USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘regional slang’
Folk speech

Hella, Grody, Jank

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the performer (EC) and I (ZM).

ZM: Is there any like, NorCal slang?

EC: Ooo slang. Like, “grody,” and umm “hella.” I know a lot of these have like spread because of the Internet, but they’re like OG NorCal I would say. Yeah, “grody” and “hella” or like… “jank” or “janky.” That’s one. Those are my best three I would say.

ZM: Okay. And how would you use…all three?

EC: Umm. Okay “hella” is like basically what it sounds like. And it started in Davis. Which is like fifteen minutes from my house. Umm…and… they’re really obsessed with it. They tried to get a like formal unit of measurement. Like a prefix as like the hella. So it was like ten to the like 36 or something. So it would be like, “I have a hellagram of” like something. But, like that didn’t pan out I don’t think. Um, “grody” is like gross I suppose. Um… just kind of like… nasty. “Janky” is like… not necessarily like suspicious, but like… something like about…like if you had like a really old car that like looked like it was about to fall apart, like that would be a janky ass car. (laughs)


Context: This is from a conversation I started with EC originally about her German traditions.


Background: EC is a sophomore studying at the University of Southern California. She is of German descent. She was born and raised in Sacramento.


Analysis: I am from Florida and I had heard of all of these slang terms before coming to California. I did not know that they supposedly came from NorCal nor that there was an attempt to create an official unit of the “hella.” EC seems to firmly believe that these words all originated in Northern California. It’s plausible, but also very difficult to tell.



Folk speech

New Zealand Slang


“Do you have any slang in New Zealand that you don’t hear here at all?”

Oh yeah, we have lots.

Togs – swimsuits (apparently the old english form for swimsuit)

Jandals – flipflops

Motorway – freeway

Cuzzie – friends

Scarfies – people from Dunedien

Jafa – (Just another fucking Aucklander) People from Auckland

Stubbies – really short pants that men wear

Chur – thank you. I lot of people say chur instead of thanks.

Wops wops – middle of nowhere

“Is there a reason for any of this?”

No. Well some of them maybe

Westies/Bogans – People from west Aukland but it’s like dumb unwashed hippies

Munted – Broken

Oh, and we call ketchup tomato sauce.

Informant & Context:

My informant for this piece is a USC student from New Zealand who lived in Auckland for 18 years. The above are popular youth phrases in New Zealand whose meaning does not carry over to the US.


The most interesting ones of these to me are Jafa, and Westies because they are discriminatory phrases about people from Auckland, the city my informant is from. The previous pieces of folklore I had acquired from this person suggested a greater assimilation of culture between different peoples in New Zealand, but these phrases suggest that there are stereotype based rivalries between different geographic groups in New Zealand. Though I did not get one, I’m assuming there is also a word that Auklanders use to insult the people that call them Jafas or Westies.

Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

New York Slang


“Um my friends and I theorized a lot about the probable etymology of such words [New York slang], for example there was ‘brick,’ uh meaning cold, and we guessed that that was uh, that dated back to a black person who walked outside when it was cold, tried to pronounce ‘brisk’ and instead said ‘brick.’ Uh then we also had ‘gas,’ which means to lie about something, as in ‘you’re gassin’ me,’ uh which we theorized just as the lack of substance of the gaseous state. Uhh we also had um “catching the whops,” which is one of my favorites. It means “to get a blowjob.” I don’t know where that’s from, but I heard that it dates back to early 90’s Bronx. Um and we also had ‘boys,’ so that means an area is dangerous if you say ‘it’s boys.’ And that has roots in ‘boys in blue,’ which is meant to be police. Other variations on it are ‘hot boys’ as in ‘yo this is hot boys, let’s not spark this blunt here.’ And that brings up another one. We call weed ‘buddha.’ My guess on that one is that uh many stoners are perceived as being casually in to Buddhism, you know.”


The informant, who is from the Bronx, moved from the private school that he had attended his whole life, to public school, when he was a sophomore in high school. In public school, he encountered all sorts of slang words that he had never heard before.


This account reveals a blason populaire that the informant and his friends had about African American speech. In regards to the etymology of these slang terms, however, I have no theories of my own to posit. A greater question is raised, though, from this inquiry into New York slang, and that is, why is it so unique? I have talked to many people from other parts of the country, and I’m familiar, even if I don’t say them, with all of their slang words. New York slang, on the other hand, is its own world. I had not heard any of these slang words before I met the informant.

Folk speech


The informant is a college student from Wilmington, North Carolina. He has studied Spanish and Portuguese and has spent a considerable amount of time in both Spain and Brazil. This piece of lore started in Brazil.

“Guyspeak” is a group of slang terms used by the informant and his group of friends. It is based off of the broken English of Brazilian a man with whom the informant spent time while in Rio de Janeiro. This man called everyone “guy” and would consistently confuse “is”, “are”, and “am”. The informant, as well as those with him, liked how this sounded and adopted it themselves, even though they knew English perfectly well. Some examples the informant gave of Guyspeak are as follows:

“Hey guy. You are come to market?”

“I are not happy.”

Upon returning to the United States from Brazil, the informant and his continued to use Guyspeak. This eventually caught on with friends who never went to Brazil or met the man on whom it was based. Now, it has spread to many people who don’t even know where it started. This way of speaking has caught on mostly for its humor. Although it could be taken as offensive or making fun of foreigners, the informant insists that he is friends with the person and know

Folk speech


A friend who has moved around the United States frequently during lifetime noted that there was a vast number of ways to refer to cigarettes.

In New Orleans, where he lived the most substantial part of his life, they were referred to as “Joes” :

“When I first got there people would ask, ‘Can I bum a Joe?’ ”

After his confusion subsided he realized Joe was not a person, but merely another coy way to ask a stranger to donate a cigarette. In different parts of the country he has also encountered:

Stoges, stogies, cigs, fags, and cancer sticks.

The regional renaming of cigarettes is a common phenomenon, particularly in places were smoking is still deeply entrenched in the culture.  People use these alternate terms to identify themselves, and potential test others, as frequent smokers who are intimate with the terminology of smoking of their region. Opting to use a term other than cigarettes is also used when someone is “bumming” – asking for a cigarette without anything in return. It is implied that if you yourself are a smoker you will understand the need to acquire a cigarette when someone has to ask to bum. People don’t necessarily want to bum, so if they are it is because they absolutely are fiending. As a good smoker, identified by your knowledge of alternate terms, you are expected to comply.