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North vs. South California Expressions (And Why to Watch What You Say)

North vs. South California Expressions (And Why to Watch What You Say)

I feel oddly qualified to write about California expressions, not only because I hail from California, but because I’ve lived in both its Northern and Southern regions. More specifically, I grew up in the latter and went to college in the former. To be honest, I didn’t  notice too much of a difference between the two. In fact, I’d say there’s more that ties NorCal and SoCal together than drives them apart. But there are some stark differences when it comes to the way people speak. Indeed, with some NorCal- and SoCal-specific phrases, you definitely should not use them outside of their region of origin (unless you want to get yelled at)! Now, without further ado, let’s take a look at some California expressions. We’ll start with the good old North…

NorCal

1. “Hella”

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    This California expression is pretty infamous. I never heard it being used in Southern California, and when I started living in the North it came as a bit of a shock to me when I heard every other person dropping phrases like “yeah man, that was a hella cool class.” Even after four years in NorCal, I never reached the point where I felt comfortable using it myself. I just stuck to its synonyms, like “incredibly,” or “very.” These days “hella” and its little brother, “hecka,” are being used more and more often in SoCal, so I’d say soon enough they will become ubiquitous to all of California. Until that happens though, you’ll continue to receive stares of disapproval if you use this expression in Southern California. Even if you use this in NorCal, where it’s meant to be used, be prepared for an outburst of righteous indignation if a SoCal native hears you say it.

    2. “The City”

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      This means San Francisco, or SF. For people in the North, this is the only city that deserves being called The City. They aren’t talking about San Jose, Sacramento, Oakland, or anyplace like that. (Sorry, people from those cities.) If you are from Los Angeles and say you’re from “the city” when you’re up in NorCal, you’ll just be causing a whole lot of confusion. And don’t try to clarify what you meant, either, as that only makes it worse. (You’ll probably just receive a lecture about why LA is terrible compared to the Bay Area). Best not to reveal you’re from Los Angeles in the first place.

      3. “SoCal”

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        Growing up in Southern California, I rarely if ever heard people refer to the region we live in as “SoCal.” Instead we’d just say “California,” and clarify with “in the south” or “near LA” when asked. When I moved up North, I heard the term “SoCal” used far more often, which is a little bit ironic. Here’s an example: “Oh, look, these guys are hella weird. They’re probably from SoCal.” If you use “SoCal” while actually in SoCal, you’ll probably freak people out, since we all know where we are. The only reason to use such an abbreviation anyways is when speaking in reference to NorCal. But we rarely do that.

        4. “I’m stoked!”

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          While this is surely used in Southern California as well, especially near the beaches, I heard it all the time in NorCal. Is there a party going on? Well, then you’re stoked for it. About to go on a bike ride? Get stoked. Going to the beach? Stoked. It means “super extremely excited about doing something.” Seeing how long that phrase is, it’s no wonder it gets condensed down to “stoked” so often. Doing research, I found that many people said that “stoked” is a SoCal expression. Well, maybe it used to be, but it’s definitely become more of a “thing” up North now as far as I can tell.

          5. “420”

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            This, in the North,always refers to April 20th, the date on which all of the pot smokers up there gather and celebrate their collective addiction to marijuana. There are pot smokers in SoCal of course, especially where I live, but I never heard “420” used this way until I moved up North. Today it has become more ubiquitous across America, but I’d still say it’s very much a part of Northern California’s culture. If you say you’re celebrating 420 in SoCal, chances are you’ll receive several blank stares, and perhaps even be arrested, while up in Northern California you’ll probably get a few cheers and a couple high-fives.

            6. “Janky”

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              “Janky” means “performing below normal standards.” So if your iPhone is being slow and unresponsive, you’d say “Dang, my phone is being real janky today.” It’s not something I heard being used everyday in NorCal, though it definitely was used, especially compared to SoCal where I never heard it. I’d stick to using this phrase in Northern California, because elsewhere they might think you’re talking about an exotic new narcotic.

