New York City Lingo Every Tourist Needs to Know


If you’re planning on visiting New York City in the near future, you’ll probably want to master some of the unique lingo that NYC natives have cultivated here for generations. New York isn’t the easiest city to navigate in the world, but getting a grasp on local slang before a visit certainly makes the process easier. Here are just a few popular slang words from NYC, and why they can make your next visit to New York City a breeze.


As we’ll soon see, New Yorkers love abbreviating terms for different areas of their city. A fashionable area of lower Manhattan with a world-class film festival, TriBeCa is actually short for the “Triangle Below Canal Street.” Home to bankers from Goldman Sachs and chic bistros, the area commands some of the highest rents in Manhattan.

Regular Coffee

In NYC, ordering a “regular coffee” will get you a brew with milk and two sugars. Don’t sweat it if you take your coffee black, however; just be sure to specify your order at the deli counter. Unfortunately, doing so may just identify you as an outsider to the city!


Used to describe a small but fashionable area “North of Little Italy,” Nolita is a great place to get away from the touristy bustle of nearby SoHo. If you’re looking for bohemian cafes and charming bookstores, Nolita is a wonderful area to take a stroll and get a bite to eat.


Popularized by Pharrell Williams’s song of the same name, the term “fronting” is NYC slang for putting on a front or pretending to be what you’re not. You probably don’t want to be accused of “fronting” while visiting New York! In NYC, unpretentiousness is a big part of the city’s ethos of social equality.

Alphabet City

If you hear someone referring to Alphabet City while on a visit to NYC, you should know that they aren’t referring to a mythical land from a children’s book. The term Alphabet City refers to an area of lower Manhattan in which avenues are demarcated by letter names.

Once upon a time, Avenue A and similar streets were known as dangerous places to visit; now they’re home to fashionable restaurants and art galleries. Musician (and one-time Park Slope, Brooklyn dweller) Elliott Smith wrote a song (“Alphabet Town”) about this area in the 1990s.


To New Yorkers, asking for a schmear at the local deli is the proper way to order a bagel with cream cheese. Popularized by Jewish immigrants from Poland, this simple and inexpensive dish became an NYC staple in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Local lore has it that New York City bagels are the best in the world.

On Line

When you hear New Yorkers refer to being “on line,” they’re not talking about using the Internet. “On line” simply means being “in line” or “in a queue.”


Short for the Museum of Modern Art, MOMA represents the pinnacle of the New York art establishment. If you’re a fan of great New York City artists like Andy Warhol or Mark Rothko, a stop here is a must.

The City

New York City may encompass five boroughs, but to NYC natives, only Manhattan is referred to as “the city.”


A recent addition to NYC street slang, the word “thirsty” is a pejorative term that refers to people who are desperate for attention.


While it may bring to mind pleasant memories of a Disney film, the term “DUMBO” in NYC simply refers to a fashionable area of Brooklyn known for its position “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” Home to some of NYC’s most elite art galleries, the neighborhood is a vibrant example of New York’s world-class cultural scene.


Once the stomping ground of artists and composers like Philip Glass and Steve Reich, the area known as SoHo (short for “South of Houston Street”) started attracting visual artists in the 1950s and 1960s due to its plethora of inexpensive loft spaces.

By the 1980s, however, gentrification was already making it difficult for struggling artists to afford the area’s high rents. Still boasting some of New York’s highest real estate prices, you probably won’t find many impoverished artists here anymore, but SoHo’s artistic and bohemian vibe still attracts visitors in droves.