I grew up in the Bay Area and while living in San Diego for close to a decade, picked up surfing.
What Does a California Accent Sound Like?
So, maybe you're thinking about moving to California or maybe you are thinking about visiting California. Whatever your reason is for coming to visit, you're probably interested in the culture here. Yes, beach culture and surf culture is huge, but we're also about a lot of other things—particularly the outdoors (including snow), environmental consciousness, music, culture, good cuisine, art, and being outside (everything from redwoods, alpine lakes, to pine trees). But what about the California accent? What does it sound like?
Some describe the California accent as neutral-sounding. It has been widely normalized thanks to Hollywood and media. But this isn't always true if you carry that slow, Southern California surfer vibe. Let's take a look at the nuances of the California English dialect(s).
So, What's the Deal With Norcal and Socal?
Norcal and Socal are two very distinct regions. Technically Socal is everything from Santa Barbara and south, to San Diego. Central California is defined as north of Santa Barbara and up into the Bay Area, and Northern California is everything up to Crescent City—geographically speaking. But culturally, Norcal and Socal define two very different things:
- Norcal: Bay Area all the way up to Humboldt, Mendocino, and the Oregon border; chill vibe (mellow), slow culture, hippy culture, academic/tech culture in the Bay Area (fast-paced culture). More "natural" vibe—low key appearance.
- Socal: Los Angeles and south. Lot's of glam and trendiness—heavy surf culture, sun-kissed skin, tans, healthy bodies, and lots of beach time. Has the heaviest of the California accents. Slow-paced life.
People appreciate the areas for what they offer, but you will find personality types that prefer one region over the other. Tip: When it comes to getting directions, Socal people say "the" before a freeway or highway:
- Socal: "Take the five south."
- Norcal: "Take 101 north."
A Word About "Hella"
"Hella" is a term that gained popularity in the '90s and is used in Northern California—Bay Area. It is not commonly used down south. "Hella" essentially means "very" "really" or "super." Example: "That's hella cool!"
Video: The Californians
Surfer/California Slang and Use
Many of these terms or words are predominantly used the further south you go.
Stoked: Literally super excited about something or for someone. You can be "stoked" about an activity or "stoked" about receiving news. How it's used:
- "Hey man, did you hear that The Shack is hosting a free screening?"
- "Ya man I'm stoked, let's go see it."
Gnarly: Insane, shocking, intense, horrible OR surprisingly risky or crazy.
- "Dude, did you hear that Carl fell off his skateboard?"
- "Yeah man, that's gnarly."
- "Woah, it's really raining!"
Snagged: Acquired or stole. "I snagged these from my roommate."
Swag: Gear, usually won or acquired for free.
- "Woah, I came up on some cool swag from the event."
Come Up/Came Up
Come up/came up: Acquired, obtained, or was given. Can also mean a step up/improvement.
- "Yo, I came up on some awesome new tracks." (Tracks = music)
- "Hey, want a free sample?"
- "Heck ya, come up!"
- "Woah, check out Carl's new ride."
- "Come up!"
Grub: Food/meals/snacks. "I'm starving. Let's go grab some grub!"
Bro/brah/bruh: Bro can be used affectionately to refer to a close friend, or it can be used to call somewhat out. Brah can also be used affectionately, but it is also used aggressively to confront someone:
"Sup bro, how ya been?"
"Yo bro, what are you doing?!"
"Hey bra, get out of here!"
Dig It: To approve of something or like it. May also be used as a question.
- "Woah, look at you with the new haircut. I dig it!"
Kook: Refers to someone who doesn't know what they're doing or looks like a fool.
- "Woah, check out the newbie on longboard."
- "Yeah, what a kook."
Grom: Young kid who is often succeeding at something.
- "Woah, the beach is crowded."
- "Yeah, all the groms are out today."
Shred: Shredding refers to an activity like surfing, skating, or skiing, and doing it enthusiastically. It's used as an informal compliment.
- "Did you see that grom out there shredding?"
- "Yeah, he was killing it."
Killing it: Killing it means doing something fully. It's used positively. It can also be used in past tense: "killed it."
- "Did you see those boxes I cleared out?"
- "Yeah, good job man, you killed it."
- "Yo I saw you dancing on the floor last night, you were killing it!"
