 60s, the word “bomb” didn’t gain its modern meaning up until the ‘90s. This California slang word is used for life’s simplest pleasures—music, movies, food, dairy-free ice cream, and more—meaning excellent, cool, or really good.

Example: “Did you see the new Marvel movie? “Yeah, it was bomb.”

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