The classic Brooklyn accent is far from universal in the borough. With a steady stream of immigrants coming from all over the world (and, now, from the rest of the U.S.), there are probably more accents in Brooklyn than there are buildings. But you’ll still find plenty who speak the working-class dialect that has become iconic the world over. For a perfect written example, read Thomas Wolfe’s 1935 short story “Only the Dead Know Brooklyn,” which begins: “Dere’s no guy livin’ dat knows Brooklyn t’roo an’ t’roo, because it’d take a guy a lifetime just to find his way aroun’ duh goddam town.”
Photo courtesy of Kai Brinker via Flickr.
For non-native speakers, here’s a handy lexicon:
Axe (v) – Ask
Bodega (n) – A corner store deli, usually with a cat. (From the Spanish, meaning “wine shop.” The etymology goes all the way back to Greek apotheke, “shop,” which led to words as varied as apothecary and boutique! How do ya like dem apples?)
Boss (n) – What you should most definitely aspire to be, and what the guy behind the counter at your local bodega might call you if you’re a regular.
Da City (n) – Manhattan
The essential ingredients of Brooklyn’s famous Egg Cream
Dem Bums (n) — Our dear departed Brooklyn Dodgers.
Egg cream (n) – A sweet, fizzy drink made from milk, seltzer and vanilla or chocolate syrup (no actual eggs involved). Though the egg cream has come to be associated with New York City in general, make no mistake that it originated in Brooklyn, the creation of Crown Heights residents Nathan Herman and Jack Witt in the early 1900s.
“Fuhgeddaboudit!” (excl) – “Forget about it!” A phrase that very few Brooklynites actually say, but one that is so iconic that Borough President Marty Markowitz had it written it on the “Leaving Brooklyn” sign.
Lucy (n) – A single cigarette, sold on the sly at certain bodegas. Also written “loosie.”
A “Canarsie” hero at Canesa’s Deli | RACINGMIX via Flickr
Hero (n) – A long sandwich. If you call it a sub, hoagie, or grinder, you deserve the derisive looks you get.
Nosh (v) – To snack. Yiddish in origin, and a testament to how Jewish culture has shaped Brooklyn.
Putz (n) – A useless person. Also from Yiddish, though in literal translation it means… Well, we won’t say, ’cause there might be kids reading this.
“I’m not married to Con Edison!” (excl)– “Turn off the damn lights!” (Con Edison provides electricity for New York City.)
A Bed-Stuy brownstone stoop | Joseph Buxbaum via Flickr
Stoop (n) – The front stairway leading up to a classic Brooklyn brownstone, and the place where you hang out all day—because who’s got space for yards in this city?
Tawk (v) – Talk (something that Brooklynites do a lot of).