Grammar for Non-New Yorkers

Dictionary. Thesaurus, Style GuidesOn this National Grammar Day, let’s reflect on how those of us from New York City use language to define our geographical lineage.

Probably the most popular New York-ism is how we queue up: The English-speaking world stands in line, except us. We wait on line.

“She thinks who she is” means she thinks she is better than us. Grammatically, that makes no sense, and I rarely use that phrase, but it gets the point across around here.

The rest of America drives on freeways. We use highways and parkways, the difference being that trucks are not permitted on parkways due to the low overpasses.  Recently I was stuck in traffic on a northbound parkway and laughed out loud when I saw a box truck stopped just before an overpass. (An overpass is a flyover in some other countries.)

Cars here are identified by license plates. The other 49 states  apparently call these plates “tags.”

Those cars move toward their destination…except in New York, We say “towards”, with an “s” at the end, the same as much of the Anglophone world.

Recently, my favorite teacher — ok, my daughter — related that some of her suburban students didn’t know what a stoop was. Stoop, as a noun, defines the front of one’s home, be it a house or apartment building. Residents and neighbors often congregate there, creating a sense of community: summer evenings, sitting outside learning all I needed to know about the area and schools, and winters, shoveling snow and taking the kids sledding with the neighbors. I have happy memories of being one of those moms supervising while the children played outside. Once, a car stopped and one of the occupants asked the kids for directions. I ran over and gave the driver shit for asking children for directions. I KNEW this was not a good situation and gave him the directions out of my neighborhood.

That vulgarity? We are not known for gentle language when we speak among our own. Since we are exposed to so many different socioeconomic groups on the day-to-day, we easily glide, as needed, between New York-isms and proper school-and-workplace speech. It’s akin to being bilingual. I strongly advise parents to take their children to work periodically so the next generation internalizes this difference. Read to them and talk about how words are used differently, powerfully and accurately in various regions of the country.

Side note: I love the phrase “y’all” and feel it should become the official plural of “you,” since the word “youse” makes my skin crawl. Thankfully, I rarely hear it.

Our colloquialisms extend far beyond the city boundaries. As more residents move farther and farther away from the actual five boroughs in search of affordable housing, we take our speech patterns with us.

Time may have killed one strangely archaic phrase: When I was a kid and wanted a friend to come out to play, I “called for” her, meaning I went to the friend’s home to ask her to come outside. Years ago, my young daughter complained that nobody was outside to play with. I flippantly said, “So go call for Carrie.” She had no idea what that was so I phoned Carrie’s mother and said I was sending my child over to call for Carrie. The mom knew exactly what I was saying. I watched from the stoop as my little one walked up the street, realizing that this was just one small step towards her future independence.

An independence strengthened by the ability to use the right words and phrases to appeal to her audience, whether in her hometown or not.





8 thoughts on “Grammar for Non-New Yorkers

  1. This is great for me. I’ve never heard any of these phrases, or maybe yes but they didn’t sink in because I’m still learning English.


  2. How interesting. many of the New York-isms you mention are words or phrases that I use. My background is British but I currently live in Canada. I wonder if it’s because New York and Canada are so close.
    Have a great day. 🙂


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