If you’re new to Washington, DC chances are you’re going to hear some words or phrases that don’t make sense. As with any place, Washingtonians have developed a lexicon that can often be confusing to outsiders.
Here are some words and phrases you’ll only hear in the District (see #3) and what they (in some cases debatably) mean.
Simply refers to our glorious multifaceted transit system, a.k.a Washinton Metropolitan Area Transit Authority or WMATA. Shortened to “Metro” because Wah-Mah-Tah should never be a thing. Stop trying to make it a thing, Todd!
Yes, Department of Motor Vehicles, but most likely Washingtonians who say it in casual conversation are referring to the region made up of DC and anywhere in Maryland and Virginia accessible by Metro.
3. The District
One of the acceptable ways to reference Washington, DC. You can also say “DC,” but no one says “Washington.” That’s a state (even people who live in either are called “Washingtonians”).
4. Outside/Inside The Beltway
The Beltway is I-495. DC is inside the Beltway. Everything else is “outside the Beltway” a.k.a. reality.
5. The Swamp
Mostly used by politicians who pledge to “drain the swamp” as an analogy for cleaning up the mess on The Hill (see #11). There’s a longstanding myth that DC was built on a swamp. However, according to historian Don Hawkins, only about two percent of DC was built on a swamp. Hawkins writes, “It was almost entirely laid out over well-drained terraces and hills. In fact, for a riverside site, it was amazingly free of swampiness.”
The state north of Virginia.
Murlan’s State Capitol.
Washingtonians aren’t referring to the classic automobile known as the Chevy Nova. This is a short way of referring the northern portion of the state located south of Murlan. Speaking of Chevy…
9. Chevy Chase
A neighborhood in northwest DC that borders a Maryland town of the same name. Contrary to popular (and understandable) belief the well-known comedic actor didn’t take his name from either of these areas. Mr. Cornelius Crane Chase was given the nickname “Chase” by his grandmother as a nod to the medieval English Ballad of Chevy Chase (thanks, Wikipedia!).
10. Chocolate City
Washington DC was the original “Chocolate City’ because it was the first US city with a majority black population. In 2011, the city’s African American population dipped under 50 percent for the first time. Still, we hang onto that title even if Google marks Chocolate City as permanently closed.
11. The Hill
Tourists call it “The Capitol Building” and although it isn’t much of an actual hill if it snows you can legally sled on it.
12. The Mall
This can be moderately confusing but in DC “the Mall” isn’t a place to shop. “The Mall” is where all of the tourists hang out, government employees run before or after work, and spies pass secrets. If a local is actually going to a shopping mall they’ll likely use the name of the shopping mall, like “City Center” or “Crystal City.”
It’s difficult to explain GoGo music unless you’ve witnessed it live. The music is a blend of funk, old school hip hop, r&b, and, at the core, lo-fi percussion. Check out this Medium article for a better explanation.
Food of the District
14. Half Smoke
Chicago has the Chicago Dog, Detroit has the Coney, and DC has the Half-Smoke. Ben’s Chili Bowl serves up the classic half-smoke but there are many places you can find this traditional District sausage. Two of the best options are at The Passenger (1539 7th St NW) and The Big Stick (20 M St SE).
15. U Street Taco
The U Street Taco only became a thing in 2013 because the Washington City Paper made it a thing. This is a Ben’s chili half smoke wrapped inside a Jumbo Pizza giant slice. Somehow this monstrosity has become a legit late night drunk food after hitting U Street Corridor bars.
16. Wings and Mumbo Sauce
Carryout probably deserves an entry, because most everywhere else calls it “take out” but we’ll lump it into this very important entry. Occasionally someone will claim Chicago is the home of mumbo sauce, but while it may have been birthed in the Windy City there’s no place in the country that embraces it like DC. Chinese carryout joints serve up mumbo sauce to go with wings and, like snow flakes, no two restaurants have the same mumbo recipe.
17. Old Bay Seasoning
Founded in Baltimore nearly a century ago for seasoning seafood (predominantly crabs) you’ll find Old Bay throughout the country. However, nowhere is it so fervantly used like it is in the DMV. Washingtonians put Old Bay in everything. It’s a perfect match for Bloody Marys but you can even find in unlikely places like doughnuts.
Words of the District
18. Siced or Cised
Stoked, psyched, pumped up, excited, etc. Pronounce it like “sliced” without an “L.”
Replace literally any noun with “jont,” but if you aren’t a local and try to throw it into caual conversation you’ll stand out like a sore thumb. For such a hard word it’s incredibly difficult for a non-native Washingtonian to pronounce. Sort of like “joint” but also like “jaunt.”
20. Bama or Bamma
Someone who acts like a fool or someone lacking style.
Honorable Mention: “Stand right, walk left”
Washingtonians love to claim this elevator etiquette is “such a DC thing,” but it really isn’t. “Stand right, walk left” is literally the standard in any city with an underground transit system and any airport with moving sidewalks.
Are you from Chicago? Check out 18 Words & Phrases You’ll Only Understand If You’re From Chicago.