When learning a new language, we often occupy ourselves exclusively with hard-set rules. But there is so much more to the way people actually speak than standard grammar and vocabulary. English is a great example of this with thousands of new words and expressions being coined every year. A huge percentage of these come from American slang that people use in informal settings and for fun. As a language learner, mastering some of the colloquial expressions native speakers use can have a great impact on your communication style. So, in this article we’ll be going over 20 American slang phrases that will make you sound more like a native.
1. What’s good/what’s cracking?
Looking for a new way to open up a conversation with your friends and make them laugh? This phrase is just a cooler equivalent of ‘How are you?’
‘What’s good, James, haven’t seen you since Wednesday!’
‘I’m just chilling, and you?’
2. To screw up
The American slang word ‘screw’ can mean a variety of things (some of them you shouldn’t say in front of your parents). Followed by ‘up’, though, it simply means to fail at something.
‘I totally screwed up that test, I think I’m going to fail.’
3. Take a rain check
When you take or call a rain check, you’re not really checking the weather. It’s just a way to request something be postponed or delayed.
‘Sorry, but I’ll have to take a rain check on hanging out tonight. Can we reschedule for Wednesday?’
4. Jack up the prices
A phrase for our times, ‘jack up the prices’ means to increase prices suddenly and by a lot.
‘I hate this supermarket; they keep jacking up the prices all the time.’
5. Ride shotgun
Despite the reference to firearms, this American slang phrase is completely harmless. It simply means to ride in the front seat of a car.
‘Riding shotgun again, Tommy? When will I get my turn in the front seat?’
6. Couch potato
Picture this slang phrase and it becomes that much more memorable. English speakers use it to describe lazy people.
‘Jack is such a couch potato; all he does is watch Netflix and eat chips.’
7. In the bag
In contrast to screwing up, having something ‘in the bag’ means you are certain you aced it.
‘The interview went great. New job is in the bag!’
8. That’s rad
In California, if something is ‘rad’ it’s cool. Short for ‘radical’ the slang meaning of the word is quite far from its original one.
‘That was a rad concert, bro! The band were playing their best hits.’
9. I can’t even
If you want to add a little drama to the way you speak, use this American slang expression when you want to say you can’t handle or believe something.
‘Did you hear what Jack said to Nancy?’
‘Yes, OMG, I can’t even!’
10. I’m game/I’m down
Being ‘game’ or ‘down’ for something means to be eager to do something.
‘Are you game for a Star Wars marathon tonight?’
‘Bro, I’m so down! Let’s do it.’
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11. Call dibs on
Do you want to let your friends know you’ve set your sights on something and they shouldn’t touch it? Then you should ‘call dibs on it’!
‘I call dibs on the last slice of pizza.’
12. Loose cannon
You might not want to image this one, though it sure is visual. You can refer to a person out of control as a ‘loose cannon’ when they’ve finally crossed that line into total psycho.
‘Jerry’s lost is completely. He’s a loose cannon.’
13. Go Dutch
The Dutch have a reputation for thriftiness in the States. This is why the American slang phrase ‘go Dutch’ means to split the bill.
‘Let’s go Dutch on the bill. There’s five of us, so $20 each.’
14. Armchair CEO
We all know someone who thinks they’re an expert at something but are actually completely in the dark about it. This is your resident ‘armchair CEO’:
‘George is such an armchair CEO. He keeps talking about Machine Learning as though he knows anything.’
15. Pass the buck
In American slang, ‘buck’ means a dollar. ‘Pass the buck’, however, means to shift responsibility to someone else.
‘After he screwed up the report, he tried to pass the buck to me but management weren’t having it.’
16. Off the charts
You’ll hear this phrase in official as well as casual conversations. If something is ‘off the charts’, it’s performing better than expected.
‘The Q3 sales are off the charts this year. Good job team!’
17. Spill the tea
Normally, you wouldn’t want to spill a hot beverage on yourself. But in this case, it’s quite tempting. ‘Spill the tea’ is used when someone is about to reveal a hot piece of news or gossip.
‘So, what’s up with Jack and Nancy? C’mon spill the tea!’
18. Diamond hands
Originating in Wall Street jargon, this American slang phrase means doing well (financially) while everyone else is struggling.
‘It’s like the recession never happened for Jack. He just keeps winning.’
‘Yes, he’s got diamond hands.’
19. Throw shade
To ‘throw shade’ means to talk poorly about someone. It’s a phrase commonly used by American YouTubers who are constantly fighting amongst themselves for fans.
‘So, after throwing shade at her for a year, Jessica’s now turned into Janice’s best friend.’
20. To pig out
Is there anything more quintessentially American than supersized food portions? No! This is why ‘to pig out’ is such a common phrase, because well… it means to eat a lot.
‘We totally pigged out last night.’
‘Yeah, we shouldn’t have had that second pizza.’
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