On Jumbo and Jag-Offs: A Primer on Pittsburgh’s Weird Words and Peculiar Pronunciation

Last Tuesday my partner Sara made an ugly and, I still insist, unwarranted accusation about me.

You see, that evening, after witnessing Lexington meteorologist Bill Meck mis-forecast local weather yet again, Sara and I watched over dinner as a channel 18 reporter interviewed an Eastern Kentucky woman whose house had burnt, following a botched attempt to light an outdoor barbecue grill in the narrow confines of her living room.

“I done it last week, no problem.  Now everthang— plumb-nar gone.”

“Plumb-nar gone,” I mimicked her Appalachian accent–obviously an insensitive and uncalled for mockery, I realize now.

“You’re SUCH a grammar snob,” Sara said, spooning tomato soup, dribbling it on a newly laundered t-shirt.

“Well, actually, it’s more a matter of dialect than grammar.”

Sara fingered quotation marks mid-air and shot me a look across the rim of a now-nearly-empty bowl , “Excuse ME.  You’re such a ‘dialect’ snob!”

“Maybe more like ‘language’ snob,” I corrected yet again.

“Case in point,” she swung her arm in my direction, nearly losing her soup spoon mid-gesture.

Okay, maybe I am something approximating a language snob or whatever you word-selection slackers want to call it.

Still, my point is this—

Whether this unkind linguistic accusation is accurate or not, it, along with my now-postponed trip to Pittsburgh, got me thinking about the strange linguistic animal that is speech in the western part of Pennsylvania—a variation of Standard American English academics who study this sort of thing call “Pittsburghese,” as if it were not only a dialect of its own but another language altogether.

Mind you, this is a bordering-on-the-grotesque mutation of English I no longer speak. However, during my few trips back to Pittsburgh as an adult, I’ve been horrified to find myself slipping, half-hypnotised, back into that weird way of speaking–language snobbery notwithstanding.

So, in honor of this trip, now postponed thanks to Hurricane Sandy, I’ve decided to let you in on a few of the best-kept secrets about Pittsburghese and to offer a tutorial on this linguistic hybrid, in the event that you are planning a trip of your own in the near future and hope to decipher the weird words of western PA.

So, a few important matters to remember:

  • First and foremost, some Pittsburgher’s call their city “Picksburgh.”  No need to double-check your map.  As long as there are three rivers converging nearby, you’re in the right town–regardless of what the locals call it.
  • But, once you’ve oriented yourself, if you spend an evening at Heinz Hall, in the heart of the city, you’ll actually be in place Picksburghers call “dahn tahn” (down town).  Natives of the area consistently pronounce “ow” as “ah.”  This” sahnd” (sound)  is central to Pittsburgh speech.
  • If you then stay the night in a “dahn tahn” hotel and  request an extra towel for your room, you’ll most likely be given something housekeeping calls a “tile.”  You see, Pittsburghers have what linguists would call diphthongissues.  They invariably shorten vowel sounds most Americans would pronounce as two syllables into merely one.  “Steelers” become the “Stellers,” for example.
  • Yet if you attend a game, friends may ask for a contribution to the pre-game, tail-gating menu, requesting that your bring some “‘Irn (Iron) City Beer, some hoagies (sub sandwiches), n’ at.'” Picksburghers notoriously add “n’ at” (and that) to the ends of sentences, a verbal tick, not unlike Canadians add “eh” to the ends of theirs.  “I’m goin’ dahn (down) to the hahs (house) tonight, n’ at.”
  • Then there’s the vocabulary you will need to know:
    • “Yinz” is the second person plural–what southerners in the US would refer to as “yall.”
    • To “red up” the room is to straighten it.
    • To be “nebby” is to be nosy and intrusive.
    • A “jag-off” is a jerk.
    • A “sweeper” is a vacuum cleaner.
    • “Jumbo” is bologna.
    • “Chipped ham” is lunch meat.
    • A “gum band” is a rubber band.

What pronunciations are peculiar to your local dialect?  Which regional words are reminiscent of your childhood?  Are you a language snob?

Note:  I’m writing a memoir about growing up in a Pittsburgh, organized crime family.  This post is part of my memoir series.  To read a draft of chapter one, click here.

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103 thoughts on “On Jumbo and Jag-Offs: A Primer on Pittsburgh’s Weird Words and Peculiar Pronunciation

    • You raise an interesting issue, actually. Having spent two years living abroad recently, I’ve noticed that long-term or even serial ex-pats have their own accent issues. It seemed to me that those who had been away long enough begin to have some unusual patterns of their own. I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but it was quite recognizable to me. Great to hear from you, Greatsby!

      • See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about. That leaves you languageless–as least in spoken terms. No wonder you write! Sorry to hear you are such an abject failure as an American. Hell, maybe that’s not so bad–now that I think of it.

  1. Yo, wha u be talkin about? LOL ! I am sure that are many but the South Philly, Yo! Made famous by Rocky! and the more Philadelphia Museums of Arts front step are called the Rocky steps… !

    • YES! That’s a perfect example, isn’t it? LOL Love it. It seems to be there are fairly recognizable dialectical patterns that much of PA share, even with Maryland to some degree. However, Pittsburgh is in a language league of its own.

  2. I am a Texan, we have to many stupid things in our dialect.

    Ya’ll – single
    Ya’lls – plural
    Fixin to – getting ready do something, anything
    Sorry – any worthless thing (not an apology)
    Lit out – took off, usually quickly
    Fixins – the entire meal
    Supper – usually the evening meal

    In Texas we never say the ‘g’. Our drawl is different from the Southern drawl. Of course in Texas we also have some unique sayings. I won’t go into them here.

