Radical, dude! A Journey Through California Iconic Slang

Grover LaughtonRevisado porNataliia Afonina / más sobre Proceso editorial10 min
Creado: May 27, 2023Última actualización: Dec 26, 2023
California slang

The West Coast is the best coast! It is one of the most desirable destinations for hot and exciting vacations. Beyond its beautiful landscapes and vibrant cities, the Golden State is known for its unique slang. In this article, we’ll explore all the nuances of California slang and learn famous expressions peculiar to locals from SoCal and NorCal.

American Slang 101: All You Need to Know

American English is a dynamic and diverse language, filled with many idioms, renowned expressions, and various accents. Another thing that has already become inherent for Americans is slang. Native speakers incorporate various colloquial words and phrases in everyday conversations to add a unique flavor to their interactions. Most slang expressions are typical for distinct regions, ethnic groups, generations, etc. Let’s discuss some of the most common types of American slang. 

  1. Regional slang. People from different parts of America can have entirely different expressions. For example, the word “very” on the East Coast can be replaced with the slang term “wicked” (you will hear it a lot when visiting New England). West coasters, however, will say “hella” instead – it is one of the most widespread California sayings. Southern and Midwest states also have slang (y’all for you all and pop for soda). 
  2. Ethnic slang. There are hundreds of nationalities and ethnic groups living in the USA. And, of course, all of them significantly impact American English. For example, AAVE (African American Vernacular English) brought us the words “lit,” meaning exciting or enjoyable, and “fleek,” meaning stylish and flawless. Mexican-American communities have many popular slang terms, like “vato” (guy or dude) and “chido” (cool).
  3. Cultural slang. Another thing you will see in the US is the number of different subcultures and cultural groups. And they all also have something to add to the slang dictionary. For example, LGBTQ+ representatives brought us the amazing slang terms “yas queen,” “slay,” and “tea.” 
  4. Pop Culture Slang. Movies, music, and television also made a significant contribution to the development of the language. Some of the most common pop-cultural slang terms include “binge-watch,” “mic drop,” and abbreviations like “FOMO” and “YOLO.”
  5. Generation-specific slang. Each generation of Americans has its own slang that reflects its cultural experiences and influences. For example, in the 60s, they were constantly using the word “groovy,” meaning “cool” and “excellent,” and in the 80s, this term was replaced with the word “rad,” which shares the exact definition. Some expressions popular in the 90s are still common nowadays, including “sue me,” “whatever,” and “my bad.”

CA slang terms are an integral part of the American English vocabulary. Yet, even the Golden State citizens’ lingo varies from San Diego to San Francisco, making it even more diverse than you imagine. But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered; keep reading, and you will find numerous examples of California slang and the best way to use it in daily conversations.

Catchy California Slang Words to Practice Before Vacation

Conversations between people from Southern and Northern California can slightly differ since numerous expressions are inherent to the specific city or area. However, you can hear some general slang terms in both situations. So let’s begin with general California phrases to get started. 

  • NorCal and SoCal. 

These two abbreviations are short forms of Northern and Southern California. Yet, keep in mind that you won’t hear it a lot from Southerners. The abbreviations are most prevalent in NorCal, where they are considered a pride thing. For example:

I’m originally from NorCal but recently moved to SoCal.

Jane is planning a road trip from NorCal to SoCal to explore the best of both regions.

NorCal and SoCal have different vibes, but both offer remarkable outdoor activities. 

  • Dude. 

It is one of the most popular California accent words favored statewide, meaning a gender-neutral term of endearment. For example:

Dude, I wish I could go with you to LA next week, but I have a project to finish. 

Hey, dude! Long time no see. 

Check out that dude outside. He looks like Antonio Banderas. 

  • Butthurt. 

According to Urban Dictionary, this term means being extremely upset or offended by something insignificant. For example:

She tends to be butthurt over the slightest criticism. 

Don’t be so butthurt just because I disagree with your opinion. 

They acted butthurt when I didn’t respond to their texts right away.

  • Rock. 

This is very common slang for California citizens since it means to be awesome in general or to wear some clothes in a cool and stylish way. For example:

Hey girl, you rock these Versace shoes!

I want to see Jack and tell him that he is rockin’ today.

You rock this skirt.

  • Hella. 

In California slang, “hella” is an adverb for “very” or “a lot.” It is commonly used to emphasize the intensity, extent, or degree of something. For example:

Missy is hella talented, you should hear her sing. 

I’m hella excited about the weekend. 

She’s hella tired after the long day at work.


Southern California Sayings

Although terms from the list above are prevalent statewide in California, you can hear some unique expressions in almost every city on the Gold Coast. And for starters, let’s move south and explore the linguistic treasures of SoCal.

  • The industry.

This is typically an LA slang expression describing the movie or television industry, since it is one of the county’s most renowned enterprises. For example:

Amy came to Hollywood intending to work in the industry.

Everyone here wants to conquer the industry. 

People come to LA to become a part of the industry.

  • WeHo/NoHo.

Hollywood is one of the most desirable and popular destinations in LA. But locals know that there are West Hollywood and North Hollywood, and to simplify their names, citizens shortened them to WeHo and NoHo. For example:

There will be a wild festival in NoHo tomorrow. 

I’m going to WeHo to see my meemaw. 

My friend Kara lives in NoHo. 

  • Sigalert.

This popular slang in California, especially the Los Angeles area, describes any unplanned event or accident that causes traffic for half an hour and more. For example:

Jackson was late for work because there was a sigalert on the freeway. 

The morning commute was a nightmare, with multiple sigalerts causing traffic on the highways.

I received a notification about a sigalert near downtown.

  • May Gray/June Gloom.