              SoCal

              1. “Like”

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                Like, did you know that us Southern Californians like to, like, use the word “like” in our sentences? Even when we, like, don’t need to? This isn’t a problem when writing, usually, but if you ever hear “like” interspersed between every other word, you’re likely talking to a person from SoCal. Don’t be fooled by stereotypes either: it isn’t just so-called valley girls who do this. I do it, and so does pretty much everyone I know who grew up in this region. Much like the North’s “hella,” our use of “like” is mostly subconscious and can’t really be controlled, so don’t get too mad at us!

                2. “NoCal”

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                  As you probably noticed, there’s an “r” missing from this. Or is there? When referring to Northern California in abbreviated form (which, I’ll remind you, we Southern Californians rarely do), we use “NoCal” instead of NorCal because it’s more derogatory. (No-Cal, get it?) And it’s about twice as fun to say. Just don’t say it up North because people will take it as a slight against their honor and start raving about all of the things wrong with Southern California. They might also pull out a cowbell or two and start ringing it in your face.

                  3. “Dude”

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                    While this might seem like something everyone in California says, you’re far more likely to hear it as a term of endearment down South. Up North, I found that people would say “man” instead. Note that this phrase is unisex, meaning you don’t have to call a girl a “dudette,” whatever that is. They can be dudes, too! You can safely say “dude” in NorCal without attracting anyone’s fury, just don’t expect it to be said back to you.

                    4. “North-North California”

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                      We Southern Californians are keenly aware that what is typically known as NorCal (San Fransisco, Sacramento, and the like), is really just upper-central California geographically. So when we come across someone who lives in that strange land above Tahoe and below Oregon, we ask them, “So you live in North-North California? Basically Oregon right?” They usually bristle at this, either because they want to be affiliated with the hip and happening NorCal or don’t want to be associated with Oregon in any way. Fun fact: this area of California once petitioned to be its own state, Jefferson, but it never happened. Best to not bring up any of this to a “true” Northern Californian, lest you incur their wrath.

                      5. “There’s a Sigalert on the 405”

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                        The term “Sigalert” is practically inseparable from Southern California, mostly as a result of its huge Freeway infrastructure. A Sigalert is a warning from the Highway Patrol that a particular region of the Freeway is blocked off due to a crash, meaning that it’s unusable, leading to hours of rage-inducing traffic. It happens on a daily basis, and thus Southern Californians are always checking their TVs and radios for Sigalerts before they hit the road. Usually there’s a detour available, a result of there being so many gosh-darned Freeways everywhere. I should also point out one more distinction here, in that people in NorCal wouldn’t say “the 405.” Instead, they’ll say something like “take highway 17 to get to San Jose,” whereas a Southern California native would say “take the 17.” Also, I never heard “Sigalert” used up in NorCal, so save yourself some trouble and just call them “accidents” when you’re up there.

                        6. “The entertainment industry”

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                        hollywood

                          In Southern California, this always means that your job deals with Hollywood in some fashion, whether you work on a set, are an engineer of some sort, are a producer, an actor, and so on and so forth. Here’s a reminder though: say something like “I work in the entertainment industry” up in NorCal and people probably won’t even know what you’re referring to. You’ll need to clarify that you work in the show business, specifically the one related to Hollywood, or else their mind will wander, thinking about the many things a job based in “entertainment” could entail.

                          And lastly, a phrase to avoid like the plague…

                          “Cali”

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                            Northern and Southern Californians can come together on this one. Nobody, literally nobody living in California refers to their state as “Cali.” Use that word here and you might as well be holding up a giant sign that says “I’m from Pennsylvania!”

                            Featured photo credit: golden-gate-bridge-san-francisco / CC0 Public Domain via pixabay.com

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                            Last Updated on December 4, 2020

                            How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

                            How to Give Constructive Feedback in the Workplace

                            We all crave constructive feedback. We want to know not just what we’re doing well but also what we could be doing better.

