Local Lingo and Lore in New York City

Fit in with NYC natives by learning these key terms and facts.
Skyline and Skyscrapers of Manhattan, New York

Skyline and Skyscrapers of Manhattan, New York

New York City Manhattan Times Square night

By: Paul McGinniss
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The description of NYC as the "Big Apple" originated as a horse-racing term in the 1920s when winning a horse race in NYC was referred to as winning the "Big Apple," or the large prize. Around the same time, jazz musicians used the term to describe playing in New York City, meaning, like a horse winning a big race, playing in NYC was a big deal and the goal of any musician really wanting to make it to the big time.

John Fitzgerald, a writer for the New York Morning Telegraph, picked up the term and wrote a column called "Around the Big Apple" which further established it. Big Apple was memorialized in a 1971 New York tourism campaign. In 1997, the corner of 54th and Broadway in Manhattan was named "Big Apple Corner" in recognition of Fitzgerald, who lived near there for many years.

Here are more interesting facts and terms to know when living in New York City:


  • Don’t say Long Island City when going to that hot neighborhood of Queens just across the East River from Manhattan. The locals just say the letters separately, L-I-C.
  • Never say Museum of Modern Art. It’s MOMA. As in Paloma.
  • Never say Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. Locals call it Sixth Avenue.
  • The John F Kennedy International Airport is referred to as JFK.
  • The New York Times newspaper is simply “The Times.”
  • New Yorkers wait “on line,” not “in line.”
  • A bodega is the corner store.
  • New Yorkers don’t buy pizza, they “grab a slice.”
  • Alphabet City is a once-rough, now-chic area of the Lower East Side in Manhattan. The name comes from the A, B, C and D avenues in this area.
  • Schmeer is cream cheese on a bagel.
  • The Bedford Stuyvesant neighborhood in Brooklyn is Bed-Stuy.
  • Locals call the Park Slope neighborhood in Brooklyn “the slope.”
  • The area south of Park Slope is now called the “south slope” because as it gentrified, the affiliation with Park Slope just north made it more attractive.
  • "Top of the Rock" is the observation center at the top of Rockefeller Center.


  • New Yorkers refer to Manhattan as "the city" and almost take pride in living in one of the other boroughs which they distinctly consider "not the city."
  • The slogan “If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere, it's up to you, New York, New York” was memorialized in the 1977 song New York, New York by Fred Ebb and John Kander.
  • Many native New Yorkers do not own cars and a good majority never have owned a car. Some don’t even have a driver’s license. The cost of owning, maintaining and worrying about a car in NYC is so high and the public transportation is so readily available that, unlike most areas in the U.S., a car is not desired or necessary.
  • Tar Beach was coined in the 1940s and means rooftop. (With the greening of NYC and many green roofs emerging, tar beach might go the way of the phrase 23 skidoo which means leaving quickly.)
  • Natives rarely eat Italian food in Little Italy or Chinese food in Chinatown.
  • Many natives never go to Broadway theater shows (unless they work on Broadway). More go to see one of the many excellent off- and off-off-Broadway theater shows as one of their family or friends is probably performing in it and trying to get their big break.
  • NYC has some amazing street food. Don’t be fooled by the silver carts. Real New Yorkers avoid street carts for breakfast food. The carts may be cheaper, but the breakfast food is usually better at a cafe or take-out bakery and worth the extra cost. However, beginning with lunch, locals know where to get the best falafel or gyro or soup on the street. Look for the lines at lunch or dinner times. If New Yorkers are willing to wait, you know it’s worth it.
  • NYC natives are nicer than most outsiders think.

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