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December 7, 2007

Slang of the Week: Loisaida (noun)
the Lower East Side of Manhattan

When Maria from Loisaida fell in love with Trip from the Upper East Side, both families were opposed to the match.

Celebrity quote
“Latinos began to refashion the neighborhood in the 1960's and 70's, transforming Clinton Street into the commercial heart of Loisaida, as the Lower East Side was known familiarly. Along this rollicking little strip, women gossiped in Spanish inside beauty shops, and men wearing colorful guayaberas sat on milk crates outside storefronts.”
- Steven Kurutz in the New York Times

Beauty is in the ear of the beholder. This place name was revised by Nuyoricans—Puerto Ricans living in New York. The new pronunciation of the word led to the new spelling (and the loss of its article), and now Loisaida is officially recognized to the degree that Avenue C was given a "Loisaida Avenue" sign by the city.

In this case, a Latino accent changed the spelling of English words, but just as often, it's the other way around. The British stole cucaracha (among other words) from Spanish, pronounced it with an English accent and changed the spelling to “cockroach.”

If you’re wondering about the Spanish word in the quote, a guayabera is a men’s shirt (usually short-sleeved) with two or four pockets in the front and vertical pleats or decorations, such as embroidery. While their place of origin is uncertain, Mexico or Cuba seem most likely. I predict that if that fashion’s popularity in the US continues to increase, its pronunciation will also change, as “gwai-yuh-beh-ruh” does not roll easily off the English-speaking tongue--perhaps in ten or fifteen years, we'll be calling them “guy-bears.”

Take a look in our bookstore for books and DVDs on all kinds of slang! This week’s pick: Verbatim: >From the bawdy to the sublime, the best writing on language for word lovers, grammar mavens, and armchair linguists. A splendid stocking stuffer!