The state of New York is as diverse as its citizens and their pride shines through with the state’s anthem, “I Love New York.” It’s biggest city has been affectionately called “The Big Apple” and it is iconically referred to as “The Empire State.” How could 20 million people be wrong?
5 Reasons to Love Her More:
- The numbers say it all…
- New York State has an incredibly diverse geography…
- New York City is full of fascinating places to explore…
- New Yorkers have the most recognizable dialect in North America, maybe the World…
- New York is the source of cool phrases…
The numbers say it all…
- NYC was the 1st capital of the United States. (George Washington took the oath of office for President in Federal Hall.)
- New York is one of the original 13 colonies.
- 2/3 of the state population is in the metropolitan area.
- 4 of the world’s 10 most visited tourist attractions are in New York State—Niagara Falls, Times Square, Central Park, and Grand Central Terminal.
- 40% of NYC residents are foreign born.
- NYC is the most populated city in the US with 8.4 million people!
- NYC has been home to the United Nations Headquarters since 1952.
- The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World has been standing in New York Harbor since 1886.
- New York is the only state with coastline on both the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes!
- Long Island’s white sand beaches stretch for 117.5 miles along the Atlantic Ocean.
New York State has an incredibly diverse geography…
The geography of New York State is as diverse as its inhabitants. The state shares its borders with Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Vermont, and Massachusetts; an international border with Canada; and a coastline with the Atlantic Ocean. Although many people only think of it as the area of New York City, the rest of the state is abundant with natural outdoor recreation and wide open spaces. NYC and Long Island make up the Atlantic Coastal Plain while Greater New York is part of the Great Lakes with the Finger Lakes region. You will also find the Appalachian and Adirondack Mountains in contrast to the valleys of the Hudson and Mohawk River regions.
Here are some examples to sway your opinion:
- New York State has over 2,000 waterfalls! Check out: The World of Waterfalls in NY
- New York’s Adirondack Park is larger than any U.S. National Park! There’s a special club for people who hike all 46(!) peaks.
- New York is home to Niagara Falls; the oldest US state park, a natural wonder, and the most powerful falls in North America! Check Out: Niagara Falls, American Side
- New York is home to a globally rare forest! check out: Sunken Forest, Fire Island
- New York has caves and caverns! Howe Caverns is the largest natural show cave in the Northeast!
- New York has world-class rock climbing sites! Check out: Minnewaska State Park Preserve
- New York has hosted the Winter Olympics twice! Check out: Lake Placid
New York City is full of fascinating places to explore…
New York City is known for its many famous neighborhoods, but did you know each one has a place in cultural history? Immigrants have always been challenged by learning a new language, being employed, and finding their place in society. Creating cultural enclaves surrounded them with a supportive community of people from their own background. Many immigrant cultures also pursued the same work opportunities and, in turn, many areas also became centers for those types of work. Believe it or not, here are just a few:
Tribeca (Triangle Below Canal St)—Currently an area for working artists (most notably the Tribeca Film Festival), this area was once the city’s first food market. Washington Market was the largest fruit and vegetable exchange in the nation and it was predominantly owned by Jewish and Italian residents.
Garment District– You can’t miss the giant needle & button sculpture on 7th Ave that marks the fashion district of NYC. In the early 20th century more than half of the city’s clothing factories were located here. NYC was producing 70% of women’s clothes and 40% of men’s clothes for the nation by 1910. The majority of owners were German Jews which opened up the work for new Jewish immigrants.
Soho (South of Houston St)—This area is currently a trendy shopping spot, but it is architecturally historic. These 26 blocks and almost 500 buildings display cast-iron architectural elements with one of my favorites, streets paved with Belgian blocks.
Noho (North of Houston St)—This area was once an enclave of the city’s upper class. In the early 19th century residential mansions were being built for the likes of the Astor family and the Vanderbilts. Washington Irving and Charles Dickens also had homes here. Historical preservation has saved many of the original places. The Astor Library, the Bouwerie Lane Theater, and two NYC subway stations (Astor Place & Bleecker Street) are pretty cool to check out!
