Californian Slang and Sayings

By Lauren Anderson

I am not a California native. I was born and raised in the Chicagoland area. However, after living in Southern California for close to five years, I have gotten used to one of the common words and phrases used here. Some of these are not California-specific, and can aid any non-native English speaker in communicating with or understanding others on the West Coast.

“Angeleno” is a noun, and represents a native or inhabitant of Los Angeles. This is sometimes used for those living outside of Los Angeles, if they are still in the Los Angeles region. Even city documents will mention implementing changes for Angelenos.

“Cali” is an abbreviation of “California” that only non-Californians use. Nearly every other U.S. state calls California “Cali,” but Californians hate this. Avoid using “Cali” if you want to seem like a native Californian.

“Rad” was used more frequently by Californians a few years ago, but you may still hear it today. This is used as an adjective to describe something that is cool. Northern Californians often say “hella rad”, meaning very cool.

“Gnarly” is used predominantly by surfers in California, but because I lived in Huntington Beach for a few years (also known as Surf City), I have heard it quite a bit. Gnarly is often used to describe good waves, and can also be used to describe something that is cool. Gnarly, rad, and “sick,” are interchangeable slang terms, that are generally used in a positive way.

If someone is excited for something, you may hear them say that they are “stoked.” But if they are not stoked, they may “bail,” meaning that they will skip something; not show up, or leave. This phrase is heard in California but can be heard in certain places around the United States.

While many states use the saying, “April showers bring May flowers,” California generally does not get rain in the Spring. Instead, you will hear, “June gloom” in California. This refers to the sky being cloudy and overcast most of the day, especially in the mornings. By July, Southern California usually returns to its normal sunny self.

As you can see, a lot of the sayings Californians use revolve around the weather and environment. Another instance of this is how when the weather gets hot and windy, people will frequently blame the “Santa Ana winds.” The Santa Ana winds come from the inland desert areas, and usually bring strong heat waves and winds.

“Yeah no” is used as a response to someone, and it simply means no. “No yeah” on the other hand, means yeah or yes. There is really no reason that these are used in place of yes and no, but sure enough, it is used. This phrase is more of an American colloquialism than just California-specific, but can still be heard around California.

There are also some words that Californians use to describe things in place of other words. A topic that is “heavy” is depressing, serious, or intense. Being a “drag” means to be someone or something who brings down the mood, or is boring; the opposite of fun. A “bum” is often referring to homeless people, and it comes from an abbreviated version of “bummer.” It is similar to a “lowlife” or someone who does not provide for themselves, or is a disappointment or annoyance. Talking about bums can be heavy, or a drag.

There are many other phrases and terms used in California, but these are a few that could be confusing to those who were not born and raised in California. Hopefully you’ll have a rad time living as an Angeleno, talking to surfers about the gnarly waves.

Photo from Unsplash

Featured image by Sterling Davis on Unsplash

Lauren is a senior majoring in Cultural Anthropology and minoring in Spatial Studies and Urban Sustainable Planning. She grew up in Chicago, but moved to Huntington Beach during high school. Last year, she lived in Paris where she enjoyed traveling and learning new languages and cultures. She speaks French and some Italian. In her free time, she likes exploring LA, listening to music, reading, visiting museums, cooking new recipes, watching the Chicago Cubs and Blackhawks games, and playing piano.