Welcome to the United Slang of America. In order to create the map above, we used a layered, multistep approach. First, we called up some linguists who helped us make an initial list of unique words that are in one way or another associated with a particular state. That got us off to a coruscant start (linguists!). Next we researched online message board discussions about zany terms that have gained popularity in different states. We also surveyed friends and colleagues on the words they most associate with their home states and polled Slate readers on Facebook. Ultimately, we built up groupings of anywhere from five to 10 viable options for each state and then, well, argued a lot. The competition was fierce, the results certain to be controversial.
Before turning to the map, please allow us to briefly note the following: First, our selections are not put forth as the definitive “right answer” in each case, but rather represent our favorite word from among several worthy choices. (That said, please feel free to take our nominations as irrefutable dogma.) Second, in many instances, the word chosen as a representative for one state is also used by those living in other states. This is to be expected, of course, considering the ease of interstate travel and the tendency for some uniquely regional words to spread over time. Third, you’ll notice that some of these “words” aren’t words at all, but rather expressions or short phrases. In those instances where an expression or phrase was better or more interesting than the top one-word option, we decided against hewing narrowly to a single-word rule. Finally, ties were broken based on things like which word was the most fun to say or whether any of the word choices included especially cool letters like z’s or w’s.
With all of that out of the way, now it’s your turn to let us know how we did. We stand by our picks. But if you’ve lived in Kansas for 75 years and have never heard anyone say “shucky darn,” or you grew up in Mississippi and have no idea what “nabs” are, by all means be heard. Of course, there are some things that we feel strongly about. For instance, we will shed no tears for Southern California on the whole “hella” thing. (No SoCal word beats it. End of story.) Similarly, nothing from the eastern portion of Pennsylvania ever had a chance of prevailing over “yinz.” And, for all the pedants out there, please know that we realize some people in and around D.C. spell “bama” with two m’s. We made a call there, we feel good about it, and we’re moving forward. Enjoy the map and fear the glawackus.
Special thanks to Carnegie Mellon student Zora Gilbert for her research assistance on this project.
cattywampus (adjective): crooked, tipped over, sideways, crazy, messed up
Who came up with this cattywampus campaign slogan?
sourdough (noun): a longtime resident of Alaska
That sourdough is super old and kind of smelly, but he’s got a good heart.
snowbird (noun): a visitor who flocks to Arizona to escape the cold winter elsewhere
Here are two things that snowbirds love: playing golf terribly and telling everybody back home that it’s “a dry heat.”
tump (verb): to tip over or dump out
We’re about to hit this bump, so hold your drink or it will tump.
hella (adverb): very or extremely; (adjective): many, much, a lot of
That telenovela is hella melodramatic.
fourteener (noun): a mountain more than 14,000 feet above sea level
So far on this road trip I’ve counted 13 fourteeners!
glawackus (noun): a mysterious and ferocious animal/monster of local legend
Enjoy this map while you can, people, because the glawackus is real—and real hungry.
baggin’ up (expression): to laugh loudly or for an extended period
The clerk at the grocery started baggin’ up when he noticed all the packages of bacon Jerry had placed on the counter.
toad-strangler (noun): a heavy or especially severe rain storm
That rainstorm ended up being a real toad-strangler.
dingnation (noun): damnation, hell
Getting stuck at this impromptu choir bell concert is akin to being trapped in dingnation.
aloha (noun): greeting/farewell; (adjective): welcoming, friendly, kind
whistle pig (noun): a prairie dog
I tried to chase down the whistle pig in the yard, but it dove into a hole and disappeared.
grabowski (noun): a hard-working, tough, blue-collar individual
A true grabowski has no time for your linguistic squabbles.
Hoosier (noun): Someone from or living in the state of Indiana, or a country bumpkin, depending on who is using the word and how.