Gramercy Park-In Dutch “Kroc Moerasje” meant “small crooked swamp.” The nearby park was a swamp with crooked streams. (This private park has quite a history of its own to check out.) The name was later anglicized into “Crommessie” and then renamed “Gramercy” meaning “many thanks” in olde English. This area is one of the earliest city planning attempts in the US. You can still see the original town houses built from 1844-1850. Two of the these later became New York’s first apartment buildings (#34 and #36 Gramercy Park East).
Hell’s Kitchen—In the late 19th and early 20th centuries this area was notorious for its crime rate. This predominantly poor Irish American neighborhood was full of gangs, riots and violence. These “Irish slums” were captured in Herbert Asbury’s 1927 book, “Gangs of New York,” which was later developed into a film by Martin Scorsese. The late 20th century cleaned out the gangs and brought gentrification to the area with aspiring actors in residence and some nice off-beat shops and restaurants.
Little Italy—Once populated by over 10,000 Italians, this neighborhood has since shrunk; but it’s still fun, colorful and full of good food. (In case you were wondering, there’s plenty of Italian enclaves still in New York—Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, Ozone Park, Belmont, Howard Beach, and most notably Staten Island. They are even represented in the iconic structures of their laboring ancestors who built the Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Station, and the Subway. You can even celebrate Italian culture with over 35 annual festivals throughout NYC.)
Chinatown—Everyone seems to have a Chinatown, but NYC’s is one of the oldest in the country. It also boasts the most dense population of Chinese people in the Western Hemisphere! (The notorious Five Points area is located here. Definitely look this one up for some crazy historical reading.) Columbus Park, once the most dangerous ghetto area of the city (at Five Points), is now a relaxing community of Chinese Chess players, Tai Chi, and outdoor recreation.
Little Australia (Nolita), Manhattan—(North of Little Italy) This micro neighborhood was once part of Little Italy. In it’s transition it rebuilt itself with an interesting collection of Australian businesses. You can find the original St. Patrick’s Cathedral (Basillica), the Puck Building, and the Feast of San Gennaro in this neighborhood. (Fun facts: David Bowie and his wife, Iman, once had a home here. Martin Scorcese grew up here. John Mayer still lives here. Godfather II was filmed here.)
Koreatown, West 32nd St, Manhattan—This foodie destination has been referred to as “a slice of Seoul.” 140,000 Korean residents make NYC the second largest Korean population in world!
Little India, Jackson Heights, Queens—This micro community is found on 74th St between Roosevelt & 37th Ave where cultural shops are filled with jewelry, rich fabrics, and other goodies. This neighborhood mostly represents Bangladesh & Pakistan, but you will find many others across the city. The Asian Indian population in NYC is the largest in the Western Hemisphere.
Little Odessa, Brighton Beach, Brooklyn—This Russian speaking community dates back to the 1800’s, but didn’t take off until the 1970’s. New York State has 700,000 Russian immigrants with the highest concentration right here in Brooklyn. Before that time, this area was mostly Jewish Americans and Holocaust Survivors. Fun facts: Little Odessa is named for a Ukrainian city on the Black Sea. It is estimated that the majority of the 55,000 Holocaust survivors residing in NYC live here. Coney Island is next door.
Little Poland, Greenpoint, Brooklyn—This community is home to the second largest concentration of Polish people in the US (Chicago is first). Polish immigrants arrived here in huge numbers between the mid 19th century and WWI. You are certain to find the best kielbasa, pierogis, and Polish tradition with this ethnic community full of locals and shops.
New Yorkers have the most recognizable dialect in North America, maybe the World…
I never realized how much the cultural enclaves of New York affected our speech until I was an older adult. As a child, anyone from outside of the New York area was always quick to point out my accent. They really seemed to enjoy it too much like I was on exhibition for their amusement. I never understood their fascination except to think they were ignorant and only associated New Yorkers with the characters they had seen on TV or in movies. At certain points in my life I was even made to feel insecure about speaking; especially in my college vocal production class, where everyone had to learn Standard American if they wanted to succeed. As I matured and paid more attention to my use of the language; I realized the influence of the multi-cultural exposure I had. Huge immigration waves into New York City created the most recognizable dialect in North America and I am proud to have experienced it before they began to dissipate.
