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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

20 Words and Phrases You Had No Idea Were Coined in New York City

Hey, youz! Check out all these vocab gems that were born in New York City!

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Sounds like a word from Wyoming, but it was actually the term given to bands of men who rustled cows in New York in the 1800s. This one’s an oldie but a goodie. Try using it in a sentence with one of these brand-new words added to the dictionary in 2019.

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Almighty Dollar

Coined by New Yorker Washington Irving in 1836: “The almighty dollar, that great object of universal devotion throughout the land…”

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New York writer O. Henry first recorded the term in 1904. It was street slang for “buddy.” Why? Men’s side pants pockets—called sidekicks—were the most difficult for pickpockets to reach and therefore reliable, like a trusted friend, always at your side.

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Meaning “worthless” or “absurd,” this word may come from the inability of early 20th-century kids in Manhattan’s Lower East Side to pronounce decalcomania, a cheap picture to be transferred onto wood or china (a decal). This oddball word can be tricky to spell—how many m’s are there?—but it’s got nothing on the most commonly misspelled words in the English language.

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Sent Up the River

Slang for “sent to prison.” The river is the Hudson and the prison is Sing Sing, which is upriver from New York City.

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Department Store

It didn’t invent the concept of one store with different departments, but the first store to actually call itself this was H. H. Heyn’s Department Store in 1887.

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Flea Market

It got its name because secondhand items have fleas, right? Guess again. Downtown Manhattan was home to vallie (valley) markets in Dutch Colonial days. The term was abbreviated to vlie (pronounced “flee”) market, and was eventually anglicized to flea market. Add this one to the list of 10 English words you won’t find in any other language.

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This grilled sandwich of corned beef, Swiss cheese, sauerkraut, and Russian dressing on rye bread was invented at Reuben’s Delicatessen in Manhattan at the turn of the 20th century.

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Punk Rock

Attributed to Punk magazine editor Legs McNeil, describing the 1970s music scene that started in lower Manhattan.

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At his death in 1848, New York fur trader John Jacob Astor was worth $20 million (about $80 billion in today’s dollars). The term was first applied to him. Try out these funny words that will improve your vocabulary.

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Rush Hour

First used to describe commuter gridlock on New York streets in 1890.

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Out In Left Field

Far from the action. Right field might be more fitting, because that’s where the fewest baseballs go. But at Yankee Stadium, the seats in left field were far away from the biggest player of the day, right fielder Babe Ruth.

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An acronym of “young urban professional.” This term comes from New York City in the 1980s. Possibly coined by Jerry Rubin, one of the founders of the 1960s yippie movement. This made-up word became real and we hope the same happens with these hilarious made-up words you’ll want to start using immediately!

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Porterhouse Steak

Named in 1814 for the New York restaurant that popularized it, Martin Morrison’s Porterhouse.

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Public Relations

First used by publicity writer Edward Bernays, nephew of Sigmund Freud, for his 1920 wedding announcements in an attempt to make his occupation sound more respectable.

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Coined in 1990 by San Francisco 49ers running back Roger Craig, describing his hopes for a third Super Bowl win the following year. (They didn’t threepeat.) This one sounds like a completely made-up word but we promise, it’s totally real! Still, you’re probably a lot more likely to use one of these “words” people say all the time that aren’t actually words.

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A baseball term meaning to hit the ball softly. Most likely a corruption of the word butt (as in “butting” the ball with the bat). The first known utterance of bunt was in 1872 by a player named Pearce on the Brooklyn Atlantics.

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Blast From the Past

Made popular by NYC disc jockey Murray the K in the 1960s, referring to old records.

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Keeping Up With the Joneses

Created by New York cartoonist “Pop” Momand in 1913 as the title of a comic strip that showed middle-class people living beyond their means. It was originally going to be called “Keeping Up with the Smiths,” but Momand changed it because he thought “Joneses” sounded better.

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The first one appeared on the October 27, 1777, edition of the New York Gazette. Newspappers may have made up this word which ended up being printed in every dictionary every, however, these fake words that actually ended up in dictionaries are there for a whole different reason!

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Originally Published in Reader's Digest