                            However, giving and getting constructive feedback isn’t just some feel-good exercise. In the workplace, it’s part and parcel of how companies grow.

                            Let’s take a closer look.

                            Why Constructive Feedback Is Critical

                            A culture of feedback benefits individuals on a team and the team itself. Constructive feedback has the following effects:

                            Builds Workers’ Skills

                            Think about the last time you made a mistake. Did you come away from it feeling attacked—a key marker of destructive feedback—or did you feel like you learned something new?

                            Every time a team member learns something, they become more valuable to the business. The range of tasks they can tackle increases. Over time, they make fewer mistakes, require less supervision, and become more willing to ask for help.

                            Boosts Employee Loyalty

                            Constructive feedback is a two-way street. Employees want to receive it, but they also want the feedback they give to be taken seriously.

                            If employees see their constructive feedback ignored, they may take it to mean they aren’t a valued part of the team. Nine in ten employees say they’d be more likely to stick with a company that takes and acts on their feedback.[1]

                            Strengthens Team Bonds

                            Without trust, teams cannot function. Constructive feedback builds trust because it shows that the giver of the feedback cares about the success of the recipient.

                            However, for constructive feedback to work its magic, both sides have to assume good intentions. Those giving the feedback must genuinely want to help, and those getting it has to assume that the goal is to build them up rather than to tear them down.

                            Promotes Mentorship

                            There’s nothing wrong with a single round of constructive feedback. But when it really makes a difference is when it’s repeated—continuous, constructive feedback is the bread and butter of mentorship.

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                            Be the change you want to see on your team. Give constructive feedback often and authentically, and others will naturally start to see you as a mentor.

                            Clearly, constructive feedback is something most teams could use more of. But how do you actually give it?

                            How to Give Constructive Feedback

                            Giving constructive feedback is tricky. Get it wrong, and your message might fall on deaf ears. Get it really wrong, and you could sow distrust or create tension across the entire team.

                            Here are ways to give constructive feedback properly:

                            1. Listen First

                            Often, what you perceive as a mistake is a decision someone made for a good reason. Listening is the key to effective communication.

                            Seek to understand: how did the other person arrive at her choice or action?

                            You could say:

                            • “Help me understand your thought process.”
                            • “What led you to take that step?”
                            • “What’s your perspective?”

                            2. Lead With a Compliment

                            In school, you might have heard it called the “sandwich method”: Before (and ideally, after) giving difficult feedback, share a compliment. That signals to the recipient that you value their work.

                            You could say:

                            • “Great design. Can we see it with a different font?”
                            • “Good thinking. What if we tried this?”

                            3. Address the Wider Team

                            Sometimes, constructive feedback is best given indirectly. If your comment could benefit others on the team, or if the person whom you’re really speaking to might take it the wrong way, try communicating your feedback in a group setting.

                            You could say:

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                            • “Let’s think through this together.”
                            • “I want everyone to see . . .”

                            4. Ask How You Can Help

                            When you’re on a team, you’re all in it together. When a mistake happens, you have to realize that everyone—not just the person who made it—has a role in fixing it. Give constructive feedback in a way that recognizes this dynamic.

                            You could say:

                            • “What can I do to support you?”
                            • “How can I make your life easier?
                            • “Is there something I could do better?”

                            5. Give Examples

                            To be useful, constructive feedback needs to be concrete. Illustrate your advice by pointing to an ideal.

                            What should the end result look like? Who has the process down pat?

                            You could say:

                            • “I wanted to show you . . .”
                            • “This is what I’d like yours to look like.”
                            • “This is a perfect example.”
                            • “My ideal is . . .”

                            6. Be Empathetic

                            Even when there’s trust in a team, mistakes can be embarrassing. Lessons can be hard to swallow. Constructive feedback is more likely to be taken to heart when it’s accompanied by empathy.

                            You could say:

                            • “I know it’s hard to hear.”
                            • “I understand.”
                            • “I’m sorry.”