The New York Accent isn’t prevalent in all New Yorkers. You will primarily find it in the five boroughs of NYC and Long Island. Of course, there are New York transplants all over the country so you may be hearing the dialect from someone near you. I’ve included many of the common words of my upbringing in addition to some additional words you might not even realize had originated from these cultures. (Forgive me for any improper spelling. I grew up by hearing and speaking it, not formally studying the language. Many of the original words had been anglicized in spelling to accommodate general pronunciation.)
Yiddish (German base)—Yiddish words are the ones that stump people the most when I speak. I grew up hearing and using these words and I can’t imagine not having their colorful and strong sounds to describe everyday life. And yes, I proudly use all of these to this day even though I am not of Jewish descent. Yiddish is one of the main cultures that influenced pronunciations in the New York accent.
- mensch (honorable and admirable person, a huge compliment) Look at all the good he does for the community. He’s such a mensch.
- schmooze (to chat in a friendly or persuasive manner, networking) Francine is over there schmoozing with the top executives.
- tchotchke (tiny trinkets that are aesthetically pleasing but have no function) Grandma’s house is full of tchotchkes.
- bupkis (nothing) Don’t ask Fredo, he knows bupkis.
- chutzpah (confidence and audacity, can be positive or negative, nerve, guts) Look at him go with such chutzpah!
- kvetch (complaining, complainer) Quit your kvetching!
- klutz (clumsy person) Shirley is such a klutz.
- kvell (bursting with pride over actions of someone else) My grandma was kvelling over his report card.
- meshuggeneh (insane or crazy person) Stay away from him, he’s a meshuggeneh.
- Mishegas (silliness, craziness) Stop your misehgas!
- nosh (snacking on something) You look hungry, have a nosh.
- Oy Vey (to express frustration or dismay) Oy vey!
- schmutz (any dirtying substance) Clean that schmutz off your face.
- schlep (move slow, awkward, tedious) He schlepped his suitcase up the stairs.
- schvitz (to sweat) I’m schvitzing in this heat.
- shtick (routine or gimmick referring to a talent or area of interest) Did you see his shtick with the cards?
- spiel (lengthy speech or story, persuasive) The salesman gave a spiel about the new vacuum.
- tuches (tuh-kiss, your behind) Sit down on your tuches!
- verklempt (overwhelmed/choked with emotion) Mom was feeling verklempt at Uncle Marty’s funeral.
- noodge (to do or be a pest, nag, whiner) Go away, you noodge!
- nudnick (pain in the neck) You’re a nudnick!
- schmear (a spread of something like cream cheese on a bagel) Give me an everything bagel with just a schmear of cream cheese.
- bagel, knish, latkes, kosher, lox all food I love (except lox; but it’s popular, especially on a bagel)
- schmo or schmuck (stupid person) She’s dating a schmuck.
- schnook (gullible person) Of course he believed her story, he’s a schnook.
- yenta (talkative woman, a gossip) Mom heard it from the yenta up the street.
Italian– Italian culture is not only another major contributor to the New York Accent, but also a notable contributor to our vocabulary. Here’s a list of just some of the words you might recognize and even use on a regular basis.
- musical terms adagio, allegro, aria, concert, bravo, crescendo, diminuendo, forte, opera, and so many more!
- home/building apartment, balcony, piazza, mezzanine, veranda, terra-cotta
- cooking/food al dente, al fresco, antipasto, barista, bologna, bruschetta, cappuccino, lasagne, martini, pasta, pizza, ravioli, spaghetti, zucchini, calzone, cannoli
- various stiletto, umbrella, bank, merchandise, money, assassination, bandit, casino, mafia, ghetto, bimbo, casanova, ruffian, lottery, paparazzi, diva, ballerina
The neighborhood I grew up in had a strong Italian population. Some spoke the language, but mostly you heard Italian when it was necessary (usually as an exclamatory statement).
