Words Californians Pronounce Differently

California English features a unique dialect with many words pronounced in distinctive ways by Californians. From abbreviations to place names, there are several examples of terms articulated with a decidedly Golden State flair. Read on to learn more about how Californians put their own spin on the English language.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Some words Californians pronounce differently include freeway, San Pedro, Nevada, Los Feliz, and hella.

Freeway vs Highway

One of the linguistic quirks that sets Californians apart from the rest of the country is the way they pronounce certain words, and one prime example of this is the way they say “freeway” instead of “highway.”

While the terms “freeway” and “highway” are often used interchangeably in other parts of the United States, Californians have adopted “freeway” as their preferred term for major roads and expressways.

So why do Californians use “freeway” instead of “highway”? The origins of this linguistic difference can be traced back to the early 20th century when the first freeways were built in California. These roads were designed to provide uninterrupted, high-speed travel, free from the congestion and traffic lights commonly found on other types of roads.

The term “freeway” was coined to emphasize this concept of freedom and efficiency in transportation.

The California Freeway System

California is known for having one of the most extensive and complex freeway systems in the United States. With over 16,000 miles of freeways, it’s no wonder that Californians have embraced the term “freeway” as a part of their everyday vocabulary.

The state’s freeways connect major cities, suburban areas, and rural communities, making it possible for millions of people to commute, travel, and explore the diverse landscapes of California.

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is responsible for planning, designing, and maintaining the state’s freeway system. They oversee the construction of new freeways, the expansion of existing ones, and the implementation of innovative technologies to improve traffic flow and safety.

Freeway vs Highway: What’s the Difference?

While many people use the terms “freeway” and “highway” interchangeably, there is a subtle difference between the two. A freeway is a type of highway that is designed for high-speed, controlled-access travel.

It typically has multiple lanes, limited access points, and is separated from intersecting roads by overpasses or underpasses. In contrast, a highway is a broader term that encompasses a variety of roads, including freeways, expressways, and other major thoroughfares.

So the next time you’re in California and someone tells you to take the freeway, don’t be confused – they’re simply referring to the state’s extensive network of high-speed, controlled-access roads. And if you want to learn more about California’s freeways, you can visit the California Department of Transportation website for detailed information and updates on ongoing projects.

Place Names

San Pedro

One of the place names that Californians pronounce differently is San Pedro. While the correct pronunciation is “San Pay-dro,” many Californians pronounce it as “San Pee-dro.” This mispronunciation is believed to have originated from the Spanish influence in the region, where the pronunciation of “San Pedro” in Spanish is indeed “San Pee-dro.”

Over time, this pronunciation has become widely accepted and used by locals.


Another place name that Californians pronounce differently is Nevada. The correct pronunciation of Nevada is “Ne-vah-duh,” with the emphasis on the first syllable. However, many Californians pronounce it as “Ne-vay-duh,” with the emphasis on the second syllable.

This pronunciation is often attributed to the influence of the Spanish language, where the letter “a” is typically pronounced as “ay.”

Los Feliz

Los Feliz is a neighborhood in Los Angeles that is commonly mispronounced by Californians. The correct pronunciation is “Los Fee-liz,” with the emphasis on the second syllable. However, many Californians mistakenly pronounce it as “Los Fuh-leez” or “Los Fuh-liz.”

This mispronunciation is likely due to the phonetic spelling of the word, where the “i” in Feliz is often pronounced as a short “i” sound instead of a long “ee” sound.


Californians have a unique way of pronouncing certain words that sets them apart from the rest of the country. Here are a few examples of words that Californians pronounce differently:


The word “hella” is a popular term used in California to mean “very” or “a lot.” Californians use it to emphasize something, such as “That concert was hella awesome!” While it may not be recognized by most English speakers, it has become a staple in California’s vocabulary.

In fact, it has even been added to the Oxford English Dictionary as a colloquialism used primarily in California.

The 5

When referring to the major highway that runs through California, locals often drop the word “the” and simply say “The 5.” This is a distinct characteristic of Californian English and can sometimes confuse visitors who are used to saying “I-5” or “Highway 5.”

So if you ever find yourself driving in California, don’t be surprised if someone tells you to take “The 5” instead of “Highway 5.”


The word “gnarly” is another Californian term that has made its way into mainstream vocabulary. It is used to describe something that is extreme, impressive, or even dangerous. Originally used by surfers to describe big waves, it has now expanded to encompass anything that is out of the ordinary.

