How to Sound Like a Local When You Move to San Francisco

Janet Haney
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Ah, San Francisco … the diverse population includes surfers, Ivy Leaguers, techies, nonprofit folks, creative types, hippies, and a whole lot more. This international hub is teeming with more than 100 different spoken languages, and the interesting mix of inhabitants lends itself to a unique vernacular melding together the new and old.

Don’t Call It Frisco

Locals refer to San Francisco as The City, not Frisco, not San Fran. We always say we live in The City if someone from around the Bay Area asks where we live. Interestingly, the Golden State Warriors NBA team, located in Oakland, even donned “The City” throwback jerseys for some games during the 2015-16 season.

Dial 4-1-5

The highly coveted 415 area code is another much-used nickname for San Francisco.  The numbers are also plastered on t-shirts, glassware, stationery, notepads, etc. Now, The City is bursting with so many people that there’s a newer area code – 628 – in circulation.

That Fool Fog(ust)

Let’s be clear – summers in San Francisco aren’t anything like Florida summers. June, July, and August are some of the year’s foggiest and coldest months as the cool Pacific Ocean breeze meets warmer Bay Area temps. As a result, August has been dubbed Fogust. Unsuspecting tourists flock to The City in their shorts and t-shirts only to rush to Fisherman’s Wharf to buy inexpensive fleece jackets. The fog layers can be so thick that often 4th of July fireworks are washed out in the thick white soup. Bundle up!

Hella Cool

This oldie, but a goodie, got it’s origin across the Bay Bridge in Oakland. It’s hella fun to use this term in various ways – “The Giants struck out hella times”, “I’m hella excited for the party.”

Cut It Out

An instantly descriptive, dual-purpose word – cutty can be used as an adjective or a noun. Cutty might mean shady or sketchy or an area far away, like the ‘burbs. “My Marina friends had a baby now they live in the cuts.” “I didn’t want to stay in that cutty apartment.”

Let’s Get Hyper

Feeling hyperactive? Then, you might be getting hyphy about something. Oakland rapper Keak da Sneak coined the term in 1994, and it’s proven its got legs. Hyphy is used as a verb as well as an adjective and even has its own Wikipedia page.


In keeping with the music theme, “slaps” or “slap” refers to good tunes from the Bay Area. “Let’s spin some Mac Dre slaps.”

Yippy Yee

“Are you hella excited for the concert tonight?” “Yee.”


“That kid was jawsin’ when he said he didn’t do it.”

Yabba Dabba — Yadadamean

Yadadamean is a loopy word mesh that translates to: “Do you know what I mean?”

It’s Always 4:20 Somewhere

The pervasive term “420” first sparked a flame in the early 1970s when a group of teens just across the Golden Gate Bridge—in San Rafael—decided to look for a cannabis crop. They used the code phrase “4:20 Louis”, referring to their meeting time. Now, of course, this got shortened to 420 and means to smoke marijuana, in general. Watch out, when April 20 at 4:20 p.m. rolls around each year, the plumes of smoke around The City can be as thick as the August fog, and most other days too.

Try and Try Again

As your mouth gets tired of moving, it’s sometimes easier to just blend words together like this one: “I’m tryna find my hella cool headphones to listen to some slaps.”

When You Cough, Call it ‘Goff’

Gough is a major street running north to south across San Francisco, and it’s pronounced like cough – plain and simple.

No-eee Valley

Noe Valley is a popular neighborhood in central San Francisco, and its distinct name can cause confusion for newcomers. The long “e” distinguishes this charming, family-friendly community.

It’s Getting Fishy

While it’s spelled Fisherman’s Wharf, locals pronounce the famous tourist spot as plural — Fishermen’s Wharf.


Editor's Note: This article was originally published on April 26, 2018 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Janet Haney

Janet Haney is a San Francisco-based writer, editor, and publicist who started out her career by getting up at the crack of dawn to work market hours as a financial reporter. Since then, she’s awake during more civilized times, and she has been published in the New York Daily News, Yahoo! Finance section,, Columbia University School of Engineering magazine, business-related websites, magazines, and newsletters.
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