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SoCal dictionary

Posted in Style & Travel

Malibu pier beachI will never forget the expression on my mild-mannered South Carolinian assistant at A&M, a few days into my new ob, when I asked him to find me a rubber.


The poor guy had just spent two days driving me back and forth from my hotel, and scouring the city for a bed to put in my empty apartment, while I waited for my furniture to cross an ocean and a continent. I detected more than alarm in his saucer eyes and I quickly realized my mistake.

“No, Jeff, not that kind of rubber. I mean an eraser.”
Huge sigh of relief on his part and a story he is, I am sure, still milking to this day.

It took me a while to switch from British to American English, a process further complicated by words that are only used in Southern California (and no, we do not call it Cali, ever). Because English is not my first language, I tend to adapt fast, by osmosis and imitation. As a foreigner, you want to fit in, so I have always been very attuned to how people speak.

A couple of days ago, my stepson posted the photo of a dish he had made at the restaurant where he works, and he captioned it as “dank”. Sofagirl replied that, as dank means, among other things, stale, she hoped it wasn’t the case.

Maybe time to explain the Californian lingo.

I don’t use many of these words myself as I feel they are more at home in the mouths of much younger people but I have become Californian enough to not even register when they get used in conversation.

So, here we go. If you are heading towards California this Summer, you will feel a little more at home knowing them.

  • Everybody is either a dude or a bro’, often regardless of gender;
  • Sick has absolutely nothing to do with lack of health: rather, it’s the preferred term to deem something cool, as in “that dinner was sick, bro’;
  • Things are not awesome but dank. I think it originally used to refer to good weed but it has now become an all-purpose adjective to express goodness;
  • Sweet means great, as in, if you said, I just won a million dollar, I would reply that it is sweet;
  • Any of the above are reinforced, often, with totally. Totally has also become a way of assenting or agreeing, bypassing the humble yes;
  • If you want to leave some place, rather in a hurry, you are bailing;
  • If something is stupid or doesn’t feel quite right, it is totally sketchy. Can also be used to describe a human;
  • I will not ask you to borrow money for a cappuccino but I will bum it off you;
  • If I tell you I am stoked about your upcoming party, don’t get alarmed: I am just excited. I could also be psyched;
  • If something is intense, you will describe it as gnarly.
One of L.A.' scarier freeway interchanges
One of L.A.’ scarier freeway interchanges

Also, for the uninitiated, it is good to know some lingo etiquette that applies across the board and across all ages: when we talk about a freeway, we will always preface the number with “the”, as in take the 405 to the 101 to the 118.

When I first got a car and, long before Waze, I was at the mercy of radio stations to find out the state of my morning commute, and I was mighty puzzled by the term “sig alert”. I realized pretty fast that if there is a sig alert somewhere, I should do my level best to go around the area or just call in sick but why it was called sig alert has never been clarified to me. I looked it up and it apparently has something to do with a dj from the 60s now fallen into obscurity.

Somehow the concept of low clouds or fog doesn’t apply to our weather – we call it marine layer.

And, finally, we don’t measure distance in miles, nor kilometers but, rather, in minutes. Yesterday I visited a friend of a friend in Hancock Park and, when she asked me where I lived and I answered, she was dismayed “it is so far! It must have taken you an hour!”. It had. And when I map on my phone where I have to go, I never even glance at the mileage but immediately fixate on the minutes, because 5 miles is an immaterial number if it is going to take me two hours.

Any SoCal residents, what am I missing?

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8 Comments

  1. It’s quite interesting learning all these differences between different English-speaking countries (and within said countries). We call erasers “rubbers” in Australia too – well, at least until some stage of adolescence when people become immature…
    I reckon “totally”, “sweet” and “bail” would be understood by most here too.

    August 16, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Ozzy English has some entertaining idioms too, right? I mean, besides mate, which seems to be the only Australian defining word on these shores.

      August 16, 2016
      |Reply
  2. This is the sort of post I wanted to read, about differences in American accents. What shocks me is how many of those expressions are in common parlance in the UK – almost all of them, especially amongst younger people. We don’t do ‘dank’ or ‘sig alerts’ though.

    August 16, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Some of them have been in use for so long here that I have no doubt they influenced English speakers all over. British English, and all its relatives within the isle, are still the most fun to decipher. Am still thinking about me ducks.

      August 16, 2016
      |Reply
  3. What do you call a fizzy drink like Coke or 7Up? Pop or soda?

    August 16, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Definitely a soda. The first time someone mentioned a pop I had no idea what they were talking about, until someone pointed out it is mainly used on the East Coast.

      August 16, 2016
      |Reply
  4. Happy to discover some of the more salient terms are actually in my daily wheel house. Maybe I’m not a dinosaur..yet. 😉

    August 15, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Hippest middle-aged women ever, we are…

      August 16, 2016
      |Reply

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