- ciao (hello informal)
- arrivederci (good bye)
- chefai? (What are you doing?)
- andiamo (let’s go)
- mangia! (Eat!)
- salute (be in good health)
- capisce? (understand?)
- menzamenz (half and half)
- goomba (fellow comrade, also peasano)
- marone (dammit)
- skeevy (gross, disgusting)
- food items (unlike their American pronunciation there is a harder and deeper end to each word) calamari “calamad” (fried squid), manicotti “manigott” (pasta dish), ricotta “rigott” (ricotta cheese), biscotti “bisgott” (type cookie)
- insults (used freely from grandmas to school kids who thought they were cool) ciuccio “chooch” (jackass), Va fungool! (Go f@ yourself!), fugazi (fake), gabbagul (idiot, fool), gavone (lazy, good for nothing), scooch (pest, p.i.a.), stunade (moron), puttana (whore)
German– English is a Germanic based language so it makes sense we would recognize some of the words that are still the same—auto, angst, kindergarten, pretzel, rucksack, knapsack, fest, cobalt, waltz, dunk, bum, spritz, seltzer, hamster, poltergeist, delicatessen (deli for short).
My neighborhood had a delicatessen and we literally called it “the German deli.” It’s long gone and has been replaced with a bodega, but I still remember how everything was bursting with flavor and always hit the spot. I have yet to find a deli that can compare.
I wouldn’t be surprised if you knew even more German words that have been popularized in American culture—phooey, dummkopf, blitzkrieg, gesundheit, sauerbraten, sauerkraut, schnapps, wanderlust, wunderkind, zeitgeist, dachshund, schnauzer, bratwurst, doppelganger, and kaput.
Irish—The Irish practically invented New York’s slang through common Gaelic terms which became shortened and anglicized in the city. The Irish were one of the most significant waves of immigration in the late 19th century fleeing the Great Famine. As a child I heard all of these terms and phrases spoken only by my grandparent’s generation, but there are some that have survived the test of time:
slums, holy cow, gee, geewhilikers, gee whiz, darn, ballyhoo, buddy, big guy, swank, swell, give him a kick in the can, kick in the head, mug (look at the mug on that guy), bailiff, big shot, racketeer, racket, the joint (place with a roof, an establishment), you dig? (You understand?), jazz, poker, moolah, spunk, babe, stiff (corpse), snooty, cop, racket, goon, skeedaddle, jiffy
Dutch– The Dutch were the first to come and colonize the area as New Netherland; calling what we now know as Manhattan, New Amsterdam. They left quite an impact as we still use the names they gave us. It’s hard to imagine some of these iconic locations being called anything else!
- Brooklyn—“Breuckelen” Dutch (Brooklyn, later in the 18th century) Old Dutch word meaning “marshland”
- Greenwich Village-Dutch “groenwijck” meaning “green district”, later anglicized to Greenwich in the 1700’s
- The Bronx—“The Broncks Estate” after Jonas Bronck
- Long Island— “Lange Eylandt”
- Broadway—“Breede wegh” meaning “broad road”
- Wall Street—Named after the city wall around “Nieuw Amsterdam”
- Hells Gate—“Helle Gadt”, referring to the dangerous currents in the East River
- Coney Island—“Konijneneiland” meaning “rabbit island”
- Bleeker Street, Bowery Lane, Cortlandt Street, Dyker Heights, Flushing, Holland Tunnel, Rikers Island, Staten Island, and more!
We also use everyday words originated by the Dutch—sleigh, stoop, caboose, coleslaw, cruller, and Santa Claus are just a few examples. Stoop and cruller may be most significant to a New Yorker. You could sit on the stoop and dip your cruller in your coffee.
