A while back I ranted here about authors setting novels in a New York City they obviously knew only from movies and TV shows. In their City, subways stopped in the wrong places, it’s easy to find a parking place and everyone is fearful and rude. Bad cop shows from the 1970s, vintage Woody Allen films and urban legends about the sewers replace real research. Language can also be local and require a bit of research.
I was reminded of this today when I was asked, “Which way is Avenue of the Americas?” by a woman walking on 12th street.
Avenue of the Americas is one of the major avenues running North/South in Manhattan and locals always refer to it by its other name — 6th Avenue. This is likely because it’s between 5th and 7th avenues — kind of a no brainer. The Jefferson Market Library’s address might be written as 425 Avenue of the Americas, but a local will say 425 6th if pressed for an exact address, but when giving directions we’d say 6th Avenue at 9th Street — as cross streets locations is the local lingo style. Today I met a friend for coffee at Café Lalo — 83rd between Broadway & Amsterdam avenues. That’s New York speak.
Local language exists everywhere and when it’s wrong, it can jump out at an informed reader and undermine the credibility of the storytelling. Pop or Soda, Bag or Sack, Sub or Hero — simple, everyday nouns that mean the same things in different places.
Know your local words and phrases. Using the right ones is worthwhile. Got some fun examples from other locales? Please share them!