Strange Things That Californians Say

The movers got here this morning and my stuff is being loaded on a truck to make its way to California. It all feels surreal. The last meals at all my favorite Nashville haunts, the lingering goodbyes, and the talk of a new job, a new life, in a faraway land.


As I try to make sense of it all, I keep thinking about the strange things that Californians say and wonder if someday soon these words and phrases will slip out of my mouth…

I am kind of sick of In-N-Out. Can we eat something else?

That earthquake was nothing. It was only a 5.2.

Be careful on the roads. It’s raining outside.

It’s freezing outside. {said in the winter when it hits 50}

It’s really hot and humid today. {said in the summer when it hits the upper 80s}

That wave was gnarly. {I am still not sure what gnarly means.  And is it good or bad?}

What should we do this weekend? Go to Disneyland? LA? San Diego?

What other strange things have you heard Californians say?

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Lindsey has a sincere love for her precious dogs Molly and Maisy, a good red wine and the Delta Sky Club.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Ksmith

    Lindsey, let’s be real. This list has nothing on the list we could make of the strange things Texans say! Bless your heart.

    • So true! If you want to write that post, I’d be happy to share it. 🙂

  • RhettSmith

    You forgot to add, “I’m stoked.”  I can’t but help use that word all the time even though I live in TX now and no longer in CA.

    Also, my East Coast friends were always mystified that I would refer to “the 405” not just say “405” as if it was some entity.

    On the weekend my wife and used to debate on whether or not we wanted to drive to the mountains or beach all within a 5-10 minute trip.  “so should we hike the mountain trails today or go to the beach…we could also drive a bit and go snow skiing….thoughts.”


    Rhett Smith

    • Bob Mathews

      Rhett, you mentioned the one that sticks in my head — “THE 405”. Don’t ever talk like that in Texas. In fact, our minister has only been with us since March, but used to preach in CA. I took him to task a couple weeks ago for saying “the 35”. Told him he needed to repent and quit talking like a heathen left-coaster.

      One more though — we were stationed in Merced with the USAF, before they closed Castle AFB. They grow a lot of almonds in that area. Except everyone knows the word is pronounced “AH-mund”, or occasionally “AWL-mund”. These people didn’t get the memo. Up there, it’s “AMM-mund”.


        thats just because most people in merced have no teeth 😛 haha jk that area is a little bit like a hillbilly area in your guys states maybe. most normal Californians say Ah-Mund

    • Good call on “stoked” and “THE 405.”

      But THE 1 is called “PCH” without the “the.”

    • cynic

      It IS an entity. It has its own wikipedia page:

  • Anonymous

    This isn’t one particular comment per say, but in my experience Californians talk about money a lot and much more frankly than the rest of the country. This may not be as true as it was before the housing bubble burst, but every time I was in Cali, without fail, I would be asked how much I paid for my house per square foot, only to be met with a dropped jaw and “That’s CRAZY! My house is half that size and I got it for a steal at XYZ (twice as much).” 

    I found it weird. 

  • When I visited my brother when he first moved there, he and a friend had an entire conversation using only word Dude. Both knew what the other meant… they had different inflection and everything… it was a tad scary.. now its just funny…

  • Having similar issues still in Texas coming from California.

    When someone calls you ‘buddy’ in California it’s not a positive thing yet in Texas it’s like ‘Dude’. But I cringe when I’m called ‘buddy’ because it’s derogatory in Cali…one day i’ll get over it.

    • One day…and then you’ll move back and be confused again. 😉

  • Josh

    As a former Texan now living in California I wondered the same thing about gnarly. I was a little surprised to learn that Californians, if you ask them, are completely incapable of defining it. Apparently gnarly is a gnarly word to parse.

    I’ve since discerned gnarly to mean: “intense, extreme, difficult – usually in an unpleasant sense, though not always.”

    Ex: that wave was gnarly. – the wave was large and out of control, but might have been exciting to experience.

    Ex: the traffic was gnarly today. – traffic sucked (daily experience)

    I hope this helps you in all your linguistic endeavors.

    • Thanks much!

    • punkrooster1210

      it can mean really good too like whoa thats a gnarly motorcycle! or a weird in between like when something is really horrible, yet good, like a fight scene in a movie where the dude gets annihilated or someone comes up with a gnarly comeback to an insult. you enjoyed it, but it was a brutal or horrible thing or situation. Yep we are a weird people in California 😛

      • cynic

        This is a pretty good summary of the word’s meaning.

        If you barely survive, then the car accident is gnarly.
        If that burrito you ate could feed a family of four, then that burrito is gnarly.
        If you hit that handrail switch down a 20-stair clean, then the footage of it is gnarly.
        If you bought a 10 deodorants for the price of 1, then Wal Mart’s sale was gnarly.

        I’ve always thought gnarly to mean something extreme or out of the ordinary, but now that I think about it, we use it in a bunch of different ways, and the only way to master the word, really, is to immerse yourself in the culture that uses it.

  • I’m not very familiar w/ Californians, but I second the earthquake comment. We in the northwest call a 5.2 quake Tuesday.

    And anyone who’s tired of In-N-Out should be tarred and feathered.

  • My brother lives in California. I think EVERYTHING he says is strange. Of course, I thought that when he lived in Japan. And Guam. And Washington. And at home. 

  • My brother lives in California. I think EVERYTHING he says is strange. Of course, I thought that when he lived in Japan. And Guam. And Washington. And at home. 

  • Jo

    1) In ‘n’ Out never gets old

    2) I’m a child of the Northridge Earthquake, so I tend to say things like this.  New transplants, not so much.

