The Chicago Accent, Slang, and Culture

Updated on April 19, 2018
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Melanie was raised in New Buffalo, Michigan. She just finished her honors BS in physical science at Purdue University Northwest. (Hire her!)

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Growing up just outside of Chicago in an area known as "the region", I thought I had a hint of Chicago in my accent. Later, I realized not only do I have a fairly clear Michigan accent, but there is something that makes the Chicago accent special.

The Chicago accent is an Inland North American accent as is Michigan's, and very nasally as well. And it's uniquely, well... Chicaaahgo (or Chi-caw-go, depending on what side of town you're from!) After writing about the Michigan accent and my other piece, "Ope! The Midwest Accent & Slang Terms", I decided a piece on the Chicago accent was long overdue.

The Windy City?

Sometimes when the weather gets bad, folks will say, "Well, it is the windy city, after all." Saying this will immediately mark you out as someone from out of town.

Chicago is not called the Windy City because of the weather. We're called this because we could not stop bragging about hosting the 1893 Columbian Exposition. We were "full of air" about the issue. In addition, some Chicagoans call it the Windy City because of the politicians.

Da Bears: Chicago's Letter D

One of the most well-known bits of Chicago-speak is the letter D. The "th" sound found in words like this, that, and there is turned in a d sound. In fact, you may hear someone very clearly say "dis or dat" instead of "this or that."

While it's not quite as strong as the D-sound found in SNL's sketch "Bill Swerky's Super Fans", it's definitely there.

There's nothing more "Chicago" than Da Bears (and that's exactly how they're referred.) If you refer to the football team by The Bears, you must not hail from Chi-caw-go.

A Spoof of Chicago Fame: Da Bears, Mike Ditka (slathered in a thick Chicago accent)

The Short U and A

The short u (as in the word hut) has a more aww sound. This is reminiscent of New Jersey's coffee (cawfee) but not quite as strong. This also happens with Chicago's short a.

Because of this, words like hot dog very slightly sound more like haht dahg.

Saving time with the 'ch'

Instead of saying that you're looking at a picture, in Chicago, you'll want to say you're lookin' atta' pitcher. It's a lot about saving time. Cut out the "ct" and replace it with a "ch" sounds and you'll be able to say a lot more in a shorter amount of time (like a true Chicagoan.)

No 'th'

For Chicagoans on the south side, there’s no th sound. It's just a t: One, two, tree, four.

A Pink Line train on the L as it approaches Randolph/Wabash.
A Pink Line train on the L as it approaches Randolph/Wabash. | Source

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Chicago Slang & Culture

Aside from the accent, there are some slang terms and other things that are unique to the Windy City. Some of these are actually a result of the accent and some are a result of Chicago culture.

Second City - Chicago sometimes referred to as the Second City. The name comes from the city having been rebuilt after the Great Chicago Fire. Chicago was also the second-most-populous city in the country at one time. Second City is also the name of arguably the best comedy club in the world and it's located right here in Chicago.

Second City Comedy Club is where Saturday Night Live vets many of their acts. And I mean lots of comedians hail from here: Tina Fey, John Belushi, Jim Belushi, Dan Akroyd, John Candy, Steve Carell, Amy Poehler, Alan Alda, Chris Farley, Steven Colbert, Bill Murray, I could go on...

Amy Poehler, one of my personal favorite comedians, hails from Second City Comedy Club
Amy Poehler, one of my personal favorite comedians, hails from Second City Comedy Club | Source

Mahm - This is what Chicagoans say instead of mom. Notice that there is that flat and nasally 'a'.

Pop - As with other Midwestern states, folks in Illinois drink pop. Soda is for laundry. That's pronounced pahp, by the way.

Prairie - A vacant lot.

Jewlery - Being from the Chicago area, I can't say I've actually ever heard someone say the full-on jewelry. It's almost hard to say. Here in the region, and in Chicago, it's often pronounced jewlery.

A Chicago dog is almost big enough to be an entire meal
A Chicago dog is almost big enough to be an entire meal | Source

Chicago dog - A Chicago dog is an all-beef hot dog served on a poppy seed bun. There are some variations, but most Chicago dogs have yellow mustard, sweet pickle relish, chopped onions, a pickle spear, slices of tomato, and pickled sport peppers. Of course, I didn't forget that it's all topped with celery salt.

A Chicago dog is really all you need. Anyone ordering a hotdog with ketchup is obviously from out of town.

Over by - If you're referring to an object's location, it's not just "by." Macy's (still Marshall Field's in my mind) is not just by Grant Park. It's over by Grant Park.

