August 30, 2008

Chicago Words

Being an English major and eventually a writer and blogger, I have always had a fascination with words: how we use them, how we understand them,, etc. Sure, we Americans all speak English, but are we all saying the same thing?

dialogueI was shocked when I learned that many of the words I grew up with as a Chicagoan were not used by everyone in the U.S. Or, at least, not always in the same way. I touched on this a bit in my post about Chicago highways. Rather than call our local expressways by their route numbers, we refer to them by nicknames. Also, traffic reports never give a compass direction like 'northbound'; instead, Chicagoans are familiar with 'inbound' and 'outbound,' i.e., driving toward or away from the Loop.

We also have the 'L', the public transit train system run by the CTA, named after the mostly ELevated tracks. You may have noticed that I've referred to this as the 'eL' in the past, but I've since noticed that the CTA itself (albeit briefly) referred to the trains as the 'L'.

But even words that I considered quite commonplace for everyone I later discovered were only common for my region. For example, to this day, I still refer to my shoes as gym shoes. Not 'sneakers' or 'tennis shoes.' My grandmother didn't like us kids running in her gangway (the walkway between apartment buildings). If I spilled something, it was on accident, not by accident. I practically grew up on sliders (White Castle burgers). And while most folks have a living room, Chicagoans usually have a front room' pronounced 'frunchroom.'

Don't even get me started on 'soda' versus 'pop.'

Are there any words that you've heard or used that are unique to Chicago or the Midwest? Are there any phrases from your region that might confuse me?

Photo credit: (c/o SXC) Paulo Correa


5 comments to Chicago Words

  1. Alicia
    August 30th, 2008 at 12:49 pm

    I grew up on the West Coast (Las Vegas), but my Mom and Gramma were from New York, so I picked up a lot of East Coast terms in my language. It made people look at me funny when I would call jeans “dungarees”.

    I think we called them sneakers, and I remember being excited when Gramma would make sliders for dinner. I’m pretty sure we called it pop as well, but we didn’t drink a whole lot of it so it doesn’t immediately “pop” into my head. Ha!

    I’ll have to talk to my Mom and see if she remembers any strange terms she found when she moved to Las Vegas.

  2. Matt B
    August 31st, 2008 at 12:12 am

    While I notice that several people around me use the word “pop,” I distinctly remember saying “soda” as a kid. Now, due to environment, I use the words interchangeably, so it’s difficult to say which is more popular for me personally.

    “Dungarees”!! While I’ve heard OF the word, I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard anyone use it in person.

  3. Jon - The DC Traveler
    August 31st, 2008 at 10:07 am

    esides “inbound” and “outbound”, there’s the “Outer Drive” of Lake Shore Drive, not to be confused with the “Inner Drive”.

    “Italian Beef” — is there another city in the US that understands what a Chicagoan expects when we order one of these Chicago favorite sandwiches? I think definately not.

    “Youuus Guys” aka “Y’all”, or “all of you”.

  4. Matt B
    August 31st, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    Ah, Jon, you’re absolutely right. I actually can’t remember the last time I drove the Inner Drive, so I completely forgot about it!

    And before I began traveling around the U.S. a bit more, I didn’t realize that the Italian Beef, which seems so simple and yet oh-so-tasty, was such a rarity outside of Chicago!

  5. delk
    September 1st, 2008 at 2:53 am

    Like that blog, Gapers Block, that’s a Chicago idiom right there. (Does Jewels and Dominick count?)

    Pop and soda, really really bother me. I grew up with soda, all so-called evidence says my 46 years in Chicago means I say pop.

    I don’t.

    My Jewish, NYC, partner does say:sneakers and dungarees!

    And, Al’s has the worse beef ever…

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