                            7. Smile

                            Management consultancies like Credera teach that communication is a combination of the content, delivery, and presentation.[2] When giving constructive feedback, make sure your body language is as positive as your message. Your smile is one of your best tools for getting constructive feedback to connect.

                            8. Be Grateful

                            When you’re frustrated about a mistake, it can be tough to see the silver lining. But you don’t have to look that hard. Every constructive feedback session is a chance for the team to get better and grow closer.

                            You could say:

                            • “I’m glad you brought this up.”
                            • “We all learned an important lesson.”
                            • “I love improving as a team.”

                            9. Avoid Accusations

                            Giving tough feedback without losing your cool is one of the toughest parts of working with others. Great leaders and project managers get upset at the mistake, not the person who made it.[3]

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                            You could say:

                            • “We all make mistakes.”
                            • “I know you did your best.”
                            • “I don’t hold it against you.”

                            10. Take Responsibility

                            More often than not, mistakes are made because of miscommunications Recognize your own role in them.

                            Could you have been clearer in your directions? Did you set the other person up for success?

                            You could say:

                            • “I should have . . .”
                            • “Next time, I’ll . . .”

                            11. Time it Right

                            Constructive feedback shouldn’t catch people off guard. Don’t give it while everyone is packing up to leave work. Don’t interrupt a good lunch conversation.

                            If in doubt, ask the person to whom you’re giving feedback to schedule the session themselves. Encourage them to choose a time when they’ll be able to focus on the conversation rather than their next task.

                            12. Use Their Name

                            When you hear your name, your ears naturally perk up. Use that when giving constructive feedback. Just remember that constructive feedback should be personalized, not personal.

                            You could say:

                            • “Bob, I wanted to chat through . . .”
                            • “Does that make sense, Jesse?”

                            13. Suggest, Don’t Order

                            When you give constructive feedback, it’s important not to be adversarial. The very act of giving feedback recognizes that the person who made the mistake had a choice—and when the situation comes up again, they’ll be able to choose differently.

                            You could say:

                            • “Next time, I suggest . . .”
                            • “Try it this way.”
                            • “Are you on board with that?”

                            14. Be Brief

                            Even when given empathetically, constructive feedback can be uncomfortable to receive. Get your message across, make sure there are no hard feelings, and move on.

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                            One exception? If the feedback isn’t understood, make clear that you have plenty of time for questions. Rushing through what’s clearly an open conversation is disrespectful and discouraging.

                            15. Follow Up

                            Not all lessons are learned immediately. After giving a member of your team constructive feedback, follow it up with an email. Make sure you’re just as respectful and helpful in your written feedback as you are on your verbal communication.

                            You could say:

                            • “I wanted to recap . . .”
                            • “Thanks for chatting with me about . . .”
                            • “Did that make sense?”

                            16. Expect Improvement

                            Although you should always deliver constructive feedback in a supportive manner, you should also expect to see it implemented. If it’s a long-term issue, set milestones.

                            By what date would you like to see what sort of improvement? How will you measure that improvement?

                            You could say:

                            • “I’d like to see you . . .”
                            • “Let’s check back in after . . .”
                            • “I’m expecting you to . . .”
                            • “Let’s make a dent in that by . . .”

                            17. Give Second Chances

                            Giving feedback, no matter how constructive, is a waste of time if you don’t provide an opportunity to implement it. Don’t set up a “gotcha” moment, but do tap the recipient of your feedback next time a similar task comes up.

                            You could say:

                            • “I know you’ll rock it next time.”
                            • “I’d love to see you try again.”
                            • “Let’s give it another go.”

                            Final Thoughts

                            Constructive feedback is not an easy nut to crack. If you don’t give it well, then maybe it’s time to get some. Never be afraid to ask.

                            More on Constructive Feedback

                            Featured photo credit: Christina @ wocintechchat.com via unsplash.com

                            Reference

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