Common Slang Terms & Phrases From Every State

American slang has diverse origins, from indigenous and minority languages, to historical events, to pop culture. While some slang terms are used all over the country or in specific regions (for example, "y'all" in the South), others are unique to one state, or even just a region of a state. The same part of a house may be called a "gallery" in one state, a "portal" in a different state, and a "lanai" in yet another. These differences can be confusing for someone who isn't familiar with the local slang. When visiting a state where the term "Coke" refers to any kind of soda, how does one order an actual Coca-Cola?

But half the fun of visiting different states is learning about what makes them unique - and that includes the slang. So here are some of the most common slang terms and phrases in each of the 50 states.

Photo: CircaSassy / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

  • To Alabamans, "a ways" is a distance that could be anything from 10 minutes to two hours in terms of travel time.

    "Butter my butt and call me a biscuit” is a colorful way to express delight and/or surprise.

    A shopping cart may be referred to as a "buggy."

    Locals call Birmingham "the Ham."

    Alabama is in the tornado belt, so if an Alabaman says they're "goin' to the shelter," that likely means they're headed to a tornado shelter.

    It doesn't snow much in Alabama, so if people think a storm is coming, they'll go buy out all the bread and milk, which leads to the joke that they'll be surviving on "milk sandwiches."

    College football is a huge deal in the South. The University of Alabama has been one of the top programs in the country for decades. "Roll Tide!" originated as a way to cheer on all of the university's athletic teams, although its use has expanded to any number of situations outside of sports. A variant is "Roll Damn Tide!" which may also be used to conclude a telephone conversation.

    Alabama is one of those places where any carbonated beverage is a "Coke," so if you order one, the waiter might respond by asking, "What flavor?"

  • Although it sounds like a convenient way to carry your snacks around, in Alaska, a "banana belt" is actually the warmest region in an otherwise really cold area.

    "Bunny boots" are oversized insulated boots that can keep your feet warm when freezing temperatures hit. Originally made for the Army, the boots come in two colors: white and black (the black ones are also known as "Mickey Mouse boots").

    Someone new to Alaska who doesn't really know much about living there is called a "cheechako," while the opposite of a cheechako is a "sourdough." The term "cheechako" reportedly originated during the gold rush era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

    To Alaskans, "outside" is any US state other than Alaska itself.

    The first visible snowfall on the mountains is referred to as "termination dust," since it signals that summer is coming to an end.

  • It may be one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States, but to Arizonans, the Grand Canyon is nothing more than the "big ditch."

    To an Arizonan, "chizhii" means rough or dry skin that looks or feels similar to firewood.

    In Arizona, a "haboob" is a major dust storm. 

    It can get really hot in Arizona. To stay comfortable, you might need a "swamp cooler or swamp box," which is a unique way of referring to an "evaporative cooler" - an air conditioner that uses evaporated water to both cool and add moisture to the air.


  • While it could refer to rear ends, in Arkansas, "bottoms" also means bottomland, which is flat, fertile land near a river - prime deer hunting territory.

    Arkansans use "bowed up," which is a term taken from how a snake maneuvers its head before striking, to refer to someone's impatience or bad humor.

    In Arkansas, if your house has a "gallery," that means it has a porch.

    It's not a compliment if an Arkansan calls someone a "roofer;" they're basically calling that person an idiot.

    "Woooooo pig sooie" is how fans of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks cheer for their athletic teams.

  • Californians may describe something that is really good as "bomb."

    If someone was using the term "hella," which translates as "extremely" or "really," before the band No Doubt released their song "Hella Good" in 2001, there's a good chance that person is from California. 

    In Southern California, anyone who has ever been stuck in traffic on one of the freeways knows that a "Sig alert" is probably going to make their commute even longer. This is an unexpected event (such as an accident) that closes down at least one lane on the road.

    A "dingbat" can refer not only to an unintelligent person, but also to the ubiquitous style of boxy midcentury apartment buildings that dominate the Los Angeles landscape.

    If an Angeleno wishes to say that they work in the movie business, they simply have to say they're "in the industry."

  • Coloradans might use the derogatory term "gaper" to describe people who are beginner skiers, often from out of state, who get in the way on the slopes. A related term is "gaper gap," which is the space between a novice skier's helmet and goggles.

    If someone is headed to the mountains for some skiing, he will be hoping for some "pow-pow," which is fresh snow or powder.

    Coloradans are known for being pretty polite. If someone cuts in front of them in line at a store, for example, the response would probably be, "You're fine."