Send it: Send it means to complete a task or approach something. It's also used to cheer people on. You might shout "Send it!" to someone climbing a rock wall.
Beta: Beta means to gain something—inside knowledge or position. It's typically used in rock climbing. To "Get some beta on that climb" means to get some information about how to tackle it.
Stellar: Stellar means "great."
- "Hey, how was that new restaurant?"
- "It was stellar!"
Rad: Rad means "cool" or "awesome."
- "Ya that's rad!"
Not Down/I'm Down/Are You Down?
Down: Down means "Are you okay with that?"
- "Hey, are you down to watch my dog this weekend?"
- "Yeah, I'm down." OR
- "No, I'm not down."
Video: Rob Machado on Surfing
Mental: Mental means unbelievable.
- "Dude, did you see that black-flip?"
- "Yeah, that was mental!"
Bomb: Bomb means awesome or great. Typically used to refer to food.
- "How do you like that burger?"
- "It's bomb."
Legit: The real thing. Good.
- "Did you check out that new, authentic sushi spot?"
- "Yeah, the food was legit."
Chilling: Relaxing. Can be used to passively say you don't need anything or want to do anything.
- "Yo want to come to the taqueria with us?"
- "Nah, I'm chilling."
Brew: Beer. You'd say, "Want to go grab a brew?" or "Want to grab a brewski?"
Sick: Sick means awesome and is a positive.
- "Check out my new ride."
- "Woah, that's siiiicckkk."
Coming in Hot
Coming in hot: Showing up quickly/arriving. "Oh, he's coming in hot!"
Dude: Dude means like "hey," "wait," "woah" "hold on," "no way."
- "Dude, did you just see that?!"
- "Hey, happy birthday man, here's your present."
- "Duuuudeee, you shouldn't have!"
Ride: Ride means car.
- "Hey checkout my ride—I just got it cleaned."
Epic: Out of this world. Great/crazy.
- "Did you hear it's snowing in Mammoth right now?"
- "No way, epic!"
- "How was your trip to Baja?"
- "It was epic!"
For real: For real means "really?" or "are you serious?" or "seriously" (a confirmation).
- "I just lost my wallet."
- "Are you for real?"
- "Lame, I just got a parking ticket."
- "For real?!"
- "Woah, that confrontation was heavy."
- "For real."
Heavy: Heavy means serious/not light or funny in any way.
- "Did you hear what happened to Carl? He broke his femur."
- "Dude, that's heavy."
Fosho: Means "for sure" and is not serious. It can either be used to deflect something or to confirm something.
- "Can you turn down the volume?"
- "I was so mad at him yesterday."
Yes, marijuana is legal in California as of 2019. Check local laws by county about recreational and age-appropriate use. You can refer to it as herb or trees if you are dealing with people up in Northern California.
Bay Area Speak
Best not to use these terms—just to be aware of them.
- Yadadamean: You know what I mean?
- Hyphy: Rowdy; "Get hyphy"
- Hella: A lot, really. "That's hella messed up."
- Frisco: San Fransisco
- Aight: Alright
- The Bay: The Bay Area
Video: More Cali Slang
© 2019 Layne Holmes
Got others to share?
Claire on September 14, 2020:
I'm an 18-year-old girl from a beach city in Los Angeles and these are all accurate. Everyone where I live says hella, socal, norcal, stoked, grom, gnarly, rad, fosho, for real, bro, bruh, dude, etc. Good job! Some of these people in the comments clearly didn't grow up by the beach lol
Btcfourtwo on September 08, 2020:
No one says frisco
Also they didn’t address the “like you know” thing or central California slang
Jay on July 28, 2020:
I'm a dude from San Diego and y0!, sick, hella, aight, latez, bro, dude, swag, legit, dank (used when referring to bomb @$$ weed) are all terms I here a lot. Some people say fire, but I think that started in the midwest and just spread.
I didn't see "dawg" on the list - i've heard that used by older people before and no one uses "chilling" it's "chillin"... at least in SD.
I agree most of the terms posted are pretty dated... stuff my parents would say.
and the surf culture is not an "industry" it's just a righteous way of life, bruh!
still a nice little snip of cali culture terms though. Good job!
