Provo slang: What’s the word?


BYU and culture include a unique vocabulary with slang words and jargon specific to the Provo area.

Like major dictionaries that add new words to their publications one or more times every year, Provo residents also create their own set of words that have become widely accepted in the area.

Merriam-Webster's Dictionary will release its list of new words in August.  [Photo by Elliott Miller]
Last year Merriam-Webster added “bucket list,” “aha moment” and other words to their dictionary. (Photo by Elliott Miller)
According to the Merriam-Webster website, editors read and mark various published materials looking for new words, spellings or meanings and then add them to their citation files. New words are officially added to the dictionaries when there are enough citations to show that they are widely used.

Similarly, BYU students and other Provo residents have adopted widely used words to simplify common ideas and messages. Don Chapman, English and linguistics professor at BYU, says this practice happens in every culture.

“If a concept or an idea is important to a society, the culture is going to come up with a word for it,” Chapman said.

Religion and academics are both important parts of BYU culture. Subsequently, vocabulary commonly used in Provo includes jargon and slang that simplifies religious and academic ideas common to residents. Chapman explained the use of jargon or slang words as a way to communicate with others more quickly.

“It lets you identify who is in and who is out of any particular group, but the important part is that it facilitates communication between insiders so they have a faster way of talking about something,” Chapman said.

Some of these words and phrases used in and around BYU might include “premie,” “DTR,” “Dear John” and “Provo All-Star.” More broadly, words added to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary in 2012 included “bucket list,” “energy drink” and “aha moment.”

While most individuals have become acclimated to the unique slang, individuals new to Provo are often confused when unfamiliar words are used.

Steven Serfas, 22, moved to Provo less than a month ago from New York and says he often finds himself questioning the meaning of certain words and phrases.

“It doesn’t really bother me, I just need to get used to it still,” Serfas said.

Chapman explained the confusion Serfas and other newcomers experience is a momentary issue that occurs rarely and that individuals learn from quickly. Chapman did mention, however, that Utah outsiders may have a more difficult time.

“You get an outsider moving into Utah, and that outsider will have several of those moments,” Chapman said.

Often people in the same geographical area use similar words. However, Alyssa Lamprecht, a Provo resident for almost two years now, thinks commonly used words at BYU are related to more than just the geographical area.

“I feel like the Mormon culture in general uses weird words,” Lamprecht said.

The Henry B. Lee Library includes comprehensive dictionaries with multiple editions.  [Photo by Elliott Miller]
The Harold B. Lee Library includes comprehensive dictionaries with multiple editions.
(Photo by Elliott Miller)
Lamprecht noted a few different slang words she hears commonly and joked about some of their meanings. She also mentioned her belief that those who become ingrained with Provo’s unique vocabulary may be at a disadvantage.

“People just get a little bit jaded by the culture here, and they tend to think what’s normal here is normal everywhere outside of Utah and when they leave they actually realize it’s not normal,” Lamprecht said.

While slang and jargon may increase the likelihood of confusion outside of a culture, it can also be a positive part of culture, according to Serfas.

“People have a lot of slang words that any other state would just use swear words for,” Serfas said.

Ultimately, jargon and slang cannot be deemed as being completely positive or negative, according to Chapman. Rather, he says, various new words should be accepted merely as a part of culture.

“It’s not a matter of being stupid or smart, or speaking with sophistication or like a hillbilly; it’s just a part of language,” Chapman said.

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