City Cast

What is DC Slang?

Adrian González
Adrian González
Posted on October 16
Illustration of several mouths agape with speech bubbles coming out of them.

Let’s talk slang. (Carol Yepes / Getty)

Slang is a beautiful thing. It can connect you to a certain community and sometimes even make you feel like you’re 100 years old. Here in the District, a special flavor of dialects has developed because of the duality of transplants and lifelong Washingtonians. Let’s demystify DC slang so you don’t end up looking like a bama.

Product of the Great Migration

I’m often curious about the source of slang, but it can be hard to pinpoint. Minnie Quartey is the coordinator of Georgetown’s “Language and Communications in Washington DC” project and she says the way Washingtonians speak was largely influenced by the masses of Black people moving north after the end of slavery. Since then, the ever-shifting demographics in D.C. have created a unique dialect. “You bring the red dots and the yellow dots and they start touching each other, you're going to make orange. And that's what happens with language too.”

Speak Like a Local

Slang can also be generational. If you grew up in the 1980s, you probably remember “lunching.” It had less to do with having a snack and more with making a foolish decision — akin to being silly.

Terms like “cised” and “jont” can confuse a non-local — the Washington Post literally warns non-Washingtonians against using jont.

One of my favorites is “geekin’,” which is essentially what it sounds like — being excited about something. It can be used both positively and negatively, which makes for an ideal slang term.

And if “bama” made you think of a certain college football team, you have some homework to do. It refers to someone who is not dressed well or looks messy.

[Slang] gives people something to connect on, even if they are different. It brings that connection piece, and to me, that's why [the work of linguists] is so important.Minnie Quartey, Georgetown’s “Language and Communications in Washington DC” Project

Listen to our full interview with Minnie Quartey to learn more about why slang and dialects are important.

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