A Guide To NYC Neighborhood Jargon And Abbreviations For new New Yorkers

Once students matriculate at SIPA, they are introduced to a new language spoken by those at the graduate school. From the names of concentrations (USP, EPD, and ISP, among them) to specializations (IMAC, ICR) to student organizations (SIPASA, LASA), members of the SIPA community can feel as though they are swimming in an alphabet soup.

For many New York City newcomers, residents of the Big Apple also seem to speak a unique foreign language. Many neighborhoods and places have names that befuddle tourists and those that are new here. But fear not, future New Yorkers! We have identified locations, abbreviations and acronyms that you should know but may mislead. Some of these terms are universally used, others are still finding their foothold in the City’s vernacular (FiDi, we’re looking at you). But use these names, and you’ll be mistaken for a local in no time.

Word: Alphabet City

Meaning: Alphabet City is part of the East Village, and derives its name from Avenues A, B, C, and D. Alphabet City is essentially a neighborhood within a neighborhood. In the past twenty years, the area has gentrified dramatically, and today is known for its hipster culture.

What To Do There: Alphabet City is home to a number of great bars and eateries. For dinner, be sure to check out La Lucha, known for its stellar Mexican street food. Then move the party to The Sunburnt Cow and Pouring Ribbons, both popular bars among locals.

Word: BQE

Meaning: Brooklyn-Queens Expressway

Why It Matters: A major thoroughfare connecting Brooklyn and Queens. You may hear people refer to the BQE when you’re hanging out in Williamsburg, New York’s hipster haven.



Meaning: Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass

What To Do There: When in DUMBO, be sure to spend some time in Brooklyn Bridge Park, one of New York City’s celebrated greenspaces. Chocolate aficionados would be remiss to skip Jacques Torres Chocolate, a shop devoted to the glory of the cocoa bean.


Word: FiDi

Meaning: Financial District

Why It Matters: On the other end of the island from Columbia, you’ll find Wall Street, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Federal Reserve Bank in this neighborhood. This is also where the Twin Towers once stood, and where the Freedom Tower is being built. The 9/11 Memorial in this neighborhood is unbelievably moving.


Word: GWB

Meaning: The George Washington Bridge

Why It Matters: The GWB is the mammoth double-decker bridge that connects Fort Lee, New Jersey to the Washington Heights neighborhood in Manhattan. The bridge is usually tangled with traffic.


Word: NoHo

Meaning: North of Houston Street
What To Do There: NoHo is a small sliver of downtown, wedged between the East and West Villages. For the independent film critic, Angelika Film Center is one of the city’s best theaters.

Important Note: Houston is pronounced How-ston, not like the city in Texas.


Word: NoLiTa

Meaning: The area North of Little Italy

What To Do There: If you’re fortunate enough to visit New York City in September, the annual Feast of San Gennaro takes place in NoLiTa. At the festival, zeppoles and cannolis abound.


Word: SoHo

Meaning: The neighborhood South of Houston Street

What To Do There: SoHo is one of the city’s main destinations for great shopping and even better dining. The neighborhood’s cobblestone streets are charming (just be sure you’re equipped with the right footwear!) Broadway has big name brick and mortars, including H&M, J.Crew, and Club Monaco (not to mention Uniqlo and TopShop), but weave through the side streets for lesser-known brands and boutiques. Then refuel with some delicious dosas at Hampton Chutney Company.


Word: TriBeCa

Meaning: A downtown neighborhood, Triangle below Canal Street

What To Do There: Let TriBeCa’s trendy restaurants, converted warehouses, and inviting parks transport you to a New York City far from Columbia’s beloved Morningside Heights. Stop by Bubby’s for hearty American comfort food (the sourdough pancakes are a hit), then spend the day on the Hudson waterfront where there are basketball and beach volleyball courts, a mini golf course, and a scenic bike path.