Four girls point at a book and smile
Berkeley High students laugh at a 2004 edition of their school’s slang dictionary. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Do you speak Berkeley?

The East Bay is known for inventing (and reinventing) its own words — from on mamas to outta pocket, from yee to The Yay.

There’s a spirit of linguistic creativity here, which comes from the cultural diversity in the region, a powerful local hip hop scene, and a history of opposition and outsiderness.

And Berkeley High School has long served as a language laboratory of sorts, where teenagers sling slang and slap songs. For years, the school even published its own slang dictionary, with new editions put out annually.

But Berkeley High has changed a lot lately, reflecting broader demographic shifts in the cities that surround it. And the internet and social media apps have fundamentally altered the way young people communicate with their peers and kids around the world. Slang is spreading more quickly than ever.

So will you still hear that very localized language if you walk down the high school’s hallways today? What comes after hella and hyphy?

As students settle into the new school year, we talk to teenagers, a teacher, a slang expert and Blindspotting’s Rafael Casal, to find out. Tune into the latest episode of the Berkeleyside Podcast — find it on your favorite podcast app — or you’ll definitely be a deeker.

Two freshmen peruse the Berkeley High Slang Dictionary. Hear from them and other teenagers on the Berkeleyside Podcast. Photo: Natalie Orenstein

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...