NYC Speaks: The Difference Between Brooklyn and Manhattan Accents

Friday, June 93 min read

It’s no question that NYC has an unmistakable accent. What might first come to mind is Dustin Hoffman crossing the street in Midnight Cowboy: "I’m waaawwlkin’ heah!" But is there one New York City accent, or is there a specific accent for each borough? New Yorkers haven’t always aligned on this, and while opinions run deep, there is linguistic research on what makes a New York accent. Let’s learn more about how the various residents of the Big Apple talk.


"Brooklynese" is perhaps the only word coined to distinguish any of these accents. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines it as the overarching accent of the borough itself: "A strongly accented variety of New York English, associated especially with the borough of Brooklyn." Early usage is found in a New York society magazine article from 1893: "The people of Brooklyn talk Brooklynese. Brooklynese is a language that is a mixture of Bowery, Pittsburgh, and Zulu." To hear Brooklynese, imagine Barbra Streisand or Andrew Dice Clay.

Former Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz seems to agree with OED’s assessment. He told Gothamist in a 2019 article on this subject that he felt Brooklynese was the "mother accent" of New York City at large, and it spread and evolved across the other boroughs (the Bronx, Manhattan, Queens, and Staten Island).

One New York Accent

While locals may claim to be able to tell people apart from their accents, the data suggests otherwise. That same Gothamist article cited a paper from linguists Kara Becker and Luiza Newlin-Lukowicz titled "The Myth of the New York City Borough Accent: Evidence From Perception."

For their study, they created an audio quiz and invited the public to participate by listening to a series of clips and then trying to distinguish which borough the speaker belonged to. The speakers ranged in age, race, and socioeconomic class, spread across all five NYC boroughs. Consistently throughout the study, nearly 75% of the participants picked the wrong boroughs for the speakers.

New York Slang

While the linguists poked a hole in the idea that accents vary between NYC boroughs, there are still variations in slang. Some slang expressions apply to the whole city, while others are more specialized per borough.


The city

When a New Yorker refers to “the city,” they specifically mean Manhattan.


This is a bit of a catchall word — it can be an interjection, a greeting, or a response to nearly anything. It’s all in the tone, but in general, it’s an exuberant way of saying “yes.”


If a New Yorker describes the weather as “brick,” they’re probably wearing a North Face puffer coat and a pair of Timberland boots. There may even be a puff of fog when they speak, because it’s extremely cold outside.

Regular coffee

At any NYC bodega, which is simply a small corner deli and grocery store, you’ll hear the locals ordering their coffee “regular.” That means hot, with milk and sugar.

The Bronx


Yankee Stadium is in the Bronx, and locals call their fans “creatures.”

Draggin’ it

To “drag it” in the Bronx basically means to extend something out — to be overly dramatic, or to refuse to let something go.

Word to

You might say, “word to my mother” or “word to my father.” Whomever you attribute the “word to” in the Bronx, it means you swear what you’re saying is true.



To be “wavy” is a good thing. It means that something, or someone, is really cool.

’Na mean

This shortened version of “Do you know what I mean?” means just that — do you understand?

Pop off

To “pop off” can mean to have an angry outburst, but it can also be positive depending on the context — if someone in Queens tells you the party last night was really “poppin’ off,” that means it was an excellent time.

The beach

If someone in Queens tells you they’re going to “the beach,” they mean they’re headed to Rockaway Beach on the borough’s southern peninsula.


The 718

The area code for Brooklyn is 718. If someone says they’re in “the 718,” that’s where they are.


If someone is “feening,” they’re putting in too much effort, or trying too hard.


To “swerve” someone or something means to avoid them, if not reject them altogether.


A “dub” is someone or something you don’t want to deal with.


The park

While Manhattan has many parks, there’s only one the locals refer to as “the park” — Central Park.


Much of the slang in Manhattan has to do with abbreviating the names of neighborhoods. This acronym stands for “Lower East Side.”


When Manhattanites don’t use acronyms to describe their neighborhoods, they’ll usually abbreviate them into a shorter, compound word. “Soho” refers to the area of downtown Manhattan directly south of Houston Street.

Staten Island

Not for nothing…

“Not for nothing” is the Staten Island way of expressing the idea, “I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will anyway…”


If something’s “mint” in Staten Island, it means it’s very good or high-quality.

Featured image credit: Ultima_Gaina/ iStock

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