How to Talk Like a Chicagoan
Whether you have recently moved to Chicago or you are a spy working undercover here, you need to learn how to speak to a Chicagoan to fit in. For those new to Chicago, you’ll be sure to notice differences in the way we speak, the words we use, and the subjects we discuss.
Crafting a Chicago accent is an art form. Like a fine wine, it takes years of immersion in the Windy City to properly cultivate and refine a distinctly Chicagoan style of speech. However, by following these tips, you can shave off those years, and pass as a grizzled Chicago native in much less time.
Like most things in life, learning to sound like a Chicagoan begins with the tongue.
Without getting into the history behind where the accent evolved, it’s called the North Cities Vowel Shift, and it describes the position of the tongue when using vowels.
“Bit” becomes “bet”
“Bet” becomes “but”
“But” becomes “bot”
“Bot” becomes “bat”
“Bat” becomes “bit”
You may have heard us use “dis” and “dat” instead of “this” and “that” – for example, “dis traffic is horrible.” The tick here is not to overdo it. Somewhere between a “th” and a “d” sound is the sweet spot.
Regional vocabulary is very important. Call a carbonated beverage “soda” or “cola” instead of “pop” and you might as well be wearing an “I Heart New York Shirt” because everyone will know you’re new to Chicago. There are a number of words you’ll have to learn after moving to Chicago, but here are some of the most important:
The Taste – Shorthand for “The Taste of Chicago” a massive annual food-oriented festival in the summer.
Trixie – A 20 or 30-something female in Lincoln Park or Wrigleyville concerned with money and social status.
Chad – A slang term for an overgrown frat-boy type in his twenties or thirties. Most Chads are found in Lincoln Park or Wrigleyville flirting with Trixies.
UIC – The University of Illinois at Chicago.
South Side – The neighborhoods south of the Loop
LSD – Not a drug, but an abbreviation for Lake Shore Drive, an expressway running parallel to the shoreline of Lake Michigan.
The Mag Mile – Nickname for the nickname, “The Magnificent Mile,” an upscale shopping stretch of Michigan Avenue.
The North Side – The neighborhoods north of the Loop.
The “L” – Also written “El” or just “el,” the nickname is short for elevated train and refers to the rapid transit system that Chicago residents ride just about every day. Sort of a misnomer since the train sometimes goes underground.
The Loop – The historic commercial center of downtown Chicago is often called “The Loop” because many L trains loop around the area.
The Bean – The local nickname for Cloud Gate, a stainless steel, kidney-shaped sculpture by Anish Kapoor in Millennium Park.
Brat – Not a spoiled child. This word rhymes with “caught” and is short for bratwurst – a Chicago sausage specialty.
Even though Chicagoans are some of those most friendly and diverse people you will ever meet, it’s true that we like to complain a lot – and sometimes with good reason. This one is easy. You don’t have to live in Chicago long before you join the millions of voices grumbling in unison about the following things.
Weather – The winters are too cold. You can also complain that it’s too hot during a few summer days, if you dare.
Cubs – A team of heartbreakers. Every year we’re tricked into believing they have a chance only for them to send us into another post-season depression.
Traffic – This is a given, but don’t limit yourself to just automobile traffic. The buses and bikers that get in your way are also reason enough to whine.
Tourists – Why does everyone need photographic evidence that they visited the Bean in Millennium Park?
CTA – The buses and trains are at their slowest when you are at your latest. I’m beginning to suspect the CTA tracker is not accurate.
Bringing It All Together
Ready to put your Chicagoan-speaking skills to the test? See how you can compare to these living embodiments of Chicago – the Super Fans.
Alright, that should do it. Even if you moved to Chicago a few days ago, you’ll be sounding like a Windy City cab driver in no time. And for more tips about moving to Chicago, check out www.NewInTownChicago.com.