It used to be that you’d know a New Yorker the moment he or she began to talk. That has changed; the New York accent is dying out, as The New York Times reported. But, there are plenty of holdover phrases that point to the history of Noo Yawk tawk. Rough Guides author and native New Yorker AnneLise Sorensen takes a look at New York in translation and highlights some of the best places to experience New Yorkese.
Leaving Brooklyn? Fuggedaboudit! That’s what you’ll see on exit route signs around the borough. Though the New York accent is slowly disappearing, it still thrives in pockets of Brooklyn, particularly those with an Irish and Italian legacy. Toast the past in Bensonhurst, with an Italian feast at the classic La Palina, which has been around since 1930 – and looks like it, too. The old-world dining room, with tables topped with crisp linens, wouldn’t look out of place in the The Godfather. (In fact, neither would the waiters.) Post-dinner, head out on an Irish pub-crawl in Bay Ridge, a short cab ride away. Our favourite first stop is the Wicked Monk, and, after a Guinness (or two) you’ll no doubt agree. Is there a better borough than Brooklyn? No way – fuhgeddaboudit!
Toidy-toid ohn toid
Sure, no one says this anymore, but it captures in four words the history of the New York accent, which was once beamed into TVs across the country, thanks to shows like All in the Family. This pronunciation of “thirty-third and third” arrived courtesy of the Irish: linguists explain that the changing of “er” to “oi” comes from Gaelic. These days, you’ll occasionally hear faded versions of the accent in historic corners of the outer boroughs, and in Manhattan, a wander down “Toid” Avenue will bring you to many Irish pubs, like Fitzgerald’s Pub at 25th Street, where you might catch an old-timer breaking into New Yorkese after a couple of pints. Or, pay tribute to the bygone era at one of the city’s many speakeasy-inspired cocktail joints where you might just hear some classic New York tunes, like the 1926 Ben Ryan ditty, Down on Thoity Thoid and Thoid.
Get outta heyah!
Or, if you really want to make a point, “get the **** outta heyah!” Like most slang, this has various meanings. The literal one is, of course, an order to leave immediately. But it’s more often used to express wonderment and disbelief. Example: [person from Ohio] “I love New York, but could never afford it. My rent back in Columbus is $700 a month for a one-bedroom apartment.” [Person from New York] “Get outta heyah!”
For a pronunciation guide on “heyah,” visit our Street-by-street movie guide to New York City and check out the scene from Midnight Cowboy, where Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) utters his famous line, “I’m walkin’ heyah!” when a taxi swerves into him as he crosses 57th Street. The way some New York City cabbies drive, you’ll probably find yourself yelling the same thing while you’re here.
On line, not in line
The New York accent may have become more homogenized, but there is one key way you can tell that someone’s from the city: ask them about the line they’re standing in, or rather, on. In New York, you’re “on line” at Shake Shack in Madison Square Park (check the “Shack Cam” to plan your visit) and the Empire State Building; everywhere else in the country, you’re “in line.” In short, look for a line, and you’ll hear the phrase. In addition to the above, you can find long and sometimes surly lines at any Starbucks bathroom in the vicinity of Times Square; at the Calexico food truck in SoHo at the height of lunch hour (proof that there’s a dismal lack of quality Mexican food in NYC); and at the JFK Airport taxi stand, well, always.
If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere
You may not hear New Yorkers saying this, but they are thinking it. It has also become one of the more parodied phrases associated with the city. The Village Voice skewered it in an article last year titled, “‘Only in New York!’ and Six Other New York Sayings That Are Completely False.” They came up with a list of New Yorkers who have made it here, but would be lucky if they lasted five minutes anywhere else. Top of the list? Donald Trump. You’re fired!