If you ask a Californian, they will tell you that Northern California and Southern California are different worlds. Because California is such a large state, it is split by different climates, different cultures, and (of course) different language. Do you know the difference between Northern California and Southern California slang? While it is difficult to define words that are used exclusively in one region, Northern California slang is closely associated with both the technological and Bay Area rap scenes. Southern California, on the other hand, is heavily influenced by the surfer culture. We asked many locals from both San Francisco and San Diego, and here are the terms that they agreed are almost exclusively “Nor Cal” or “So Cal.”
Northern California vs. Southern California Slang
“The” 5 vs. I-5
How can you tell if a person is from Northern California or Southern California? Ask them for driving directions. Southern Californians put “the” before the name of a highway or freeway, while Northern Californians do not. For example, a Southern California native would say, “Take the 5 South and get off at the Balboa Exit” and a Northern Californian would say, “Take 5 North and get off at Madison Avenue.”
Southern Californians know that this stands for the Pacific Coast Highway. They also know to avoid it during high traffic times!
In addition to shortening “Pacific Coast Highway” to “PCH,” Southern Californians also shorten the names of cities and regions. For example, Orange County is referred to as “The OC,” and San Diego’s Pacific Beach is “PB” and Ocean Beach is “OB.”
These are perhaps the words that most clearly split Northern California from Southern California. Northern Californians use these words in place of “really” or “very.” For example, “He is hella mad” or “That is hecka cool.” Southern Californians despise this word and often make fun of Northern Californians for saying it! But Gwen Stefani, who is from Los Angeles, sings about it in a No Doubt song, so we aren’t sure we can say that ALL Southern Californians dislike the word (even though we have yet to meet a Southern Californian who uses it).
“So Cal” vs. “Nor Cal”
Southern Californians do not refer to their region as “So Cal,” while many Northern Californians call the southern part of their state by this name. Similarly, most Southern Californians do not use the name “Nor Cal” while it is embraced by many Northern Californians.
“Hyphy” was originally a type of uptempo rap music and dance that originated in the Bay Area, but it has evolved to also be a slang word meaning “high-energy.” Often, this is used as a collocation with “get”: for example, “This party is going to get hyphy.”
The surfer culture heavily influences the use of these two terms in Southern California. “Bro” is produced more like “bra” and is used for men; dude is fairly universal.
“What’s up, bro?”
“What’s up, dude?
“Dude” is also used an expression of surprise.
“Dude! Did you just see that dolphin jump out of the water?”