Welcome to another Film Scouts Language workshop. Today we'll be teaching phrases for understanding the native New Yawk dialect, getting through the Film Festival, and dealing with life in New York in general.

"Hey! I'm walkin' here!"

  1. Context: Pedestrian bumped by a car (spoken by Dustin Hoffman in "Midnight Cowboy").
  2. Literal Meaning: I've got the right-of-way.
  3. Real Meaning: The natives believe that the correct time to cross the street is when one is not too heavily outnumbered by oncoming automobiles, following the formula vws/p = d (number of oncoming vehicles times their weight times their speed divided by number of waiting pedestrians = don't-walk factor). When the value of d is greater than a certain threshold magnitude (depending also on time of day, location, and weather), the native pedestrain will (perhaps) observe a "don't walk" sign, or, in the absence of a signal, common sense. The presence of an intersection is completely irrelevant. To the true New Yorker, a street is merely that part of the sidewalk on which cars are permitted.


  1. Context: Sign on the bar across the street from the new Disney theater.
  2. Literal Meaning: The young ladies employed at this go-go bar are not the usual stripper riff-raff but are actually fresh-faced, well-educated, and just temporarily working here to afford the extraordinary tuition and cost of living associated with studying in New York.
  3. Real Meaning: Yeah, right.

"Coffee regular", equally "regular coffee".

  1. Context: Standard deli beverage order.
  2. Literal Meaning: Coffee with milk and sugar.
  3. Real Meaning: If you attached a parking lot to a deli the result, in car-culture America, would be called a diner. It's the original not-too-slow food with vinyl booths, a counter with vinyl-top stools, and a take-out area or window. "Regular" has nothing to do with non-decaffienated or un-flavored coffee; it merely describes, in the fewest words, the amount of dairy whitener and cane-based sweetener most commonly added to a cup of coffee here. Busy delis prepare "regulars"-to-go in advance - a styrofoam or paper cup with the milk and sugar already in it - just pour in the coffee and put a lid on and it's ready. In common usage also are the phrases "coffee light", "coffee regular - no sugar", "coffee black", and others soon to lose all meaning and disappear, as nowadays every greasy spoon has Tasmanian Raspberry Water Process Decaf Cappucino or some other exoticism in addition to coffee.

"Please remembah to take awl of yoah personal belongings."

  1. Context: Recording heard when the fare is rung up in a taxicab.
  2. Literal Meaning: Please remember to take all of your personal belongings.
  3. Real Meaning: In a misguided attempt to regulate absent-mindedness, New York's Taxi and Limousine Commission has required this ridiculous recording to be played in all taxicabs automatically at the conclusion of a ride. It's about as effective in reducing the number of articles left in cabs as those "Have a nice day" signs are in improving the niceness of days. Originially the subject of some mirth due to the non-professional voices used in the recordings, these annoying verbal assaults are gradually inducing a zombie-like state in the city's cabdrivers, who must listen to them countless times a day, and this will surely produce a significant rise in negligent-driving traffic accidents. It seems to us that the occasional salvation of an umbrella or even a Christmas gift package is not worth the ultimate cost in human life.

"You mean that movie premiered in LA? It can't be any good."

  1. Context: Actually overheard at the NY Film Festival.
  2. Literal Meaning: The producers probably knew it sucked and they wanted to avoid the heat.
  3. Real Meaning: Everyone knows that New York City is the center of the universe, and anything really worthwhile is going to happen here (first). To paraphase the song, if you can't make it here....

"Is that really a gun?"

  1. Context: Overheard in Washington Square Park.
  2. Literal Meaning: Is that a real gun or another NYU-student-film prop?
  3. Real Meaning: So many NYU student films shoot in Washington Square (the unofficial NYU commons) that it's sometimes hard to tell an NYU student playing a drug dealer from some of the real drug dealers there. Occasionally, a police officer arrests an actor by mistake. The alert student directors keep the cameras rolling since it's expensive to rent a police uniform - besides, their cast members look a little young to be cops anyway.

"I coulda been a contendah."

  1. Context: Marlon Brando's famous line from "On The Waterfront".
  2. Literal Meaning: I had talent but wasted it making quick money.
  3. Real Meaning: This line is so famous because it encapsulates the struggle between following your dreams (which is what attracts most people to this city) and selling out (which almost everyone here does to some degree just to survive).

"I am sorry, I do not know how to get there, my friend."

  1. Context: Taxi driver, usually of central Asian descent.
  2. Literal Meaning: I don't know where that is, but I hope that this doesn't ruin our friendship.
  3. Real Meaning: I arrived in New York recently and only first set foot behind the wheel of a cab last night. You're lucky I speak enough English to understand you at all and to know that every English sentence ends with "my friend."


  1. Context: Standard casual response given to complaints about one's lot.
  2. Literal Meaning: "Forget about it." There's nothing you can do about it.
  3. Real Meaning: Hey, life goes on, we all got better things to worry about. This phrase has recently taken on an additional meaning of "awesome" or "spectacular", as in describing an extraodinarily beautiful woman or play at a sporting event, as in "Did you see that? Fuhgeddaboudit!"

"That is not Indian food, that is Pakistani."

  1. Context: Actually overheard at the NY Film Festival.
  2. Literal Meaning: Can't you tell your ethinic groups apart?
  3. Real Meaning: You must be from out of town. Real New Yorkers can distinguish between different ethnic groups.


  1. Context: PA system in the subway.
  2. Literal Meaning: "Stand clear [of] the closing doors" - this train is about to depart.
  3. Real Meaning: Everyone knows that a well-timed shoulder will stop the doors and allow the shoulder's owner to get the rest of his body into the train. Of course, once every 4 or 5 years or so there's a story about someone getting dragged down the platform with their shoulder caught in the door, but none of us have ever seen that happen, so it's probably a myth.

"You don't want to go there, it's all bridge-and-tunnel crowd".

  1. Context: Discussing the evening's entertainment (bar, night club, dance club).
  2. Literal Meaning: The people there are not your type.
  3. Real Meaning: "Bridge-and-tunnel" refers to the fact that Manhattan is an island and thus outsiders must cross a body of water to get here. From the west there's New Jersey, from the east, Long Island (Westchester County, to the north, doesn't really count since it's an extension of Manhattan in spirit). Although Manhattanites are willing to let these sub-urbanites come in and spend some money and have a peek at paradise, they are not anxious to rub elbows with anyone less than fully urbanite. They tend to feel pity and contempt mixed with some loathing towards these benighted, sometimes loud and vulgar individuals, marked for life by the brutal hand of geography.

"You talkin' to ME?"

  1. Context: Famous De Niro line from "Taxi Driver".
  2. Literal Meaning: A challenge.
  3. Real Meaning: If you have a sane bone in your body, if anyone says this to you, unless you know for sure they are kidding you better not look them in the eye and had best start edging backwards, shaking your head from side to side, if not actually turning tail and running as fast as you can. And don't say this line yourself unless you are carrying a gun and your hand is already on it.

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