Over dare - A phrase used in conjunction with "over by" is "over dare", as in "We went over dare to dat joint over by Midway."

Go to the show - Growing up, my grandmother would always ask if I wanted to go to the show. Seeing a movie in the theater was her favorite pastime, but my friends and I just called it going to the movies. I figured it was something from her generation, but more and more I hear Chicago folks calling it going to the show.

An example of "dibs" where lawn chairs signify that the person who cleared the space has dibs on parking.
An example of "dibs" where lawn chairs signify that the person who cleared the space has dibs on parking. | Source

The graj - This is where you park your car if you're lucky enough to have one. It's not pronounced garage. That's just way too many syllables for a fast-talking Chicagoan.

And, of course, if you're not lucky enough to have a home with a garage, you may have to rely on:

Dibs - Dibs is a notoriously awful parking situation that comes from a mixture of a lack of parking and a ton of snow. If you shovel off an area in front of your house, you may call it yours. Therefore, you have dibs on it.

Some folks even put objects in the parking space after they leave to let other drivers know they have dibs. Other drivers may also ignore those objects or move them and park there anyway. This can lead to wars over people who just need a place to park and people who worked hard clearing the snow from a parking space.

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The Cloud Gate (or "The Bean") in Millennium Park designed by artist, Anish Kapoor.
The Cloud Gate (or "The Bean") in Millennium Park designed by artist, Anish Kapoor. | Source

The Bean - This is just a name we called The Cloud Gate. It's essentially a giant bean in Millenium Park. It was only completed in 2006, but it's already a big tourist attraction.

Jeet? - This is another time-saving phrase. It means "did you eat?" It's just mishmashed into one word: Jeet?

Didja - This is a bit longer than the letter j in jeet, but it's the same idea: saying things faster. Didja is a shortening of the phrase "did you". Didja clear the snow in that parking space?

Usta - This is a shortening of the phrase "used to." They usta call it Comiskey Park, but now it's Guaranteed Rate Field.

The Chicago River, shown here dyed green for St. Patrick's Day.
The Chicago River, shown here dyed green for St. Patrick's Day.

Taste or "The Taste" - This is what we call our annual food festival, The Taste of Chicago, for short. This festival takes place every summer and gives patrons the opportunity to try different foods ubiquitous in Chicago and enjoy another feature: long lines.

Do you want to come with? - This is a phrase common in Chicago because of our urge to end sentences with prepositions:
Where are you at?
Where should I meet you at?
Are you coming with?
One reader noted that it comes from the influence of early German settlers to the Chicago area. "Do you want to come with," comes from the influence of the separable German verb: mitkommen.

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Do you go to the movies or the show?

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Chicago Transportation

Kennedy, the Stevenson, the Eisenhower, the Edens, and the Dan Ryan - These are expressways. We don't really use numbers to name the expressways in Chicago. When you listen to the traffic on the radio, you'd better be prepared to know your road by its name and not its number.

And yeah, they're expressways. Not highways.

The L - The L is just what we call the transit system. It's an elevated train and we're one of the few cities in the country with this type of mass transportation.

The Loop - This is the downtown area of the city. The name comes from the fact that the L wraps around this area in a loop shape.

The frunchroom - Frunchroom is how Chicagoans say "front room" or parlor.

LSD - It's not a drug, it's just what we call "Lake Shore Drive" for short.

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Where do the White Sox play?

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Do you have a Chicago accent? Did I miss anything? Please share in the comments below!

Chicago Real Estate

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Melanie Shebel

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      • profile image

        Chuck 4 days ago

        Ruff isn't unsmooth, or the sound a dog makes. It is where Santa lands.

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        DEBORAH 4 days ago

        And we had gangways

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        Deb Torres 4 days ago

        Instead of saying, You Guys

        We Say, "Yous Guys"

        What do yous guys wanna do?

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        Tom 4 days ago

        And, who was the moron who named all the elevated lines colors? The old names told you where they started and stopped. Englewood - Howard, Ravenswood, etc. What info do you glean from Red and Brown

      • profile image

        Elida 4 days ago

        This entire piece and the comments really made me homesick!

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        John 5 days ago

        Not only is it unique here to call an overpass a viaduct, we also pronounce it viadock.

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        Txmohr 5 days ago

        My dad called the comics section “the jokes”

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        Kelly L. 5 days ago

        Ky or better known as “can I” is a phrase I say & hear a lot. Also, roof is said differently in other parts. We say roof & in they say it’s ruff. We say qupon for coupon. Sawsage for sausage. I’ve been asked if I’m from Minnesota many times, yet I’m born and raised on the southwest side.

