Bodega, schmear, bridge and tunnel: Oxford wants to know the definitive New York City lexicon

How many times have you used a word or a phrase and had a friend from out of town look at you, dumbfounded? How many times have you then proceeded to patiently explain it, albeit with all the grace of a smug New Yorker?

There are certain perks that come with having lived in New York City for a long time, including knowing expressions that others don’t.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s “Words Where You Are” campaign, rolled out to commemorate its 90th anniversary, is calling for region-specific submissions “to create the most comprehensive, accurate and up-to-date picture of how and where these words are used,” according to a statement from OED.

They have been doing such crowdsourcing since the beginning of the 19th century, when it was much harder to find evidence for words, according to Jeffrey Sherwood, senior assistant editor of US Dictionaries at OED. People were asked to send in words they read in magazines and books to populate the dictionary, he added.

Bacon, egg and cheese, or BEC, is a New York City staple.
Bacon, egg and cheese, or BEC, is a New York City staple. Photo Credit: Newsday/Corin Hirsch

The campaign, which is part of a larger OED Appeals program, follows a similar undertaking in the United Kingdom called #FreeTheWord in 2017, Sherwood said. Submissions, which are being accepted until July, will go through a rigorous assessment process, and the relevant terms will be added to the Oxford Dictionary in the following months, he said.

Submissions are being accepted through Twitter with use of the hashtag #WordsWhereYouAre or through a form on the OED website.

“Schvitz” (sweat) and “Standing on line” (waiting in a queue) are some of the submissions Sherwood has already assessed from New Yorkers. While the former is already in the dictionary, he said that OED would acknowledge “standing on line,” but would not take on the task of defining it.

Here are some NYC-specific words you can feel proud about knowing. Or maybe, you’ll learn a thing or two.

Bodega: Where a New Yorker visits the most

If you live in New York, you’re probably on a smile-and-nod basis with your bodega store clerk. Found on almost every corner in the city, your bodega will be there for all of your needs — from breakfast sandwiches to toilet paper. Yes, they’re 24/7 and most likely descended from angels.

Broadway: Street/Theater/What dreams are made of

Broadway is a street that runs through Manhattan and the Bronx, and goes on to other parts of New York like Yonkers, Tarrytown etc. But it also serves as a metonym for the bustling theater industry, especially in midtown Manhattan. The Theater District, encompassed between 42nd and 53rd streets on, you guessed it, Broadway, is called the Great White Way to signify the blinding lights from marquees announcing the latest plays being performed at theaters. Yes, it is a street but more importantly, it’s where artists dream to make it big.

Out east: Where New Yorkers summer

It’s about to be summer in New York City (if the weather ever lets up, that is), which means that New Yorkers will start looking for respite from the heat. If you hear someone saying they want to get “out east,” it probably means they are planning to flock to The Hamptons, where swathes of beach and quaint communities on the south shore of Long Island offer up an affluent lifestyle — from expensive restaurants and bars to designer boutiques.

The New York-style pizza, complete with a thin crust, cheese and dollops of tomato sauce, remains a point of pride for New Yorkers.
The New York-style pizza, complete with a thin crust, cheese and dollops of tomato sauce, remains a point of pride for New Yorkers. Photo Credit: Colter Hettich

Cannonball: How New Yorkers get “out east”

As combative as the word sounds, it actually augurs a happy time for New Yorkers. The Cannonball is a train service between Penn Station in Manhattan and Westhampton, which runs only in the summer and transports the city’s residents out east to their summer getaway. You can begin reserving seats for the season (purchase in bulk for eight or more travel dates) on May 1. Those looking for a one-time weekend getaway will have to wait until May 21 to make reservations.

Upstate: Everything that is not New York City

New Yorkers may have cabins in other areas of New York State, or take hiking trips in the Adirondack Mountains. However, regardless of whether those places are actually north of the city, they are deemed as being “upstate.” The concept, unique to New Yorkers, does not exist for other New York State residents.

Bridge and Tunnel: Historically, a way for Manhattanites to turn up their nose at everybody else

Everybody who needs to take a bridge or a tunnel, hence the “bridge and tunnel” crowd, to come into Manhattan can be filed into this category. Historically, the term has meant a distinction in affluence and cultural awareness between those who lived in Manhattan and those commuting from elsewhere.

