If you’ve ever watched a mobster movie set in New York—and let’s face it, most of them are—you probably think that talking like a New Yorker is as easy as dropping a few Rs and smushing whole sentences into one word.
The dialect particular to movie depictions of New York City’s Italian-American community is one of the best recognized in the country, but it doesn’t simply consist of the stereotypical and effusive usage of fuhgeddabouddit (translation: forget about it) and watta (water).
How to speak New York
New York English carries what linguists call a non-rhotic accent, with speakers often dropping Rs that are followed by another consonant—turning forget into fuhget and girl into goil. The patois is also distinctive for its high-gliding vowels, which turn words like talk and caught into tawk and cawt.
Not sure you’re ready to change that much in your own speech? Try dropping a few of these words into conversation instead.
Wait a second, we all say “hero,” don’t we?
Indeed, the word hero is not unique to New York, but its usage is a little bit different in the Empire State. New Yorkers head to the deli for lunch to grab a hero—aka “a long sandwich made on a small loaf of bread or long roll that’s been cut in half lengthwise.” Maybe you call it a hoagie, a sub, or a grinder?
pie & slice
New York style pizza is legendary—that thin crust, that greasy mozzarella forming long strings that you have to scoop into your mouth. If you want to order this Italian classic like a true New Yorker, you’ll need to ask for it by the pie (the whole pizza) or the slice (just one portion). Why pie? Etymologists have a hunch the Italian loanword pizza might come from a Greek word for, you guessed it, pie.
No, we don’t mean online …
While New Yorkers do get online like the rest of America when they want to use Dictionary.com, they get on line when they queue up to order a hero at the deli or a pie at the local pizzeria. If it sounds strange, that’s because most Americans in other parts of the country get in line to do the same thing.
There are thousands of cities in the United States, but if you’re in New York, saying you’re “going to the city” can mean just one thing: You’re headed to New York City. The largest city by population in the United States, NYC has no other city competition to folks who call the Empire State home.
Speaking of the Empire State, people who only know the New York they’ve seen on TV are often surprised to learn that there’s a whole lot more to New York State than the city.
NY state stretches across 54,556 square miles (of which just 302.6 represent the five boroughs of New York City). Folks who live in the lower parts of the state refer to areas north of them as upstate. But be careful! Even New Yorkers can’t agree on just where upstate begins.
Do you call the home of Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi New Jersey? So does most of America!
But New Yorkers almost always drop the new … and with their non-rhotic accents, it tends to come out sounding more like Joisey. How exotic.
Joisey is known for its parkway, Pennsylvania for its turnpike, and California has its freeways. But, in addition to the interstates and smaller highways, New Yorkers like to talk about the thruway, “a toll road that will take drivers all around the state.”
If you’re hitting a New York grocery store to stock up on bread and milk before a storm, you could say you’re grocery shopping. But if you want to sound like a local, you’ll say you’re food shopping.
Side note: New Yorkers pronounce grocery with an S sound in the middle, not an Sh.