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        Pam 5 days ago

        Hahahahah, I’m born and raised Chicago, but have lived in the suburbs for 50 years. I still speak Chicago! I just read almost all the comments and love them. Especially gunna and hafta. We’re lucky, we have our own little language.

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        Lisa 5 days ago

        Great article that really captured a lot of how we talk! We also pronounce the word "for" as "fer" or "fur". When I say a word that ends in the letter "s", I notice I make it a "z" and have a tendency to elongate it, such as "boyzzz". When I call my mother, I call her "Mah", I don't add the letter "m" at the end. Whenever I vacation to other parts of the country, I'm often told that I talk like I come from Chicago, but I wouldn't have it any other way. I love my Sweet Home Chicago!

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        Suzanne Dunne 5 days ago

        Pronunciation of "going to" , use of "by", & pluralization; as in "I'm gunna go by his house & then we're gunna go to Jewel's." I still end sentences with prepositions. I loved the writer below who gave the example"I says to him, I says" have heard many people do this.

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        Steve 6 days ago

        Really funny and accurately! But it’s not “Do you want to come with?” It’s “Ya wanna come wit?” LOL!

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        David M. Habben 6 days ago

        Great article. I moved from Chicago in 1974 and lost the accent. But when I get back there once or twice a year on business, I get it back within three days.

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        Larry Andres 6 days ago

        It’s not the Metra it’s stil da Nortwestern

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        Tanner 6 days ago

        “Where are you?” is often said as “where yuh at?” And last year becomes las-cheer. What are you doing becomes Whaddre yah doin?

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        Mindy 6 days ago

        Singles, bucks, and break. “Hey, can you break a 20”? “Yea, you want 2 tens or a 10 and singles.” Or “Nah, I only got 15 bucks on me”.

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        Liz Moses 6 days ago

        That pretty well covered it. One thing to note-there are two train systems in the Chicago metropolitan area-the “L” and the Metra. Depending on where you live determines how you refer to them.

        If you live in the city, the “L” is called the train and the Metra is called “the Metra”

        If you live in the suburbs, the “L” is called “the L” and the Metra is called the “the train”.

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        Ray P. 6 days ago

        Directions are given in grid coordinates - Addison and Western, 3600 North and 2400 West. Locations are also referenced by parish (and blocks). "We're two blocks west of St. Viators" (always plural - St. Barts, St. Lads, etc.). Also, the origin of "The Loop" is from the destination signs that used to be on cable cars, long before the loop 'L' was built, since cable cars turned around in a loop. Speaking of the 'L', it is NEVER referred to as the el. Always the 'L'. Doesn't matter if you are going into the subway, you are still getting on the 'L'. Others mentioned "gym shoes" and don't forget that groceries are put in a bag, no a sack.

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        Joe Paschen 6 days ago

        ya ain't missed nutin", dat I can 'tink

        ah.

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        Dee 6 days ago

        We eat sahsage!

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        Joe Lyons 6 days ago

        Had a debate with my sister, who was born on the east coast and moved here when she was 8ish about the pronunciation of Roosevelt. I pronounce it as one would pronounce rooster. She says it as one would say rose. My way is the Chicago way.

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        Johnny U 6 days ago

        Junno...you know?

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        David M 6 days ago

        The names of places always end up with a mysterious S. "Da Bears, yeah dey play at Sojers Field."

      • Allan Phillips profile image

        Allan Phillips 6 days ago

        And no real Chicagoan calls it the "Willis tower."

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        Dana 6 days ago

        Gym shoes is one you missed, most of the country calls them “sneakers”. There are expressways and tollways, and you better know the difference before you drive! Also, when in the city, a lot of directions/locations are referred to by how far away they are from “the lake” or “the river”. Lastly, the way we pronounce “Roosevelt” (as in the road, not the presidents).

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        Kari 6 days ago

        Clothes = Clodes. The “th” commonly becomes a soft “d”.

        “I’m gonna wash my clodes in the washing machine.”

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        Timmy T 6 days ago

        This article freaked me out. Mainly because I never thought I had an accent. Then I realized I do 95% of these things, and found myself saying the samples and feeling weird trying to properly pronounce all the words and phrases. Thanks for giving me a complex haha

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        Kay 6 days ago

        Another Chicago favorite is "warsh" your clothes -- adding an "r" to the word wash.