Anon on July 28, 2020:
I agree with e in the comments. "Hella" is not reserved for norcal (I never heard anyone say "norcal", people just say north-cal) and it honestly is a word that's grown bigger than Cali.
Now for weed, socal we call it just "weed" or depending on the quality, you could say "stress" for bad weed and "fire" for good weed. Ex sentence: "This strain is fire but the last shop I went to had bunk #$% stress, don't go there."
e on June 10, 2020:
i'm 18, california born n raised (los angeles, CA)
no one says "brah" or "bra", but "bruh" is common everywhere (look up "bruh moment" on UD)
like 3/4 of these are outdated, but here are the ones in this list i hear regularly:
swag (but it means clout, not gear), chillin, legit (kinda outdated but ppl still say it), bomb, down, epic, bruh, for real, dude
also, literally everyone says "hella" and "aight"...
sometimes people say "dig it" but not rly anyone under 25
one more thing: people just call weed pot or weed lol
Layne Holmes (author) from Bend, Oregon on May 15, 2020:
"A grommet (grom, or gremmie) is a young participant in extreme sports"
es on May 15, 2020:
I lived in Southern California my whole life and never hear anyone say “grom”
Alivia on April 12, 2020:
Just wanted to leave a nice comment since 3/4 are fairly negative! this is a quick article, it's concise. And yeah, it's not a linguistics thesis but was it suppose to be??? It's got all the quick and cute slang. I especially like that you add where hella originated from; mostly because my mom grew up in Half Moon Bay and noticed when young youth began using it more in Southern California while I was growing up. Cute article! :)
Layne Holmes (author) from Bend, Oregon on March 04, 2020:
hi "person who"—thanks for your feedback. I've lived here for 33 years of my life and I'm 33. Stoke is socal and fosho is Bay Area, never heard Brittany Spears say that. Gnarly is surf culture and still used in that industry. Frisco has been a popular urban term since the 90s through 2000s. I'm a millennial but you could write something for gen z. I'd read it.
the person who should have actually wrote this article on March 04, 2020:
ive lived around california all my life, and most of these terms arent used around here or at all for that matter. it may be because your closer to a boomer than someone who would actually know and use "slang" no one uses knarly except 60 year old skater boys. fosho is for britany spears during her break down. come up isnt used ever heavy is when something is heavy, you cant pick it up, not deep. and lastly stoked means you made a fire, all of these of course have the exception if you are over 50 years old. and lastly i beg everyone who comes across this article, dont call san francisco frisco you sound like a old white guy who wants to take his grown children out for the day.
Layne Holmes (author) from Bend, Oregon on January 15, 2020:
Hi Barbara. I understand your perspective absolutely. It seems like the language changes with each decade. I was recently told "for sure" is Midwestern, but I've also heard it out here! People don't really say "hella" anymore but it was used in the 2000s and 90s quite a bit.
Barbara Radisavljevic from Templeton, CA on January 09, 2020:
I spent 2/3 of my life in SoCal, and the rest on the Central Coast. I recognized most of the lingo, but some terms were new to me. Maybe that's because I'm no longer young.
Layne Holmes (author) from Bend, Oregon on December 27, 2019:
Hi Leith, growing up there we said "Frisco" to be funny and it's used endearingly in a younger crowd.
Leith on December 27, 2019:
Please never use "Frisco" in reference to San Francisco, you will stand out immediately...in a negative way. Use "The City" or "SF" instead.
Layne Holmes (author) from Bend, Oregon on February 18, 2019:
Thanks for reading Eurofile—A friend of mine was visiting from the UK and we had a long car ride to compare regional slang. I find it absolutely fascinating. My friend taught me—"mugged me off" (?) I think that's the right one. A few others that I may or may not be able to type here (:. Thanks for visiting.
Liz Westwood from UK on February 18, 2019:
I briefly studied a linguistics module many years ago. I have read your article with great interest, especially as, due to modern media and the fascination the UK has with life in the USA, some words have made it over here. The terms I recognise are: chilling, sick, epic, and mental which I have heard used in the UK. But I also am familiar with stoked, bro, killed it, stellar, legit, dude, ride and for real, probably from watching American films. I have read something about 'How to write a stellar article' on Hub Pages as well.