Washington D.C. Slang

Washington Slang

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It's no wonder that much of Washington, D.C. and its slang have roots in the world of politics. While some of D.C.'s local lingo has made it to citizens "outside the Beltway" via political shows such as Meet the Press, other sayings stubbornly remain pure D.C. This short lesson in Washington, D.C. slang will help you navigate the unique local language of the nation's capital.

1. "Outside the Beltway"

You've probably heard the aforementioned Washington, D.C. slang phrase "outside the Beltway" used in political discussions on TV or in newspapers, but do you know exactly what it refers to?

"The Beltway" is the nickname for Interstate 495, which circles around Washington, D.C., cutting through Virginia and Maryland in a continuous loop. Because the District of Columbia sits in the middle of that loop, the term "inside the Beltway" has come to describe individuals who live and work in Washington, D.C. and make the political decisions for the United States. On the other hand, "outside the Beltway" has come to describe the ordinary citizens of this great nation that are unfamiliar with the wheeling and dealing of the United States political system. Pundits often complain, for example, that during a recession, the Senators and House Representatives who are safely employed "inside the Beltway," have little idea how Americans "outside the Beltway" are suffering.

2. "Inner loop"/"Outer loop"

In Washington, D.C. local lingo, the phrases "outside the Beltway" and "inside the Beltway" should not be confused with the "inner loop" and "outer loop" of the Beltway, two D.C. slang phrases you will need to know if you plan to travel in the area.

Because the Beltway travels in a continuous circle, traffic commentators cannot refer to northbound or southbound lanes of traffic, as the lanes contain both. Traffic alerts instead refer to the "inner loop" which, if the Beltway were to be viewed from above, are the lanes on the inside of the circle, closest to DC. Following that logic, the "outer loop" will be the lanes on the outside of the circle, farthest away from DC.

3. "Beltway Bandits"

This is another Beltway reference in Washington, D.C. lingo. Don't be afraid if someone tells you to watch out for "Beltway Bandits." These bandits aren't after your wallet, only the government's.

In Washington, D.C., there are many private consulting and government contract firms that have set up shop near federal agencies in the hope of snagging at least one of the many lucrative contracts offered by government agencies, such as the Pentagon or the CIA. These Beltway Bandits have also developed a reputation for using big salaries to lure federal workers and retiring military personnel who have important government connections.

4. "K Street"

Like the Beltway, K Street has managed to earn a reputation for being more than just a road. It is the street in D.C. where a large number of lobbyists, think tanks and advocacy groups have established their offices. Just as the words, "Wall Street," have come to signify big money interests, "K Street" in Washington, D.C. lingo refers to influence peddling and the effects of free-spending lobbyists on political machinery. If you hear someone say, "That legislation will never pass if K Street has anything to do with it," they are basically substituting K Street for the word "lobbyists."

5. "The Hill"

Speaking of political machinery, other than at the White House, you'll find most of it on The Hill (Not to be confused with "The Hills." Please, this is not California). The Hill is local language for Capitol Hill, an area of D.C. where you can find the United States Capitol, office buildings for the Senate and the House, and the Supreme Court building. Many times, when pundits or the press refer to "The Hill," though, they are speaking only of Congress and its dealings.

6. "Wonks"/"Wonkettes"

Often on The Hill, you will hear references to policy "wonks" and their female counterparts, "wonkettes." These two Washington D.C. slang terms refer to very intelligent individuals who are usually experts, almost to the point of obsession, on an issue. They also develop policies and strategies for that subject. Wonks and wonkettes are the people that politicians call when they need information on a particular issue.

7. "Half-smokes"

And now for something much better than politics – food. Most people outside of Washington have never heard of "half-smokes," but in 2000, readers of the Washington Post Magazine voted these spicy sausages to be D.C.'s signature dish. Ben's Chili Bowl, a favorite restaurant of Bill Cosby and a recent stop for President Barack Obama, sells one of the most famous half-smokes in D.C. It has even been featured on Oprah!

8. "Slug Line"

Moving on to a sore subject in every Washington, D.C. citizen's heart – the heavy rush hour traffic. In an effort to deal with the madness, D.C. citizens have created an informal transportation system known in Washington D.C. slang as "the slug line."

Drivers who don't have enough passengers to legally use the carpool lanes on the interstates and toll ways will go to a slug line where "slugs," or passengers without cars, wait in hope of catching a ride. The locations of these slug lines are spread by word of mouth and on slug websites.

9. "Delmarva"

Washington, D.C. is hot and humid in the summer, and locals love to escape to the beach. You may hear one say that they are heading out to Ocean City on the "Delmarva," yet you won't find Delmarva on any map. In local language, Washingtonians refer to the long, narrow peninsula that juts into the Atlantic Ocean as the "Delmarva" because it is occupied by three different states – Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

10. "Skins" "Caps" "Nats"

Lastly, D.C. is filled with enthusiastic sports fans. Unfortunately, its teams haven't been returning the love with wins lately. However, a lot of Washington, D.C. local lingo revolves around its sports.

When you hear people refer to "the Skins," they're talking about the Washington Redskins football team, the town's biggest obsession outside of politics. Under current owner Dan Snyder (you may hear his name is preceded by an expletive), the Skins haven't had much luck lately.

If you hear people say they are "Caps" fans, they mean they like the Washington Capitals, D.C.'s hockey team. Caps fans have had more to cheer about than Skins fans, especially with the coming of Alex (Ovie) Ovechkin, but sadly, the Stanley Cup has remained elusive. The Caps play at the Verizon Center, which has sometimes been referred to as "The Phone Booth" in D.C. slang. Get it?

The other teams in the area, the Washington Wizards basketball team and the Nationals baseball team, known as the "Nats," have done so pitifully that they are not usually mentioned in polite conversation.

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