This is one of the most famous California idioms, describing a weather pattern characterized by overcast or cloudy skies, cool temperatures, and sometimes fog during the late spring and early summer months. For example:

Our beach trip was a bit disappointing due to the persistent May Gray.

Don’t forget to bring a jacket if you’re visiting SoCal during June Gloom; the mornings can be foggy and chilly.

The locals are used to May Gray, but it can surprise visitors. 

  • Gnarly. 

This Orange County slang word is exciting since it has two opposite meanings – it can define something good or bad depending on the context. For example:

That wave was gnarly! It was so massive and perfect for surfing.

Watch out for that gnarly pothole in the road. It can damage your tires.

I had a gnarly time at the amusement park.

  • Kook.

This derogatory surfer term comes from San Diego, where locals use it to describe a pre-beginner surfer or a person who pretends to be a surfer but is not an actual one. For example:

Look at that guy trying to catch a wave with his board upside down. He’s such a kook.

Real surfers don’t act like kooks. They respect the waves and the etiquette in the lineup.

Don’t be a kook and drop in on someone else’s wave. Show some respect and wait til it’s your turn.

  • Santa Anas.

If you know this term, you are either from SoCal or really like The Holiday movie. This slang describes dry and warm winds in California (mostly its southern part), mainly blowing during the fall and winter. For example:

Legend has it, when Santa Anas blow, all bets are off, anything can happen.

The Santa Anas brought unseasonably warm temperatures to the county.

Gardeners and landscapers were on a high alert during the Santa Ana winds.

Northern California Words Slang

Now it is time to leave the SoCal lingo and head to the no less exciting slang of Northern California. This area includes many famous places, from San Francisco to Silicon Valley. And all of them have plenty of expressions worthy of your attention. 

  • Hyphy. 

This term originated in the early 00s in the Bay Area and is still very popular in NorCal. It represents an energetic and exciting style, atmosphere, or attitude. For example:

The party yesterday was hyphy, with all these people going wild and showing their moves.

He’s known for his hyphy music. 

This hyphy moment brought a lot of excitement to the scene.

  • Put on blast.

This is also a Bay Area slang expression, but it is not as nice as the previous one, since it means to expose or criticize someone or something. For example:

She put her ex on blast on social media, revealing all his secrets.

The local newspaper put the corrupt politician on blast.

That viral video put this famous actor on blast, showing his rude and inappropriate behavior.

  • Good looks.

If you want to send your friends a California greeting, use this phrase instead of a regular “thank you” because that’s what people in San Francisco do. For example:

Thanks for getting me a coffee. Good looks!

Did you bring me lunch? Good looks, dude. I owe you one.

She hooked me up with free tickets to the concert. Good looks, I can’t wait.

  • Zombie mode.

Silicon Valley is one of the most famous places in Northern California. And this expression comes from there. It means either the state of extreme focus on work or task (which results in a lack of sleep or personal life) or just staring at your phone or any other device. For example:

Everyone in the office is in zombie mode right now, trying to meet the deadline.

He’s been coding for three days straight in complete zombie mode.

You need to turn off your zombie mode and focus on the task.

  • Three commas club. 

It is another term from Silicon Valley that refers to people with a net worth exceeding one billion dollars. The name comes from three commas in the billion-dollar figure. For example:

He joined the three commas club after his tech startup went public.

The investor is a member of the three commas club.

She made a fortune through her innovative app and joined the three commas club.

  • Yadadamean?

The last California phrase in our list is prevalent in San Francisco and is an informal way of saying, “You know what I mean?” or seeking confirmation or agreement. For example:

We should hit up that pizza place tonight, yadadamean?

The game yesterday was crazy, yadadamean?

This party will be lit, yadadamean?

Unlock the Linguistic Treasures of California with Promova

Learning the slang of different regions may be essential, but you don’t need to forget the basics. Here, at Promova, we understand that language learning must be a personalized experience, so we offer numerous materials tailored to your specific needs and goals. 

For example, you can choose group or personal lessons; our team of professional tutors will guide you every step of the way to ensure you receive expert advice and attention. To get started, you can benefit from our free trial lesson before making the final decision.

And, of course, that’s not it! You can join our free Conversation Club and practice your newfound language skills with fellow learners and native speakers. Moreover, you can access interactive exercises and valuable resources to keep track of your progress and stay motivated with the convenient Promova app. There are plenty of things on offer, and you are the one to find the perfect opportunity for yourself.


Just like California’s nature, the state’s slang is also unique, diverse, and exciting. We hope today’s article helped you learn something new and memorize some common expressions from the Golden State. And, by the way, have you ever been to California? Share your experiences in the comments! 


How can learning California slang terms benefit my English skills?

Learning SoCal and NorCal slang can bring many advantages to English learners. It enhances the understanding of colloquial language, expands vocabulary, and improves speaking skills. Also, it is a great way to gain insights into the state’s culture and connect with locals on a more personal level.


Are there any specific regions in California known for unique slang expressions?

Yes, almost every area of the state has its own slang terms; various circumstances influence most expressions. For example, the Bay Area, including cities like Oakland and San Francisco, is famous for distinct slang from the local hip-hop culture. Southern California is known for the movie industry and surf culture, which have brought many expressions specific to this region.

Are there any slang terms true Californians don’t use?

Even though Californian slang is constantly evolving, there is one term that legit locals will never use. It is the word “Cali,” an abbreviation of the state’s name. You can hear it a lot in the country, but native Californians actually hate this word.


Is it necessary to learn specific slang if I’m visiting or moving to California?

Although it is not necessary, it can help you a lot during your trip or even when moving to the state. It will allow you to communicate with the locals more easily, avoiding misunderstandings. And you don’t have to learn every single slang term you can find; it will be enough to comprehend the most common expressions.