Pie and Slice: How New Yorkers prefer to refer to pizza

New Yorkers have a lot of pride in their pizza, which they believe stands out from everywhere else in the country. Naturally, the terms used to refer to New York-style pizza also stand out from the rest of the nation. “Pie” is used for traditional Neapolitan-American pizza pies believed to have been championed by Gennaro Lombardi, who ran a pizza business from his store on Spring Street in 1905, which still exists as Lombardi’s Pizza at 32 Spring St. Be it “dollar pizza” or a “home slice,” New Yorkers will continue to relish the thin-crusted, tomato sauce-heavy, mozzarella cheese-sprinkled slices, most probably folded in half — the New York way.

Schmear: The buddy to New Yorkers’ favorite breakfast food — bagels

A New York bagel is a real treasure, found at most of the delicatessens in the city. What makes it perfect, however, is the “schmear” — a small amount of cream cheese coating the insides of the bread, which is cut in half. Ask every New Yorker and they will probably have a favorite combination of bagel and schmear that they are happy to share with the world.

The city — Manhattan

Technically, all five boroughs of New York City — Manhattan, Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island — are part of the city. But when New Yorkers, especially from the outer boroughs, use the term “the city,” they mean Manhattan.

Wall Street — Suits, suits, suits

While Wall Street is an actual street in downtown Manhattan that houses the offices of many of the bigwigs of American finance, the term has also become synonymous with the country’s financial industry. Wander over to the financial district during lunch hour and Wall Street guys in suits eating lunch on benches and smoking cigarettes against walls will crowd your eyesight.

Hero — New Yorkers’ version of a submarine

A submarine sandwich, usually consisting of a long baguette holding together Italian deli meats, cheese and vegetables, gets a different name in every city. In Philadelphia, it’s the “hoagie.” In New England, “the grinder.” In New York City, however, it’s called the “hero.” There are scores of old-school Italian delis serving up heroes in every borough — from Manganaro’s Hero Boy on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan to Lioni’s Italian Heroes on 15th Avenue in Brooklyn.

Pizza Rat — The city’s unofficial mascot

A viral video showing a rat carrying a slice of pizza bigger than its body, tumbling down subway stairs made headlines in September 2015. The video captured the interest of New Yorkers, who saw themselves in the determined rodent. The video inspired pizza rat costumes for the following Halloweens and has permanently lodged itself in the psyche of New York City residents. Since then, videos of a Milkshake Squirrel, Donut Rat and Pita Rat also made rounds on social media.

Showtime — (Annoying?) performers in the subway trains

You may watch their performances with fascination, or attempt to ignore their busking while steadfastly sharing at your phone, hoping they don’t single you out a money request. The concept abundant in New York City subways, which has its own wikipedia page, includes everything from pole dancing to acrobatics to musical performances. It might not be Broadway, but one thing’s for sure — it’s always showtime in New York City.

The Big Apple — What tourists call the city

New York has many nicknames — Gotham, The City So Nice They Named It Twice, The City That Never Sleeps. But there’s one nickname that makes New Yorkers silently cringe more than others — The Big Apple. Put a dollar in a jar for every time a New Yorker calls New York City “The Big Apple” in a non-sarcastic, non-ironic way. The jar will most likely remain empty.

Bacon, egg and cheese — (on a roll or bagel)

The simplest of all breakfast staples – the bacon, egg and cheese (or BEC) — becomes a New York institution when served on a roll or a bagel. New York City has all kinds of renditions of the food — a no-nonsense, to-go version served up by the aforementioned bodegas, or fancier versions at the city’s abundant brunch restaurants. Either way, if you’re in New York City, you can’t go wrong with a BEC.

Standing on line — Prepositions what?

New Yorkers are and will be above the rules of grammar. While the rest of the world says “standing in line” while waiting in queue, New Yorkers will proudly proclaim that they are “standing on line.” Next time someone asks you that question in New York City, know that it is a grammatical digression the whole city has embraced before you try to correct them.

Subway series – It’s not what you think

No, the subway series does not have anything to do with the New York City subway. It’s a series of games played between decades-old rivals: the Yankees and the Mets. Every time the two baseball teams collide, usually in the summer months of June and July, fans flock to Citi Field (home of the New York Mets) and Yankee Stadium (you guessed it) to cheer for their teams.

The Garden — A “mecca” for New York City sports fans

Never say no to an invitation at the Garden. Devoid of all flora and fauna, it stands for Madison Square Garden or MSG, home of the New York Knicks (basketball) and the New York Rangers (ice hockey), and a sought-after venue for comedy and live music performances by artists coming from all over the world.