New Jersey, named after one of the British Isles, gained its statehood in 1787. It’s an East Coast mainstay for seaside vacations and the birthplace of plenty of celebrities, including astronaut Buzz Aldrin and rockers Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi. The Garden State’s rich culture has also resulted in a language all its own, with nicknames for out-of-towners, a slew of food jargon, and unique traffic references.
Down the Shore
The "shore" in this case isn’t just any shore; it’s the Jersey Shore, which includes Sea Isle, Ocean City, Wildwood, and Cape May. The phrase “heading down the shore” is synonymous with “going to the beach” for New Jerseyans (as well as Delaware and Pennsylvania residents, who also frequent the shore). An important fixture of this phrase is the lack of a preposition. New Jerseyans don't say "down to the shore"; it's simply "down the shore." This linguistic habit stems from Canadian English and is also widespread in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.
"Bennies" are tourists. The Jersey Shore sees an influx of weekenders during the summer months, and residents use this nickname for them. “Benny Go Home” signs used to line the shore, suggesting that the beaches were already crowded enough. The term can be friendly or aggressive, depending on the intention, so be careful with this one. Today, it’s commonly used by locals to describe out-of-towners, especially fellow New Jersey residents, who aren’t from “the shore.” The origin of “bennies” remains a mystery, but one of the most creative theories involves the train stations from which the “bennies” arrive. The train stops of (B)ayonne, (E)lizabeth, (N)ewark, and (N)ew (Y)ork spell out “BENNY.”
Someone visiting the southern Jersey Shore (perhaps Wildwood or Cape May) might be called a “shoobie.” This term is reserved for any tourist who is not a “benny” (from North Jersey or the New York City area). It likely stems from the late 1800s, when tourists would take the train to the beach while toting packed lunches in shoe boxes. “Shoobie” isn’t exclusive to Jersey — it’s also used in Delaware and California to describe daytrippers or summer residents. Today, “shoobie” has a more lighthearted connotation than in the past — to use it aggressively is outdated.
Also called Taylor ham, this dish is so popular that the New Jersey Pork Roll Festival is held each year in honor of the local staple. The meat in question is a mixture of pork, spices, salt, and sugar, which is then smoked and packaged by Taylor Provisions of Trenton, New Jersey. (Other brands produce pork roll meats, but Taylor ham is the beloved original.) The dish dates back to at least the mid-1800s, when it was called “Taylor's Prepared Ham.” Today, it's commonly served up sliced and fried on egg-and-cheese sandwiches.
To some, no trip to Jersey is complete without a plate of disco fries. The traditional way to serve these steak-cut potatoes is to slather them in brown gravy and “mutz” (a shortened form of mozzarella), akin to Canadian poutine. Of course, there are plenty of other ways to serve them, and each restaurant seems to have its own signature toppings. The name would indicate it’s from the 1970s disco era, when hungry late-night partiers needed a hearty snack, but some sources claim it first appeared on menus in the 1990s.
Much to the bane of New Jersey drivers, “jughandles” have been around since the 1940s. What was supposed to make navigating the roads easier has frequently resulted in confusing turns and missed exits. In the simplest terms, jughandles require drivers to turn right in order to go left. This distressing traffic pattern is found in other parts of the country, too, but New Jersey is famous for them.
Bruce Springsteen fans visit Asbury Park en masse to stand on the hallowed ground where the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer launched his career. Springsteen’s hometown of Freehold is located nearby, just inland of the shore. The “Boss” nickname reportedly started in the early days of the E-Street Band, when Bruce was tasked with collecting money at the small gigs they played. The team began calling him “the Boss,” and the nickname stuck.
It might sound like the latest Tik Tok dance trend, but the “Jersey Slide” is actually a traffic term used for drivers who “slide” their way across multiple highway lanes at once, usually just in time for their exit. Can you blame them? The Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike are notorious for rush-hour traffic jams.
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