Bay Area slang redux
And some personal news
Thanks for joining me for the 27th issue of the Golden Stats Warrior, a newsletter for data-based insights about the Bay Area. If this is your first time reading, welcome! You can sign up here. I am grateful for your support.
Before I get the main business of this week’s newsletter, a little personal news. After more than four wonderful years at Quartz, I am taking some time off to work on personal projects (like this newsletter) and figure out what’s next. Got any ideas about what I should do? I would love to hear them.
Since it was the holidays, this week’s edition is an updated version of one I published in December 2019—before most of you subscribed. I’ve added some additional analysis and context. The recommendations at the end are brand new.
I moved to the Bay Area when I was 31, too late to really take on much of the local language. Still, periodically I am surprised to find myself using the word “hella” as a replacement for “very” or “a lot.”
According to a KQED story, the origins of hella are murky. The term probably originated in Northern California in 1970s, and it likely came from Oakland’s Black community—American slang often originates from Black English.
Beyond hella, I was curious about what other Bay Area slang I wasn’t aware of due to my old age. The simplest way to learn about this would be to google “Bay Area slang” and enjoy all the fun articles that appear, or even better, watch E-40 explain the explain the meaning of “giggin,” “fasho,” and “to the kneck” in this Vanity Fair video. But I thought I would try a little data sleuthing.
I turned to a dataset based on 890 million tweets collected by geographers and forensic linguists to identify US language trends. For every county in the US, the dataset includes the relative frequencies of the 10,000 most commonly used words in these tweets. My friend and Quartz colleague Nikhil Sonnad made an amazing tool using this data for mapping the geography of word use. The data comes from October 2013 to November 2014, so it might be a little behind the times.
To identify Bay Area slang, I looked for words that were ten times more likely to be used in Bay Area’s nine counties than in the rest of the US. In addition, I only kept words that were at least 50% more likely to be used in the Bay than in Los Angeles, just to make sure I wasn’t finding California-wide slang. For example, “hella” is thirteen times more commonly used in Bay Area tweets than in the rest of the US, and more than twice as likely to be used in the Bay than in LA.
Of the 1,214 words that met this criteria, the vast majority were not slang. Most were local places or things, like “Sausalito” and “Caltrain.” Tech words like “hadoop” appeared, as did “gentrification.” My personal favorite was “zswaggers”—the name for the actress Zendaya’s superfans (the Euphoria star is from Oakland). If you want to look through the list, you can find a searchable and scrollable version here.
Examining the first several hundred words, I did find some words that I was confident qualify as slang. The table below shows 17 slang words that were at least 25 times more likely to be used in the Bay. The meanings are mostly taken from Urban Dictionary and Wikipedia, and you can find those links here.
If you are intrigued by how these words actually get used, I suggest searching for them on Twitter. Here is a fun example of how “cattin” was used in 2014.
Using Nikhil Sonnad’s mapping tool, we can see that the Bay Area is “cattin” central, though it has spread to other parts of California.
And here is a map of “fasho,” which didn’t come up in my list because it is also so popular in LA.
Though it didn’t quite meet my criteria, one of my favorite discoveries during this process was that saying a song with a good beat “slaps” is a Bay Area thing. It was also fun to see when certain slang words are paired. For example, “hella” and “moded” are used together frequently to indicate embarrassment after doing something silly.
It seems like I might be “hella moded” after this newsletter for misunderstanding some of this slang. Forgive me. It’s tough for old folks. At least I know never to try to use any of these words.
I hope others might go through the list and find slang that I missed. Again, here is the link again. An example of how you can search the table is below.
Bay Area media recommendation of the week
Though infection rates are rising, the Bay Area has been spared the worst of the pandemic. That’s largely because of the ability of so many people to work from home and use masks. But it’s also because of its history of progressive governance, argues Jay Kaspian Kang in the New Yorker.
Kang’s story details how San Francisco’s massive Laguna Honda skilled-nursing facility, started in 1860 as a home for the elderly and impoverished, did an exceptional job at protecting their residents. He also describes how community organizers reached out to the region’s Latino community and helped stop a larger outbreak in neighborhoods like the Mission and Fruitvale. It’s a reminder of the organizations and individuals whose work may have saved thousands of lives in our region. (Kang is a treasure of a journalist and we are lucky to have him in the Bay.)
(Seen any great Bay Area media recently? Send it to me!)
Dan’s favorite things
It’s mushroom season! And so I cede the stage to Kanchan Gautam, my favorite amateur mycologist.
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of Fungi and like most things seasonal. For us Californians, mushroom season begins in the Fall and can last through the Springtime depending on rainfall. If you are a myco-enthusiast, you might remember the winter-spring of 2020 being quite dry and proving disappointing. So needless to say, the rainfall this winter so far has been a very welcome sight. After some recent mild to heavy rain, the Bay Area blossomed with mushrooms.
I suggest heading to Joaquin Miller in the East Bay and McLaren Park in San Francisco (specifically this area). Observe the trees there closely to see more of these amazing organisms. With more of us leaning heavily towards our hobbies to keep us feeling grounded and less anxious these days, searching for mushrooms has become popular during the pandemic. I think you might also find it a meditative pursuit.
Here are some of Kanchan’s recent mushroom discoveries.
Thanks for your time, and see you in a couple weeks.
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