So if you hear a Californian say, “That skateboard trick was gnarly,” they are expressing their awe and amazement at the skill and difficulty of the trick.

These are just a few examples of the unique vocabulary that Californians use. It’s part of what makes the state’s culture and language so distinct. So the next time you hear a Californian say “hella,” “The 5,” or “gnarly,” you’ll know exactly what they mean!

Spanish Influences

California has a rich history of Spanish influences, and this is evident in the way Californians pronounce certain words. Due to its proximity to Mexico and the Spanish colonization of the region, Spanish has had a significant impact on the culture and language of California.

Here are some examples of words that Californians pronounce differently due to Spanish influences:

1. “Taco”

One of the most well-known Spanish words that Californians pronounce differently is “taco.” While in Spanish, the “t” in “taco” is pronounced as a soft “t,” Californians tend to pronounce it with a harder “t” sound. So instead of saying “tah-co,” you’ll often hear Californians say “tack-o.”

This slight change in pronunciation has become a part of the Californian dialect.

2. “Burrito”

Another word with Spanish origins that Californians pronounce differently is “burrito.” In Spanish, the double “r” sound in “burrito” is pronounced with a rolling “r” sound. However, in California, the double “r” is often pronounced as a single “r.” So instead of saying “boo-ree-toh,” you’ll hear Californians say “boo-ree-toe.”

3. “Avocado”

The word “avocado” is another example of a Spanish word that Californians pronounce differently. In Spanish, the emphasis is placed on the second syllable, so it is pronounced as “ah-voh-kah-do.” However, in California, the emphasis is often placed on the first syllable, so it is pronounced as “ah-vuh-kah-do.”

This slight difference in pronunciation is reflective of the Californian accent.

4. “Canyon”

While not a Spanish word itself, the pronunciation of “canyon” in California is influenced by Spanish. In Spanish, the “y” sound is pronounced as a soft “j” sound. Californians have adopted this pronunciation, so instead of saying “kan-yun,” you’ll often hear them say “kan-hun.”

The Spanish influences on the pronunciation of these words in California are a testament to the state’s rich cultural heritage. It is fascinating to see how language evolves and adapts over time, influenced by different cultures and historical events.

To learn more about the Spanish influences on Californian culture and language, you can visit History.com or VisitCalifornia.com.

Surfer Slang

California is known for its beautiful beaches and vibrant surf culture. With that comes a unique language known as surfer slang. These words and phrases are often used by surfers to communicate with each other and describe their experiences on the waves.

Cowabunga, Dude!

One of the most iconic phrases associated with surfers is “Cowabunga, dude!” This expression became popular in the 1960s and 1970s through the animated TV show, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” Surfers adopted this phrase as a way to express excitement or enthusiasm.

Surfers also have their own vocabulary to describe the different aspects of surfing. For example, “stoked” is a term used to describe the feeling of excitement and happiness that comes from catching a great wave. “Barney” refers to a beginner surfer who lacks experience and skill.

Hang Ten and Shred

When surfers talk about “hanging ten,” they are referring to a maneuver where the surfer positions both feet at the front of the board, with all ten toes hanging off the edge. This is considered a stylish and advanced move.

On the other hand, “shredding” refers to riding the waves with skill and speed, executing impressive maneuvers and tricks.

Surfer slang also includes terms for different types of waves. A “barrel” is a hollow and powerful wave that forms a tube-like shape, providing an exhilarating ride for experienced surfers. “Mushy” waves, on the other hand, lack power and are less exciting to ride.

Groms and Locals

In the world of surfing, “groms” are young surfers who are just starting out and are still learning the ropes. They are often referred to as the future of the sport. “Locals” are surfers who are native to a particular beach or surf spot.

They are often respected by other surfers and have a deep knowledge of the area’s waves and conditions.

Surfer slang is not only used in California but has spread to other coastal regions around the world. It has become a way for surfers to connect and bond over their shared passion for riding waves. So the next time you find yourself catching a wave, don’t be surprised if you hear some of these unique expressions being thrown around!


From abbreviating freeway names to adding a Spanish twist, Californians have developed their own lexicon and speech patterns. Unique pronunciations of places like Los Feliz and words like gnarly reflect the diverse cultures and lifestyles found across the Golden State. The California accent is just one of the many factors giving the state its distinctive vibe.

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