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        Jimmy 6 days ago

        I always called it a vacant lot, jewelry is joolree, not highways, expressways. Don’t forget pop and gym shoes. Some of us still have the accent, but it’s slowly dying.

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        Robin L.Varnado-Thomas 7 days ago

        Thank you for the interesting article! Growing up on the SouthSide, a lot of what was true for all parts of the city. The story had me crackin' up!!(southside term). Also,some parts of the city is known as Tha', as in Tha'Nine(79th),Tha'LoLo(Bronzeville)

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        Pam Rasmussen 7 days ago

        Back in 1968 in Clearwater Beach, Florida I was having conversation with a fellow vacationer sunning ourselves in the yard of the motel. At one point she asked me if I was from Chicago. I was shocked. Well, I told her - I was raised in the far, far NW suburbs but my father and his were raised in the city. Anyway, I asked her how she knew. She told me it was because I said, "bring with" not just "bring" and that in no other part of our country has she heard it said like that. :) I never forgot what she told me and sometimes still when I hear it it makes me smile.

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        Jgbloom 7 days ago

        Some think that the name “2d City” came from a not-that-flattering piece about Chicago by A J Liebling in the New Yorker Magazine in the 50’s. The 2d City troop adopted it as a back-in-your-face move

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        Phil Sera 7 days ago

        NOT the Dan Ryan, "Da Ryan ". Newspaper comics were "The Funnies" Nowadays all sentences start with "I'm like " ! I'm like, did you watch Da News ?

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        Judi 7 days ago

        In Chicago we do not call the Ryan, Eisenhower, Edens, etc. "highways". They are called expressways.

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        Bob lietz 7 days ago

        How bout “gangway” ? Or Viaduct. And my all time fav Chi-town word..... Jag-off

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        Michele Skinner 7 days ago

        My father, who was born in a Bridgeport apartment building, forbid us to have the Chicago slang. I still don't know how he didn't get it himself. Maybe because he learned Italian first and spent a few of his young years in Sicily. The only thing I do is end with prepositions. Used to drive my husband from the East coast crazy. And for sure no good Chicago hotdog has ketchup!

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        KATHLEEN 7 days ago

        CAR IS KAW

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        Tom 7 days ago

        Avenue is pronounced avenyuh. And, if you are talking about food, I would say that an Italian beef sandwich is peculiar to Chicago.

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        Patricia Walsh 7 days ago

        Lived in Bridgeport most of my life until I got married and move to Edison Park. I now live in Florida. I remember the CTA busses, viaducts, block parties, and the Sear’s Tower. (Not the Willis Tower)

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        Mary 7 days ago

        We're going to (wherever). Ya wanna go with?

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        Ellen wein 8 days ago

        So while visiting Austin last year went to the store where I was staying ibadked for pop he kept asking me what I wanted. Finally figured it out and said soda pop lol

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        Renee 8 days ago

        Nort Side or Sout Side!! Never say North or South.

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        Nancy Lenz 8 days ago

        I am a northsider and we called the Dan Ryan, Kennedy etc the expressway. Living in VA now when say expressway they do not know what I mean. Front room is pronounced frontroom. No ch sound. But no one here calls it that. They say family room or den.

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        Tina 8 days ago

        I've always called everyone "you guys", as in hey you guys wanna go to grab a hawt dawg?

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        Ryan Madiar 8 days ago

        I think you need to add in some typical Chicago insults. For example, “Jagoff.” “Dat guy iz a total Jagoff” or “What a Jag” is a common way for Chicago area males especially in construction to describe someone who is an asshole. This is the Chicago pronunciation of the insult of someone being a “Jackoff.”

        Another variation of the “Jag” slang is “Dis iz total Jagballz.” This means the situation is totally fucked up.

      • Cindy Latimer profile image

        Cindy Latimer 8 days ago

        Distance is not in miles, it is in time. IE: 20 min Post Office to Harlem or the store is only 5 minutes away. Did not really realize this til I moved away to rural Wisconsin where everything is miles. Talk about culture shock haha

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        Julie F 8 days ago

        My son , who lives in Portland, OR now, told me something interesting today. The word expressway is not used in that area of the states. In fact, people look at him dumbfounded when he says it, they are clueless. Has anyone else gone through this?

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        Bibi 8 days ago

        Can’t forget the gangway!

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        Hillary 8 days ago

        How 'bout it?

      • Dan Crosser profile image

        Dan Crosser 8 days ago

        "I was gonna go to Da Jewels over dere on Kedzie to get a cuppa too tree beers, but couldn't find where I left da grachki at, it wuz in da frunchroom."

