If you are going to live and studying English in San Diego or San Francisco, you of course need to learn a little of the California slang that everyone loves. Californians definitely  have their own language, with a lot of idioms and slang that are not used in other parts of the country. Today we are looking at a relatively older (and very common) slang word: gnarly.

“Gnarly” technically means the following:

1. gnarled (twisted)

A popular example of this is Gnarly Head winery, located in the Central California wine growing region called Lodi. As you can see from the label, the old vines are gnarly (twisted).



Informally, “gnarly” has many other meanings:

2. difficult, dangerous, or challenging

3. very cool, interesting

4. intense, serious

These definitions are most often used in California. Let’s take a look at this word and its uses!


Gnarly: difficult, dangerous, or challenging

  • Man, those waves today were gnarly
  • I just had the most gnarly yoga class. I can’t believe how hard it was!


Gnarly: cool


Gnarly: intense, serious

  • That’s a gnarly bruise. How did you get it?
  • Taking the Cambridge Exam is pretty gnarly, but my Cambridge teacher was super cool so I didn’t mind studying for it. 


It might seem strange that a word can have such positive and negative meanings, but slang rarely makes sense in any language! Another common characteristic of slang is that it is fun, and this is certainly the case with the word gnarly. Using it is pretty cool, so be a gnarly English student and use it when you can!