Chicago Slang: How to Talk Like a Local
Now before you get all huffy and puffy, we aren’t trying to make you lose your identity or anything… just trying to help you get to know the local lingo! If you want to sound like you’re a Chicago pro, here’s a brief description of some essentials.
The Chicago accent — Ok, so for many this doesn’t need explaining, but let’s clear the air on what exactly the Chicago accent is. The most important is the long “a”. We say Chic(aaaa)go, not Chic(ah)go. We say paj(aaaa)mas, not paj(ah)mas. It’s annoying, but we love it, and mostly can’t help it. We also like to hiss the “s” at the end of words and pronounce “th” like a “d.” (Though this tends to be a South Side staple.) Ever heard of Da bearsss? For a great example of a thick Chicago accent that could only belong to legendary coach Mike Ditka or my high school Drivers Ed teacher, check out this old SNL skit.
The city — Anyone from Chicago, city or suburbs, refers to Chicago as “the city,” not Chicago. Oh you are going to xyz? Is it in the city? Or say you have spent a relaxing weekend at your friends lake house (I guess this is another one, generally Chicagoans refer to their summer homes as their lake houses, instead of cottages or summer homes) in Lake Geneva. When it is time to leave you would say, ok I’m going to head back to the city. This also probably stems from the large amount of suburban influx the city gets on the weekend, as well as most people from Illinois claiming to be from Chicago, even if they are from Peoria or Crystal Lake. The distinction between city and everything else is important.
Pop — It’s pop, not soda. No explanation needed.
Grammar/grade school — Most people who grew up in the city went to one school for kindergarten to 8th grade, so therefore they refer to their pre-teenage education as either grammar or grade school. There is no middle school and junior high.
Gym shoes — Not sure where this one comes from, but we generally refer to tennis shoes or sneakers as gym shoes. I suppose because we use them in a gym? Just, please don’t say sneakers… it sounds so… dorky.
The L — The L is Chicago’s citywide subway system, though most of it is above ground. The train refers to the Metra commuter rail. Don’t confuse ’em.
Expressways — Highways and freeways are referred to as the expressway. The term tollway is used when referring to expressways with tolls. More often than not when discussing a specific route people will refer to what they are taking by its exact name, and not even a number, like I’m taking the Edens (instead of saying I-94 North). See Driving in Chicago for more information on that.
LSD — The abbreviation for Lake Shore Drive. Not the drug. Do not get this confused if someone asks you to take LSD to the party.
Cash Machine — We use this interchangeably with the acronym ATM.
Distances — while we are on the subject of getting places, Chicagoans generally refer to distances in terms of minutes, and will generally claim almost everything is 15 or 20 minutes away. No mile talk here.
So, there you have it. Pick up on a few of these and you’ll be speaking like a local in no time. That is, unless you’re from South Boston. Then we can’t help you.