    3) You’ll probably end up saying everything else on the list, but “gnarly waves” are only for surfers.

  • All I know is that people in California say “you guys” as opposed to “y’all”. Such a strange language out there.

    • so strange. they can never take my “y’all” away from me.

      • cynic

        You can keep it. We don’t want it.

    • cynic

      Californian here. I can’t get over how weird your southern dialect is. You’re gonna “fix” breakfast? Why is it broken in the first place?

  • We always say the freeway number with a THE before. I can not even tell if THE 405 , THE 5, THE 23, THE 101, THE 10, THE 210 (shall I continue on?) is a interstate, highway or whatever else they are called. 

    • cynic

      THIS. I was so confused when I went out of state and people were calling their freeways “I-[insert highway number]”. I can’t imagine calling PCH “I-1” or the 405 “1-405”. Sometimes you’ll hear news reporters in the choppers call them that but even that seems rare. It seems so much easier to say, “Dude, take the 91 to the 55”.

  • Wow!  I can’t believe the moving truck is on its way.  Best wishes to you on everything, Lindsey.

  • you are killing me.

    just get here already.

  • Haha, it is not possible for someone to be sick of in-n-out!

  • Alexisgward

    Oh man this is right on. Seriously. First of all, I had a friend once cancel dinner plans because of rain. RAIN. not a downpour either. Second, ever time it gets over 75 I start to hear about the heat and humidity and just roll my eyes. I went to college in LA–Lower Alabama. They created heat and humidity. They also declare the ocean to be warm when it hits a still-brisk 65 degrees. Brrrr. And the last one… well that’s the best one. I love that in a month’s time we’ll hit up the beach about ten times, the zoo and even Disneyland without even batting an eye. From one Nashville transplant to another… welcome to cali!

  • Punkrooster1210

    Lol Gnarly means reaally good or super nasty and bad depending on the tone its used. i guess ya itd be really confusing for non-locals 😛

  • Punkrooster1210

    also another weird thing is we never say HOV or Highway, its Carpool Lane and Freeway

  • bornandraised

    Newsflash people!
    1.California is a big state and Southern CA is nothing like NorCal! It is a balmy 29 degrees outside my office right now. That is actually below freezing.
    2.California is not strange, it is original! Don’t hate on us just because we start the trends that the rest of the world obsesses over.
    3.It is a dry heat and please smack anyone born and raised in CA that says the weather is humid (however for 3 months out of our year in NorCal the digits are usually in the triples.
    4. Gnarly is one of the most awesome adjectives ever, it describes and pokes fun at the same time. Use it. Love it.
    5. Half of the people in CA can’t afford to go to Disneyland even once! The Tickets are outrageous and living anywhere north of Valencia makes the travel time and gas expense ridiculous.

    6. In & Out NEVER gets old. Period.

  • ally

    I’ve lived in California all my life and say most of these “strange” sayings. Gnarly is kind of like “sick” and if you don’t know what that means than cool, awesome. It even can mean something gross/disgusting. 50°-60° is actually cold to me and is the usual temperature during fall and winter! Besides barely anyone here goes to Disneyland. Way to over priced!

  • Amanda

    Saying “the” before freeway names is mainly a Southern California thing. I’m a native of Santa Cruz, but lived in Southern California for 5-6 years before moving back. Up here, everyone just says “Highway 1,” “Highway 17,” etc. We do say “like” a lot, talk pretty fast, and tend to merge vowels and over-enunciate most consonants. How people talk on the news is similar to how most of us talk in real life. I hate the word “hella” but do say “dude” sometimes for emphasis. Another thing we do is pronounce nearly all Spanish location names the way they would be pronounced in Spanish, which I think is a good thing – it’s one of my major pet peeves when people pronounce the Italian words “espresso” as “expresso” and “bruschetta” (supposed to be like “brusketta”) as “brushetta”! And my family ALWAYS tells me to be careful driving when it’s raining.

    Oh, and most houses don’t have air conditioning, which is shocking to a lot of people in hotter states. We do have heaters, but they are rarely used because “cold” is 50 degrees.

    And I’m the only person I know who thinks In-N-Out is absolutely disgusting. I know, I know, blasphemy! It seems to be universally loved across the state. 🙂

    My grandmother is from El Paso, TX, and REALLY enunciates everything – but I don’t know if that has more to do with her age or her location. Either way, her English is the most “proper” I’ve ever heard.

  • Kelly

    There are tons of weird things Californians say:
    1. it is offensive to offer them mint, they assume you think they have bad breath, so strange
    2. They ask where you were born, where your parents were born the first time they meet you
    3. They tell you they were born here and raised here upon greeting you for the first time, so strange
    4. They are very loud being a racist, a sexist, or both
    5. They compare fast foods, like comparing in and out and macdonald and panda. just like comparing products in a dollar tree store.
    6. You meet employees with really bad attitude even in Starbucks, olive garden, and places you hardly expect those people to exist.
    7. They like to assume your private live and believe that everything they imagined is right without asking you and just spread the rumor.
    8. They don’t believe that your trivia night plans or weekend plans, like going out for a dinner with friends. Who would make up something as trivia as that.
    9. They are way too pathetic to be cool. you have to deal with lota extremely unprofessional co-workers who think it is cool to be unprofessional.
    and etc.

    moving to California made me feel like i just made a right turn into a psycho town. of course not everyone. There are many of those people.

  • ashley nunez

    I will never get sick of in-n-out and gnarly is a good thing