Native American/ Algonquian—The original inhabitants of the New York area were fierce Native American tribes. Their names are preserved all over the state as towns, counties, streets, and even school names—Erie, Seneca, Onondaga, Seneca, Mohegan, Montauk, Shinnecock, Mohawk, Canarsee, Oneida, Rockaway, Nissequoge, Setauket, Massapequa, Comsewogue, Sachem and more.
Dozens of tribes spoke the related Algonquian language and gave us these everyday words: skunk, toboggan, squash, raccoon, woodchuck, chipmunk, tobacco, moose, caribou, coyote, skunk, kayak, hickory, caucus, totem, and more.
Did you know Manhattan was named by its original inhabitants, the Lenape People? “Manna-hatta” means “island of many hills.” Some of their caves still exist in NYC! Check out: Exploring Inwood
Other— There is no end to the influence other cultures have on New York. It is the “premier gateway for legal immigration” and welcomes all people into its melting pot. I’ve included a few more popular words from other cultures, but the list would be endless if I included everyone.
- Swedish—smorgasbord, moped
- Mexican Spanish— macho, bronco
- Spanish—buckaroo, mustang, patio, pronto, ranch, vamoose, bodega (There’s also Spanglish.)
- African American—aardvark, banana, banjo, chimpanzee, cola, fandango, jamboree, jumbo, trek, zombie (There’s also Ebonics.)
New York is the source of cool phrases…
You may not have used or even heard of all of the common terms above; but I bet you have heard most, if not all, of these popular terms and phrases that originated in New York.
- “Cowboy”—You heard me! This word first originated in New York in the 1800’s to describe a band of men who rustled cows (The oldest working ranch in the US [est 1658] is located in Montauk, Long Island)
- “Almighty Dollar”- coined by Washington Irving in 1638
- “Sidekick”- Coined in 1904 as street slang for “buddy” by writer O.Henry
- “Cockamamie”- worthless or absurd, early 20th century
- “Sent Up the River”—sent to prison (Sing Sing) up the river (Hudson) from NYC
- “Department Store”-1887 Hahn’s Department Store was the first to use this phrase
- “Flea Market”- from The Valley Markets in Dutch colonial times (abbreviated to Vlie, pronounced flee, and then anglicized to flea market)
- “Reuben”- A sandwich invented at Reuben’s Deli in Manhattan early 20th century
- “Punk Rock”- the 1970’s music scene that started in lower Manhattan (attributed to Punk Magazine’s editor)
- “Multimillionaire”—this term first applied to John Astor, a NY fur trader, worth 20 million dollars (80 billion by today’s standards!) at the time of his death in 1848
- “Rush Hour”- Can you believe NYC has had commuter gridlock issues dating all the way back to 1890? That’s 130 years of rush hour traffic!
- “Out in Left Field”—In Yankees stadium the seats in the left field were far away from the most popular player, right fielder Babe Ruth.
- “Yuppie”—“young urban professional” NYC 1980’s
- “Porterhouse Steak”- 1814 Martin Morrison’s Porterhouse restaurant made this steak popular
- “Public Relations”- publicity writer Edward Bernay first used this term in his 1920 wedding announcements to make his job sound more respectable
- “Bunt”- in 1872 a baseball player named Pearce on the Brooklyn Atlantics used this term for hitting the ball softly
- “Keeping Up with the Joneses”—created in 1913 by NY cartoonist “Pop” Momand to represent the middle class people living beyond their means
- “Headline”-the first one appeared October 27, 1777 in the New York Gazette
I hope you enjoy the flavor of this New York post written during the Quarantine of 2020.
It’s difficult to motivate you to get out and explore when social distancing, travel restrictions, and building closures are affecting everyone. I wrote this post to entertain another aspect of New York life which was prompted by my last post The Aching Heart of the City That Never Sleeps. The love of home runs very deep with a native New Yorker and I hope I was able to convey some of those reasons why with this post. There is a deep connection to culture, history, perseverance, and family within all of these different communities and when things get tough they band together as one—as a “New Yorker”.
Note: All photos are taken personally by the author or are historical photograph copies of the author’s personal family.