Philly Slang: Philadelphia Sayings You Don’t Hear Anywhere Else

Have you seen that jawn? Or perhaps, you’ve enjoying a hoagie for lunch, instead of a sub or grinder. Some sayings are exclusive to Philly and aren’t heard anywhere else. Learning the lingo is part of calling the city your home.

Philly has its own way of speaking and it’s not just about dialect, though the way Philadelphians pronounce some words might throw newcomers for a loop. The slang people use to describe common objects can also sound unusual, especially if you’ve recently purchased a home and moved to town. Mastering some common Philadelphia sayings will help you start to fit in and sound like a local in no time at all.


Jawn can be a real head scratcher, but really shouldn’t be. It’s a word that can pretty much describe anything, as long as it’s a person, place, or thing. For example, if you were out shopping and tried on an outfit that didn’t work, you might say “that jawn was just too big,” referring to the clothing. Or, if you were at a social gathering that was pretty boring, you might say “the jawn was lame.”

In terms of Philadelphia sayings, jawn is a relative newcomer, and many people trace its origins back to the 1980s. It could be that the word was first used in the same way that people use the word “joint,” as in “the joint was jumping” or “I left the joint at midnight.” But, in the years since, jawn has taken on a life of its own. Don’t be afraid to use it in a sentence.

Down the Shore

Philadelphians don’t go to the beach. Instead, they go “down the shore,” usually referring to the shore areas and beaches of Southern New Jersey. You could argue that the saying “down the shore” is a more all encompassing phrase than simply saying that you’re headed to the beach. When you’re down the shore, you’re enjoying all aspects of the ocean side area, from spending the day on the sand or splashing in the ocean to wandering along the boardwalk, and from enjoying a bike ride throughout a seaside town to spending your evening at a casino.

Water Ice

Water ice is something that has to be tried to be believed. The name is pretty confusing to people not from the Philadelphia area, since it seems like an oxymoron. The closest thing to water ice might be an Italian ice, but it’s worth pointing out that the two are not the same. Italian ice tends to be harder and denser, while water ice is soft and smooth. It’s produced much the same way that ice cream is, the key difference being that there’s usually no dairy in water ice.


If you are eating a sandwich on a long, slim roll outside of the Philly area, you might be eating a submarine or a hero. In Philly, you’re eating a hoagie. The origins of the word hoagie are disputed. Some say that the word comes from the sandwiches eaten by men working on Hog Island in the early 20th century — first called “hoggies.” Others say that the word hoagie evolved from “hokey,” and was used to refer to the sandwiches kids ate while skipping school.

Name aside, there are some other differences that set a hoagie apart from a sub or hero. A hoagie roll should always be fresh, preferably made that day. Hot peppers and olive oil are also usually must-haves on a hoagie but not necessarily on other sandwiches.

To the untrained ear, Philly sayings can sound down right weird. But, after you’ve been in the city for a while, enjoying water ice on a hot day, eating a hoagie for lunch or dinner, and using jawn instead of other nouns starts to make complete sense.

Image Source: Flickr/David Flores


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  1. Richard Monihan
    December 14, 2015

    My wife (from Long Island) noticed that my family (all from Philly) use a phrase “the back way” whenever we go somewhere.

    “The back way” is usually a shortcut or alternative route to reach a destination to avoid road work, traffic, or see interesting things. It is not the direct route.

    I’m curious if anyone else has heard this phrase outside of Philly?

  2. Jamal
    April 27, 2016

    I was born in Baltimore bit lived in Philly and let me tell you Philly is the city of all cities next to NYC.

  3. Jamal
    April 27, 2016

    Yea like Germany town ect

    • Mekhi
      July 13, 2016

      Its *Germantown

  4. Kev
    February 11, 2017

    Jawn, drawlin, boul, catta, you a joe, gippa, feen


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