Washington DC Sayings, Words and Phrases

Washington, DC has its own unique words and phrases. These are seven Washington, DC sayings you might hear when you visit. Make sure to study up so you know what people are talking about!

1. The Mall

The Mall is short for National Mall and Memorial Parks. This is the giant national park downtown. You will find most of the major monuments, memorials and other federal sites. “The mall” is one of the most common Washington DC sayings. No, this is not a shopping mall. If you want to buy clothes or souvenirs you will have a much better time in Georgetown.

2. DMV

When most people hear DMV they think of the Department of Motor Vehicles. However, when it comes to Washington, DC sayings, DMV stands for District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. People typically use it to refer to the entire metro area. If you want to refer to the city without the suburbs, you would say “the District” instead.

3. K Street

When people say K Street, they are really talking about the stretch of K Street NW that runs through downtown. Historically, this is where a of lobbying firms had their offices. People refer to “K Street” to mean lobbyists the same way they refer to “Wall Street” to refer to bankers. If you hear that a politician “sold out to K Street” it means they fell under the influence of lobbyists.

4. The Hill

This is one of the Washington DC sayings that has a dual meaning. The Hill is short for Capitol Hill. This could either mean the Capitol complex or the neighborhood east of the Capitol.

For example, if you’re in a coffee shop, and you overhear someone say they have to go to a meeting on the Hill, it probably means they have to meet with a Congressperson’s office (rarely is it the Congressperson themself). The Hill could also refer to the neighborhood called Capitol Hill. So if you meet someone and they tell you that they live on the Hill, they are talking about the neighborhood.

5. Beltway

The Beltway refers to Interstate 495 which forms a loop around Washington DC’s suburbs. So, if you are listening to the morning radio you might hear about horrible traffic on the Beltway. People will also use Beltway to refer to political issues. They do this by saying “inside” or “outside” the Beltway.  So for example, if you hear someone say, “nobody cares about an issue outside the Beltway”, they mean only people who really work deep in politics care about it and the rest of America does not.

6. Half Smoke

A half smoke is a sausage served on a bun that’s pretty unique to the DC area. The most famous half smokes are served at Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street NW. Although, there are plenty of places you can get a half-smoke. The name is kind of a mystery.  Some people think it’s called a half smoke because the sausage is made of half beef and half pork. Then, it is smoked on a grill. Other people think it’s called a half smoke because the sausage is typically cut in half before it’s cooked.  

7. Slugline

This comes from the practice of slugging, which in the U.S. really only exists in Washington DC and in the San Francisco Bay Area. Slugging is a type of anonymous carpooling. A driver will pull his or her car into a big parking lot. Then, riders going to the same place will get into their car. This group of people are able to use the carpool lanes to get into the city a lot faster.

Using the carpool lanes can make a huge difference. The driver benefits because he or she gets to drive their own car into the city. The riders benefit because it’s often a lot faster than riding the bus and it is free! The slugline is the actual line that people will stand in while they are waiting to get picked up.

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About Trip Hacks DC

Trip Hacks DC was founded by Rob, a veteran tour guide in the Nation's Capital.

Everyone wants to get the most out of travel experience; we know that planning a trip can be fun but sometimes stressful. The tips and travel hacks offered here will help you make the most of your trip and avoid missing out on the best things the city has to offer. Our trip planning e-book is the perfect resource for every first-time Washington, DC visitor.

If you're looking for a guided experience once you arrive, Trip Hacks DC specializes in private tours; but has public tours options as well. Visit the Guided Tours section to learn about some of the suggested tours and the trip planning resources section for help preparing for your trip. Feel free to contact us if you have any questions!

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