Growing up in Orange County, California, I witnessed many shifts in the ecology of vocabulary that have a single commonality:
Locals use slang geographical names, widely known by all Californians, but only up to the moment folks who are not Californians begin using their words.
1.) Valley Girl lingo and inflection. When girls in Wisconsin start gagging with a spoon, Vals just have to go. Fer sure.
2.) My home county (Orange County) was referred to as the “OC” by all the locals, and then the TV show set in Orange County – named the OC – became popular. Now, uttering OC within the OC will get you banished to Glendale.
3.) Heading north we visit San Francisco, and for many decades Frisco was acceptable by Californians. Once pop songs and AAA tourist brochures touted Frisco, Friscans backtracked and claimed they never liked Frisco. It’s always been San Francisco, they say today. Use every syllable, they say.
4.) This one’s easy. If you say “the Sierra Nevadas,” you’re a tourist. True Californians say “Sierra Nevadas.”
5.) Surfer lexicon is making a nationwide nostalgic comeback – gnarly, totally tubular, way rad, bitchin’ – and it’s upsetting SoCal surfers. Their salty tears are lost in the salty waters of the Pacific.
6.) And this brings us to the place “California” itself. For the longest of time, it was regular for Californians to refer to their beloved Golden State as “Cali.” And when families from Tennessee wander around Disneyland proclaiming how splendid the weather is in Cali, #grrrrrrmondays, Cali is something only non-Californians call California. So then SoCal and NorCal were given a replacement run, and then SoCal became commonplace on social media (mostly people based in Memphis and Nashville), and now saying SoCal is an affront so egregious it’s akin to kicking a garibaldi in the neck or going on live TV with a gun and shooting Johnny Mountain AND Dr. George Fishbeck AND Dallas Raines square in the face.
So here’s the big secret, and Californians might just enforce a lifetime In-N-Out ban on me for traitorously disclosing our unspoken cultural qualm. Californians have a community moral outrage of others using “our words.” This backpedaling moral outrage is encapsulated such:
No one in California says or has ever said “gag me with a spoon/OC/Frisco/the Sierra Nevadas/totally way rad tubular/Cali/SoCal-NorCal. You sound like a tourist.aLL CALIFORNIANS
Lies! Every one of these terms were originally created and used by Californians. Until others used them and the words became uncool. So Californians birth new words for the old words, and then again, and then again, and then again, and then again. There might a practical purpose for this, to quickly identify tourist interlopers who spend a lot of money in California every year (not last year … good work, Newsom). But the one-step-ahead evolution of in-state vocabulary is unnecessary. When a person asks for directions from a Californian, and this person is baffled by “take the 405 to the 605 to the 91 to the 215 and go towards Norco,” that is evidence enough of a non-native without being pouty and precious about local geography and who uses what words.
By the by, get yourself an In-N-Out Burger bumper sticker and with exacto-knife excise the “b” and the last “r” on “burger.” If you’re truly from the OC SoCal, no explanation is necessary.