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September 18th, 2017

SF Slang Explained

Travel Tips

San Francisco is one of the most international cities in the world, with a minority-majority population that makes SF a hella unique place. Despite the mix of culture and cuisine, expressions and slang is used by all. Here are some SF sayings and expressions you’ll only hear in the city.


This is the obvious one that most people recognize. Believed to have its roots from East Oakland in the 1970s, this adverb is thought to be a contraction of the phrase “hell of a,” but mostly used as emphasis. So, your burrito from the Mission can be hella good, traffic can be hella congested on the 80, and BART today was maybe hella slow. (Side note: A modest version of “hella” used by some Bay Area kids is “hecka.” No joke).

BART, Muni, Cable Cars, buses, trolleybuses, oh my!

We’ll break this down for you -- there are lots of modes of transit in the city, and getting around is a lot easier if you know what they’re called by the locals. For starters, BART, or Bay Area Rapid Transit, or to out-of-towners “the subway,” is BART. No “the” beforehand. BART runs 6 lines that stretch in 4 different directions, south to San Jose and East to parts of Oakland. Muni is short for Municipal Railway, which is all transit in the city. But, when locals say “Muni,” they’re usually referring to the light train or metro, which runs below ground, right above BART in some areas. Then there’s the Muni busses, which are called by line or route. And then we have trolleybuses, which are NOT the same as cable cars. Trolleybuses run on overhead electrical wires, cable cars run from an underground cable. 

The City.

Don’t call it San Fran, don’t call it the Golden Gate City, and for the love of all things holy, don’t call it Frisco. Most in SF and the Bay Area call it “the city,” while its neighboring Oakland is “Oaktown.” When Bay Area people are going to the city for the day, they don’t mean Berkeley, they don’t mean Oakland and they don’t mean San Jose. Here, SF is the city.

June Gloom.

As Mark Twain once said, “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” and June is certainly the month. While this phrase is said to have originated from Southern California, which also experiences summer cloud coverage, apart from June, the city may experience "May Gray," "No Sky July" and "Fogust". Also, the fog here has a name, and its name is Karl. Find Karl on Twitter @KarlTheFog and throughout the city -- he never seems to leave.


In SF, “techie” isn’t the greatest name to be called. Neither is “brogrammer,” a term that combines “bro” and “programmer,” referring to the tech industry’s majority-male workforce.

Techies refer to those who work for Twitter, Google, Facebook, Uber and all things tech that seem to be born in Silicon Valley. Regardless, the wordplay is creative and could only exist here in the city.


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