Los Angeles Slang
Nothing will make you look more like a tourist than pronouncing major thoroughfares such as La Cienega and Sepulveda the wrong way. Your best tip for trying to say L.A. street or city names is if they look Spanish, use the Spanish pronunciation of the vowel. For example, "A" is "ah," "E" is "eh," "O" is "oh," "I" is a long "e" sound, and "U" is "oo" like in cool. "J" is pronounced with an H sound, like Juan.
The street name, "La Cienega," is pronounced La See-en-eh-ga. "Sepulveda" is pronounced Seh-pul-veh-da, with the "pul" rhyming with dull. You will elicit grimaces or puzzled looks if you call it Sep-ole-vee-dah. As for "La Tijera," it is pronounced La Ti-he-rah.
Know your locations.
Los Angeles County is divided by its inhabitants into several geographic locations. Two that may sound similar are "South Central" and the "South Bay." South Central, also known as "South L.A.," encompasses the area just south of the city of Los Angeles and includes places like Watts and Compton. This area has been made infamous in numerous rapper songs.
The South Bay, on the other hand, encompasses the beaches and cities that run along the coast from upscale Palos Verdes (known in Los Angeles local slang as "PV") to the city of El Segundo. If someone tells you to go to either the South Bay or South Central, it is important that you don't end up in the wrong area.
Driving around L.A. requires some knowledge of Los Angeles slang as it refers to its roads. For instance, "PCH" may sound like a drug, but it is not. It is actually short for Pacific Coast Highway, a major north-south route that runs along the coast. As for freeways, L.A. local lingo usually refers to them by their numbers. For instance, people may tell you to take the "405" to the Valley. The 405 is the San Diego Freeway.
Other freeway names you should know in L.A. include the Harbor Freeway or the "110," the Golden State Freeway or "5," the Long Beach Freeway or "710" and the Foothill Freeway or "210." Just to make things a little more confusing, the "10" is known as the "Santa Monica Freeway" until it hits the East L.A. interchange, and then it becomes known as the "San Bernardino Freeway," and a portion of the "Hollywood Freeway" south of L.A. is "101," while north of L.A. it's "170."
SigAlert is not a smoking break.
Unless you've lived in or been to California, chances are you've never heard of a "SigAlert," unless you hang out with a smoker. On the other hand, people who live in L.A. probably hear this term at least two to three times a day on the radio or television. When you do, relax, you aren't going anywhere.
The California Highway Patrol declares a "SigAlert" if a lane of traffic will be closed for more than 30 minutes for an unplanned reason such as an accident or truck spill. The term is supposedly named after radio executive, Lloyd C. Sigmon, who developed a receiver in 1955 that allowed the CHP to broadcast its traffic alerts to radio stations. The receivers bore the stamp "SigAlert" on their sides.
It's all about the ocean, dude.
Many of the terms you'll hear in L.A. relate to the ocean. Weathermen on newscasts often refer to winds as being "onshore" or "offshore." These terms are especially important for surfers. Onshore winds blow from the ocean toward land. If they are strong, they can "blow out" the waves, causing the waves to become shapeless. On the other hand, an offshore wind blows into the face of the wave and can help it hold its shape.
Newscasters will also talk about low tides and high tides for each day. "High tide" is when the ocean water reaches its highest points on the sand, while "low tide" is when the water recedes the most.
Surfers, of course, have their own extensive lexicon, which can change as quickly as the tides. One day, things will be "gnarly," the next, "tube-ular." Surfers refer to anyone who doesn't live by the beach as "inlanders."
The Strand is not a boardwalk.
The bike path that runs along L.A.'s beaches is popularly known in Los Angeles slang as "The Strand," especially in the South Bay area. No one calls it a "boardwalk." The path starts in Torrance Beach and ends up in Will Rogers State Park in the Pacific Palisades.
Boy's Town and The Strip – know the difference.
A location you won't find on a map is "Boy's Town," Los Angeles lingo for the Santa Monica Boulevard area in West Hollywood. This is a popular area for gay stores and clubs.
It is not far from "The Strip," which is Los Angeles local language for the section of Sunset Boulevard that runs through West Hollywood and Hollywood. There are many famous clubs and hotels on The Strip, including the Chateau Marmont, where comedian John Belushi died of an overdose, the Comedy Store, and rock clubs such as the Whisky a Go-Go and the Roxy Theatre.
Chateau Marmont, 8221 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90046, (323) 656-1010
The Comedy Store, 8433 Sunset Blvd, Hollywood, CA 90069, (323) 650-6268
Whisky a Go-Go, 8901 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069, (310) 652-4202
The Roxy Theater, 9009 Sunset Blvd, West Hollywood, CA 90069, (310) 278-9457
Everybody's working for The Industry.
Speaking of Hollywood, the titles "actors," "actresses," and "screenplay writers" are considered interchangeable with the titles "waiters," "bartenders," and "hostesses." It seems that no matter what you are doing in L.A., everyone wants to be associated with "The Industry," Los Angeles slang for the movie and television business. While it may seem like a bad joke, it is actually quite common for a waiter to tell you that he is really a between-jobs actor, or for a bartender to rave to you about a spec script he is shopping around to the studios.
Know which way the Santa Anas are blowing.
Although L.A. doesn't really have much in the way of weather, it does have the Santa Ana winds. The Santa Ana winds occur in fall and winter. They are warm, gusty and dry. If the "Santa Anas" are blowing, it is not unusual for the temperatures in L.A. to soar up to the 80s or 90s, even in the dead of winter. These winds can whip a small fire into a large inferno quickly.
Don't get caught in a June Gloom.
Another L.A. weather related term is the "June Gloom," which is Los Angeles lingo for a well-known phenomenon to beach residents. Every morning during the early part of summer, a thick fog rolls onto most of the beaches and stays until about 2:00 or 3:00 p.m. "Inlanders" and tourists tend to head to the beaches around 11:00 a.m. and, after sitting in thick fog for a couple of hours, leave just before the fog dissipates. Locals actually find this behavior a bit amusing.
- Overview: Los Angeles Travel Guide