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        Liz Spence 8 days ago

        A friend from Philadelphia says all Chicago Ian’s say “like” often, inappropriately and unnecessarily. As in “so I said, like, are we going to the show or not?”

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        Peter 8 days ago

        It's not Jewel...it's THE Jewels!

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        Kathy Benkovich 8 days ago

        Well first you referenced Chicago's Letter D. then went on to talk about The Bean. Shouldn't it be Da Bean? ;)

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        Maude Merriman 8 days ago

        I was born and raised in Des Plaines and I instead of saying overpass I say viaduct. People out of state always look at me and ask what's that? I also say 'you guys' alot.

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        Erika Munz 9 days ago

        The D instead of t is not as common in the old Rogers Park area. I never really heard it until I went to NIU and met kids from other parts of the city, especially the south side.

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        Teri Tolczyk 9 days ago

        I think it’s more Dja than didja

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        Sue 9 days ago

        "GYM SHOES", also also warm weather gear as "jacket", "light jacket, winter jacket" ...unless it is fancy, then it can be a "coat"

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        Hector 9 days ago

        My daughter move to Alabama Recently when we went to go visit I notice they say y'all we say youse guys

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        Chris Godlewski 9 days ago

        This is spot on. Great job. What a great city!!!

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        Nita----Nida 9 days ago

        Hafta, as in, doya hafta go?

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        Tara 9 days ago

        I grew up in the burbs but I have everyone one these slangs. Also I moved about 3hours south and got teased a lot for saying do you want eggs and tooost. Long o

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        Charlene 9 days ago

        I have lived in Arizona that past 23 years, born and lived in Chicago/suburbs for the first 28 years of my life. People still hear my Chicago accent!

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        John 9 days ago

        Sasage not sausage

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        Dorothy 9 days ago

        Root or route? whacha doing? And of course, the way you say Chicago is a dead iveaway...

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        Carron 9 days ago

        W-i-l-I-s, pronounced “Sears”

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        jordan 9 days ago

        "and then I says to him, I says"

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        Brian 9 days ago

        Geez the article did talk about fruntroom and one you forgot is "Er what." ie. Are we going to go, er what?

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        Pam 10 days ago

        Add dress, accent on the A. Whats your Add dress.

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        Meghan 10 days ago

        Ending sentences an a preposition. Hard habit to break

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        Therese Deptula 10 days ago

        I have a hard time saying 'sandwich' ... I was raised in an Italian household with my family pronouncing it "sangwhicha" ... all I can think of when it's pronounced correctly is two slices of bread with sand in between LOL

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        Dave 10 days ago

        Most people i know call it sox park nowadays.

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        Tvman 10 days ago

        Hunnerd. Not hundred. "That place is on the 55 hunnerd block of .......... ." or Addison is 36 hunnerd north, Western is 24 hunnerd west. Etc.

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        etripp 10 days ago

        day dye da river green on Sane Packtricks day

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        Chicagogirl912 10 days ago

        Uwanagowith-anytime you are going somewhere

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        Rudy orozco 10 days ago

        More than once is "a couple two or tree times"

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        Judi 10 days ago

        "Y'no" - a polite and inclusive phrase added to the ends of phases or sentences to avoid sounding uppity.

        As in "Get off the L at Randolph Street an' go 2 blocks left to get to Marshall Field"s, y'no?

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        Postman 10 days ago

        Fruntchroom= The Living room.

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        Jewel Levine 10 days ago

        I’m from Chicago, raised in Skokie. I was in the city all the time, my family had a diner on Halsted & Madison. I have a Chicago nasal accent, but never used “”d” instead of “th,” except to kid around. But I did use most of the slang. I’m sure had I never left Chicago, my accent would be strong, but I left in 1979.

        A friend (who left Chicago in 1980) & I both said “ruf” instead of roof, and another word improperly, but I cannot remember what the word was.

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        Edwina Binotti 10 days ago

        Great article, but you forgot how Chicagoans call the living room , the "Frunch room". (Instead of Front room)

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        Bobbi 10 days ago

        The newspaper comics are the jokes.

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        Rob Adams 10 days ago

        I lived in Burbank, near Midway, and I do not speak with the distinctive Chicago accent, unfortunately. I do use much of the terminology, even now that I live in North Georgia.

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        Sue Jackson 10 days ago

        Never Comiskey "Field".

        Comiskey Park or just Comiskey.

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