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8 California-Isms Translated for the Rest of the World

by Preston Roeschlein Dec 1, 2014

NO JOKE, BRO — California is an incredibly diverse place. While some of us may speak like surfer bros and valley girls, not all of us do. With nearly 38 million inhabitants spread over 150,000 square miles, we are home to various cultures, subcultures, and vernaculars. So much so, in fact, that residents hailing from opposite ends of the state might have a difficult time understanding each other. Below is a list of words and phrases that any newcomers might frequently hear while traveling through California.

1. It’s super chill, bro.

Translation: Everything is completely fine and mellow. There’s no need to worry.

Region: Southern California

Almost everyone in SoCal with a board of some kind or a gym membership is a ‘bro’, from your best friend to the dickhead who just cut you off on the freeway. And roughly 50% of what’s happening in a bro’s life can be described as ‘super chill’, from the social gathering at their abode to the fact that they just cut some guy off on the freeway.

A: You have that $300 you owe me? I really need to pay rent.
B: No, nor will I have it anytime soon. But it’s super chill, bro! You’ll figure it out!

2. My chi / spirit / life force is totally resonating.

Translation: I’m very spiritual, I just read Eckhart Tolle, or I am baked beyond belief.

Region: Mostly Northern California

San Francisco was the epicenter of the hippie movement in the 1960s, and its aftershocks still resonate most heavily there. Regardless, all of California is home to those who are truly spiritual, those who have read a chapter of Eckhart Tolle at the indirect request of a celebrity, and those who just stumbled across some super-sticky NorCal kush. All will get insanely introspective; the durations however, will vary.

A: Man, I can totally really feel my life force moving into another dimension.
B: Do you have any of that weed left?

3. Like, literally

Translation: I am impassioned about the topic at hand, but am grossly over exaggerating.

Region: All of California

Even though the two words together form a complete oxymoron, we still utter them frequently. And yes, we say ‘like’ like a lot. Sorry if you don’t like it, that’s just what we’re like. We have also completely beaten the meaning out of literally. Literally.

A: I need a dirty chai latte, like, literally yesterday.
B: Seriously, l like, literally will die if I don’t get one immediately.

4. I’m stoked!

Translation: Holy shit, I’m excited!

Region: Mostly Southern California

I’m stoked! You’re stoked! We are all fucking stoked! The sun is out and you have a burrito in your hand, you should be stoked too! If you’re not stoked, you need to re-evaluate things and get stoked! Unless of course, matters are truly un-stokeworthy.

A: I think that burrito gave me diarrhea.
B: You’re not stoked about that!

5. His / her game is hella tight, man.

Translation: He or she is very good at whatever he or she does.

Region: Northern California

Hella is a NorCal word that basically stands in for: very much, completely, or totally. Tight, however, is heard pretty much all throughout California and basically stands in for ‘awesome’. While many self-proclaimed pundits debate whether its origins are rooted in music or pornography, we worry very little about it. Mostly because worrying too much is not tight at all.

A: You hear that new Drake track? His game is hella tight, man!
B: I would have to hella disagree with you on that.

6. Que onda, wey!?

Translation: What’s up, dude!?

Region: All of California

California’s 39% Latino population is often overlooked when it comes to summing up our speech. But Mexican Spanish and the culture are a heavy part of who we are and we’re proud to hear it and see it everyday. That being said, while ‘que onda‘ basically means, ‘what’s up’, ‘wey‘ loosely translates to ‘dude’ among friends and ‘fucker’ between strangers. So unless you’re itching for stitches, be careful how you use it.

A: That guy just punched me in the face for saying ‘que onda, wey‘.
B: Yeah, probably because you didn’t know him, wey.

7. Fo’ sho, fo’ reals and (sometimes) fo’ shizzle

Translation: For sure

Region: Mostly Southern California

We’ve come a long way from the “Fer sure, fer sure” Valspeak stereotype, mostly thanks to a number of prolific California rap acts who have carried us forward into the phonetic frontier. And though you will hear ‘fo’ shizzle’ from time to time, ‘fo’ sho’ and ‘for reals’ reign supreme.

A: You think that waitress spit in my tacos, fo’ reals?
B: Fo’ sho. You’re a shitty tipper.

8. Sic, epic, clutch, bomb, dank, killer, gnar, dope, rad, sweet

Translation: Awesome.

Region: All of California

The fact that we have so many words for ‘awesome’ says a lot about life in California. In a place where we are surrounded by all things dope, these words have saved the word ‘awesome’ to loss by redundancy.

A: I just had the most sic, epic day ever. It was soooo super rad!
B: I know, bro. Welcome to California.

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