This is an example of how to use “Hoosier” in a sentence when you are not from Indiana and don’t really understand this whole thing and are afraid of angering people by crafting something that will be offensive in some way.
kybo (noun): port-a-potty
Whoa, I gotta go! Where’s the kybo?
shucky darn (expression): an exclamation that loosely equates to “wow!”
Shucky darn, that’s a yucky barn!
chughole (noun): a pothole
Our Ford Fiesta might struggle with that chughole.
banquette (noun): sidewalk
Estelle regretted wearing high heels after she tripped on a crack in the banquette and dropped her baguette.
ayuh (expression): yes
Ayuh. Nu-uh! Ayuh.
hon (noun): short for honey
My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hon.
wicked (adverb): very; (adjective): awesome, great, etc.
That Broadway play was wicked!
yooper (noun): a person from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
The Michigan state trooper pulled over the speeding yooper.
uff da (expression): a brief statement of surprise or disgust
Uff da, was Jesse Ventura really the governor at one point?
nabs (noun): peanut butter crackers
I’ve got tabs on the nabs, so they are not up for grabs.
Missouri (noun): a state name that has four different pronunciations
How do you say Missouri properly?
graupel (noun): snow-like precipitation that resembles tiny ice balls
That rain was pretty annoying, but this graupel that stings when it hits you is just absurd.
runza (noun): a pastry consisting mainly of ground beef and cabbage
Runzas seem like they would be completely gross, but they are surprisingly delectable.
pogonip (noun): a dense, icy fog
Whatever you do, never attempt to use a pogo stick in the pogonip.
poky (adjective): scary or eerie
I can’t decide whether that Donald Trump impersonator is hokey or poky.
jug handle (noun): an intersection that forces you to turn right in order to turn left
Why can’t Springsteen call up Christie and have him do something about all these stupid jug handles in Jersey?
christmas (noun): green and red chili mix
Please pass the christmas—these chips could use some flavor!
mad (adverb): very, exceptionally; (adjective): many or several
De Blasio seems mad chill.
Cackalacky (noun): another name for North Carolina
I had a massive stomachache following our epic road trip to Cackalacky for some pulled-pork sandwiches.
hotdish (noun): a casserole
Trish knew her hotdish was delish.
carry-in (noun): a potluck dinner
What sort of casserole are you going to bring to Carrie Ann’s carry-in?
quakenado (noun): an earthquake that occurs at the same time as a tornado
This quakenado could really use some sharks.
jojos (noun): potato wedges
Guests at the dinner party reported that Joe’s jojos were just so-so.
yinz (noun): you all, you guys
If yinz people from Philly were making this list then maybe you could have gotten “jawn” on here, or something about cheesesteaks, but those are the breaks.
cabinet (noun): milkshake
I can’t believe you hid my chocolate cabinet in the backyard!
surcee (noun): an unexpected gift
She tried to conceal her disappointment at the fruitcake her grandmother had dropped off as a surcee.
chislic (noun): cubed meat
The only available appetizer was the chislic that made me sick.
whirlygust (noun): a strong wind
Just as we were about to complete the house of cards on the back porch a whirlygust rolled through and ruined everything.
hoss (noun): partner, friend
Hey, hoss, would you mind trussing that there pig?
oh my heck (expression): a variant on “oh my God”
Oh my heck, these kids talking in the movie theater are such a pain in the neck!
creemee (noun): soft serve
This chocolate and vanilla swirl creemee is totally dreamy.
might could (verb): can
Virginia might could be for lovers.
jumble sale (noun): a yard/tag sale
Rob’s jumble sale was a smashing success: Someone actually paid real money for all those stupid Beanie Babies he bought back in the day!
bama (noun): a loser or chump
It’s only 9:30 and these bamas are already in their pajamas.
mess (used as a measurement): a mess of
Luckily, we made a mess of banana bread!
TYME machine (noun): an automated teller machine
Where can I find a working TYME machine in this town?
dout (verb): to put out a fire
Don’t dout the fire. For it exists and shall carry on.