I was born and raised in New Jersey. Coming to the University of Maryland marked a big step, even if it’s not that far from home.
For me, it meant more than suddenly becoming responsible for myself. It meant moving to a place four hours away despite never leaving my parents for an extended period of time. It meant leaving all of my friends back home and hoping (praying!) that I would find a compassionate, amicable group of students.
I can only chalk up my experiences to good luck. When it came time to part ways, I hugged my parents goodbye and walked into my residence hall by myself for the first time. I became best friends with my roommates, fell in love with my major and learned how to manage my time.
New Jersey is not too far from the University of Maryland. The town I grew up in was demographically similar to UMD with a diverse mix of individuals. Graduating from a class of nearly 700 students also allowed me to embrace the big-school lifestyle. I felt as ready as I could be, but what I was not prepared for?
DMV slang, or D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area slang, was my version of a culture shock. For the first two weeks after moving in, I politely nodded along to and smiled at countless statements I didn’t understand.
I eventually came clean to my roommates about my inability to understand them half the time. They smiled with pity and gave me a verbal guide to the area’s slang. Suddenly, “I’m hip” meant “I relate,” “that’s a bop and a half” meant “that’s far” and “you’re the geek” meant “you’re hilarious.”
Initially, I could not stop laughing at the different translations. In what world did “geek” translate to “funny”? Isn’t a a stereotypical, video-gaming type of guy? I couldn’t even imagine where these sayings originated.
Culture shock is a slight understatement for what I felt. The difference in language with only 200 mile of distance between the two places intrigued me. I figured that growing up in Central Jersey meant people would notice my slight Jersey accent. And in the end I was the person confused with this new dialect.
And eventually, without even noticing, I picked up on the slang, too. My UMD friends originally from New Jersey warned me about picking up on it. They said I’d make fun of it initially but start using it, only to get laughed at by friends back home. Sure enough, DMV slang started sounding like actual English. A few months in, I began speaking like a true Marylander.
I found it interesting that something as little as the manner in which we speak can connect us to our surrounding community. The more I picked up, the more included I felt in the college atmosphere. Our campus and world shared a secret code that people back home wouldn’t get.
Overall, I am still genuinely intrigued by the regional language differences. Every time I think I mastered the “art” of understanding what people say, a new catch phrase or word pops up, leaving me awestruck all over again.
I suppose I’d expected to expand my vocabulary as a journalism major. But I never thought it would be through slang.