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The United States of Slang September 8th, 2015

No matter how long you study the language of another country and no matter how fluent you think you are, if you visit that country, you might still find yourself thrown off when the natives use slang in their speech. Every country has its own slang. The Cambridge International Dictionary of English defines slang as “informal language, which…is used by particular groups of people who know each other, and is usually spoken rather than written.” But learning the slang of the United States comes with an additional challenge: while some slang is used across the country, each of the fifty states has specific slang words of their own!

The website Slate recently put together a map of some of the most common and interesting slang words and phrases for each state, and the results were surprising in some cases and completely expected in others. Some states had slang that could definitely only be spoken in that one area, but others used words that the whole country had adopted. Not even a native American English speaker could be expected to know them all!

Here are few that are definitely worth knowing:

AYUH—If you ever go to visit Maine—and you should!—and you ask someone a question and they respond ayuh, that just means they’ve said yes! “Is the beach down that way?” “Ayuh, it’s just past the highway.”

ALOHA—This is from Hawaii, of course! It means many different things, including “hello” and “goodbye.” It’s also not really quite a slang word. Aloha is actually a word in the original Hawaiian language, from long before they ever spoke English or became part of the United States. Aloha! Welcome to beautiful, scenic Maui!”

HON—According to Slate, this shortened version of the endearment “honey” is native to the state of Maryland. But you’ll hear people use this slang word all over the United States. “Would you like another slice of pie, hon? Or a refill on your coffee?”

MAD—This is another word that’s credited to one state but used by many. Apparently New Yorkers invented the concept of using the word mad to mean “very,” “exceptionally,” or “much” rather than its usually understood definition of “angry.” “The Empire State Building is mad tall! I got dizzy just looking up at it!”

CABINET—Apparently in Rhode Island, a cabinet is another word for a milkshake. But I’m not sure I believe that!!

And, of course, no list of slang would be complete without mentioning the word WICKED, the slang word invented by the fine people of Massachusetts!! Wicked can be used as an adjective to describe something absolutely amazing or wonderful (i.e. “That homerun by Big Papi was just wicked! Did you see how high it went?”) or as an adverb meaning “very” (i.e. “My Dunkin’ Donuts coffee was wicked hot this morning! I almost burned my tongue!”)

Check out the rest of the list at Slate.com.

And if you’d like to learn more about how to use slang, think about taking the American Slang course we offer as an elective. It’s a wicked awesome learning experience!

Wicked Witch of the West

This is the Wicked Witch of the West. She is not wicked awesome.