Subtext: A dictionary of Subway vernacular

By Lenore Skenazy

To celebrate the opening of the Second Avenue Subway, we have commissioned the first New York Guide to Subway Jargon. Here it is — after 98 years in the making!

Sick passenger (noun): Patently lame excuse for lateness. “I meant to call you on your birthday, but there was a sick passenger on the train ahead of us.”

Zizmor (noun): A blemish or disfigurement that causes the stomach to lurch. “When I finally pulled the leech off my nose, it left an oozing Zizmor.”

Hand shame (verb): To accidentally grab the pole where someone else is already grabbing it.

Kinky pinky (verb): To deliberately grab the pole where someone else is already grabbing it.

Hangry birds (noun, plural): Hunger pangs activated by the smell of someone else’s fried chicken. See also: “Colonel Knowledge” (knowing that someone on the train is carrying KFC, but not being visually able to locate the source).

Grampification (noun): The shock one feels upon being offered a seat by someone you thought was your age. (Fem: Grammafication)

Doork (noun): Dork who blocks the door without realizing it.

Joork (noun): Jerk who knows he’s blocking the door but keeps standing there, watching people maneuver around him.

Bunwich (noun): The very tight space between two other commuters.

Snudge (noun): A real nudge pretending to be inadvertent.

Train traffic ahead (noun): Colloquial for, “Brace yourself for bad news.” E.g., “The boss called a special meeting for 3 o’clock today. Could be train traffic ahead.”

Nod squad (noun, plural): Two or more passengers napping on the same bench.

Warm shoulder (noun): The shoulder a stranger has fallen asleep on.

Sniff & run (noun): An extremely under-populated car surrounded by extremely overcrowded cars.

Grudge budge (noun): The grimace made by a person who must move over an inch to make room for you.

Grudge buddies (noun, plural): The bonding emotion felt by former grudge budger and grudgee when they have to make room for someone else.

BBB (adj.): Short for “Baby Bump Blindness.” Failing to notice an 8-months-pregnant woman standing in front of you while you sit playing Candy Crush.

Blobstacle (noun): Escalator rider who stands on the left side, not moving.

ROTFL (noun): Anything “Rolling on the Floor Loudly,” e.g., an empty Snapple bottle.

Point and shoo (verb): To indicate a wet or sticky spot on the seat before someone sits down.

New natives (noun, plural): People who got on just one stop before you, but act as if they own the seat.

L-and-back (noun): A hipster. Literally, someone who takes the L back and forth to their coding job.

Tooth squad (noun, plural): Individuals dedicated to blacking out the teeth of smiling news teams on subway ads.

Bubbleheads (noun, plural): Individuals who add word and thought bubbles to posters, usually referencing the president, police, or private parts.

NJ devils (noun, plural): Young people from New Jersey who drink in Greenwich Village, then add devil horns to PATH train posters before vomiting and heading home.

Box shock (adj.): To be suddenly awakened by a boom box and someone’s sneakers swinging near your nose.

Family dollar (verb): To give a single dollar to a subway performer or performers on behalf of all the members of your family.

Post-a-boo (verb): To sneak a peek at your neighbor’s Post.

Peek-a-News (verb): To sneak a peek at your neighbor’s Daily News.

A.M. mayhem (noun): Being offered an A.M. New York by three or more people on your way into the train.

Suspicious package (noun): Male standing too close.

Second Ave. (verb): To take longer than anyone thought possible. “I ordered my burger at 4 and they Second Avenued it at 11!”

Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker, founder of the book and blog Free-Range Kids, and a contributor at Reason.com.

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