Chicago has a unique accent, thanks to its status as a mixing pot of Midwesterners and transplants from other major cities. As you spend more time in the city, you might find yourself picking up some local slang to help fit in with your new coworkers and friends. Here’s a list of essential phrases to get your Chicago accent started:
If you’ve never lived in the Midwest before, you might wonder why your new Chicago friends order “pop” when they’re at a restaurant. While the East Coast has been calling fizzy drinks “soda” since the 1800s, Midwesterners have always called it “pop” due to the sound the bottle makes when you open it.
Walking down the street in Chicago, you’ll probably notice that many locals end their sentences with prepositions. For example, someone might ask, “What time is the game at?”, or, “Where are you headed to?” While you may have been taught that this is grammatically incorrect in grade school, it’s a major part of the Chicago accent that you’ll just have to get used to. Don’t bother trying to correct a local on this one. They’ll most likely point you to the Chicago Manual of Style, which claims that ending a sentence with a preposition is just fine. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
London has the Tube, New York City has the Subway, and Chicago has the L. This, of course, is Chicago’s public transportation system. The letter L stands for “elevated”, referring to the signature raised tracks, particularly in the Loop area of downtown. Chicago’s first elevated tracks were built in the late 1800s, making it the second-oldest public transportation in the U.S. after New York. Today, large portions of the tracks are underground, but calling it the “L” has stuck as a core part of the Chicago accent.
Are you even a Chicago resident if you’ve never played dibs over parking spots? Parking in the city becomes scarce during the winter, especially once plows make their way through the streets after a storm. Residents who are unfortunate enough to rely on street parking are forced to dig their cars out from underneath feet of packed snow and ice, an unpleasant and laborious task. Once a person has invested time and effort into digging their car out from a public spot, it only seems fair that they should get to keep it.
And this is exactly what Chicagoans do. Each winter, residents lay claim to their hard-earned parking spots by placing objects that range from chairs and cones to vacuum cleaners in them while they’re out. It’s considered a cardinal sin to mess with another person’s dibs marker, and doing so could even get your tires slashed. The City of Chicago parking enforcement even seems to go along with it. However, once the snow starts to melt, they issue a warning that any leftover items will be picked up by trash crews.
If the dibs system just doesn’t make sense to you, you might want to consider securing a private parking spot for the colder months. Reserved parking spots can be a bit expensive in Chicago, although are frequently worth it. You can also try looking for an apartment through a service like Blueground, where a majority of their apartments include underground or covered parking spots.
You might have played the lawn game called “corn hole”, but in Chicago, it’s simply called “bags”. This popular summer activity is frequently played at bars, parks, and weekend cookouts. The object of the game is to throw a beanbag through a small hole in a board from several feet away. Points are awarded based on where the beanbag lands. Some diehard players even design and paint their own boards with their favorite sports team’s colors and logo. Say this word in a proper Chicago accent and it should sound more along the lines of “begs”.
You’ve already heard about Chicago’s obsession with deep-dish pizza. What you probably don’t know is just how deep the rivalry runs between competing pizza restaurants. In Chicago, the biggest divide among residents is between two major pizza chains: Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s. Once you pick a side, you’ll be expected to defend its honor with your life. And you should prepare to do so; as a new resident of Chicago, you’ll likely be questioned frequently about which deep-dish pizza is your favorite.
In Chicago, following the local football team, the Bears, is part of the local culture. However, you’ll frequently hear locals refer to the team as “Da Bears” and even see it printed on merchandise. This phrase originated in a 1991 episode of the popular TV show Saturday Night Live and stuck. For the full effect, you’ll have to practice saying it in your best Chicago accent.
Look at Chicago on a map and you’ll see some of the city’s major highways listed by number: I-290, I-94, I-90, I-55, and so on. However, you won’t ever hear those numbers used by a true local. Chicagoans call the highways by their official names, such as the Eisenhower, the Dan Ryan, and the Stevenson. It’ll take a bit of practice, but eventually, you’ll get the hang of it.
Becoming a Chicagoan can be tricky when it comes down to nailing the complex system of local phrases and slang. Be patient while you pick up on new words from your daily conversations, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about what things mean! Above all, Chicago locals are friendly and willing to help you learn the culture.