    • Love this inventory of Texanisms–if that could even be a word. I lived in Dallas for a few years, so some of these are familiar to me. Fixin’ to is big one around here in Kentucky, as well–as well as fixins! So funny. Thanks so much for your comment. Hope to hear from you again soon. By the way, I loved your piece on Jesus and socialism!

      • We also lived in Dallas for a few years. The locals could never understand my accent. When I went into eAtzi’s bakery and asked for a loaf of “Herb” bread, they’d always answer “Sorry we don’t sell that bread…” even though they were standing next to it. :-)

      • Bless your heart, Rosie. I bet you had some challenges with the Texans, as well. They aren’t always easy to understand. Where do you all live now? And what kind of accent to you have? South African?

    • This is great! When I lived in Houston, one of my very first weeks on the job the office manager came to me and said they were fixin-to do lunch. Naively, I asked, “what are you fixing?” Dumb Canuck! (I know that’s what they thought)

  3. Baltimorians (otherwise known as Baltimorons) have a similarly affected way of speaking. “Ahm gewin’ de-on dee OH-shen, Hawn!” means, “I’m going down to the ocean, Hon.” (Hon being short for Honey, and used frequently to address anyone and everyone.)

  4. I swore I never had an accent until I watched the Cohen brothers FARGO for the first time in San Francisco with friends. I laughed at jokes they didn’t get and when I made comments they laughed at me because I sounded just like they did in the movie. Go figure.

  5. Great post. Next door, here in Ohio, I grew up in the SE corner … and the talk is very Appalachian … went to college in NW corner … talk is more like Michiganders … but similar to the NE corner … and lived as an adult in the SW corner, which is different than the others! Thanks for the lesson in Pittsburgh talk.

    • Glad you enjoyed this one, Frank. It’s kind of sad that I now live so close to Cin. but so rarely go there. Interesting to learn more about Ohio accents. I know some who live near the PA border have an accent closer to that of Pittsburgh. Thanks for your take on Ohio talk.

  6. This is such a fun post; one of the many things I love about having lived all over the U.S. is learning/hearing/picking up the little local sayings.

    Here in MI, soft drinks are Pop, similar to Canada but in NY/CT a soft drink was a soda and in Texas everythang (!) was a Coke! If someone offered you a coke you might get a 7-up but they said Coke where I’d say pop.

    In Canada, we put our rubbers (boots) in the shanty (porch) and sit on the Chesterfield (couch/sofa). If someone has too much to drink, we refer to them as “p*ssed” and a heavy drinker as a “p*sstank.” Imagine my Hubbs confusion when he met the family: “Hey, don’t be a p*sstank and leave yer rubbers outside, put ’em in the shanty and come visit on the Chesterfield!” Or when my sister said her husband was really “p*ssed” the night before – he asked .. about what? HA HA HA!

    fun post :) MJ

    • Oh, I should have mentioned “rubbers,” as that’s what we called rubber boots, as well. For us, they were red rubber creations that slipped over our shoes. I agree that dialect if fascinating. How interesting to hear some of your observations. Great to hear from you, MJ.

  7. I grew up with a language snob mother in rural Ohio on the borderland of Appalachia, with smatterings of other dialects thrown in. Your ‘Y’inz’ would be my ‘You’ns’. I’m torn between snobbery and total love and fascination. Cincinnatians say “Please?” for “I didn’t understand what the hell you just said”. I adore language and language shifts. There is nothing that makes me happier than ‘getting’ a dialect.

    • I don’t think I’m actually a language snob. Rather, like you, language fascinates me. I even considered a linguistics major for a while. I didn’t know you had grown up in Ohio. I suspect it’s this dialect intrigue that makes you so great at writing dialogue. Personally, I think you do it brilliantly.

  8. The Maritime provinces, here in Canada, are the most colourful when it comes to language. For example, there are over 100 dialects of the English language in Newfoundland and people in the outports are often the only ones who can understand each other. An excellent meal is “right some good” and “lard tunderin’ jayzus” followed by “boyz” means something pretty exciting just happened. In New Brunswick, you find Shiack which is a mixture of English and French in the same sentence resulting in things like this “va across la rue m’acheter une loaf de pain” meaning “go across the street and buy me a loaf of bread”.
    My husband comes from Normandy where they have expressions that must be translated as there is no figuring them out. Paris has a language all its own. I don’t know that I’m a language snob but language fascinates me.
    Imagine my surprise, while in Tennessee to find out that ham is referred to as “jambone” direct from the French word jambon.

    • Wow, that sounds like a great place to observe/experience language variations. I had NO idea. I especially love the English-French hybrid you mention. I didn’t have great language skills when we lived in Haiti, but I suspect there was some of that hybridization between Creole and French there. Great to hear from you!

    • To be honest, I suspect I’m the same way, Laurel. People tell me I don’t have an accent. That may be why I’m so surprised to slip back into Pittsburghese when I’m back in western PA. This is a fun topic to discuss. I find language and dialect just so damn fascinating.

    • Me too– language endlessly fascinating (you already know this about me, huh?!). I’m one of those people sittin’ around wondering how human language evolved from “Ug, pass mastodon!” to Latin and Greek! ???

      Picksburgh! hahahahahaa I forgot to tell you how much I enjoyed THAT!

      I lived in West Orange, NJ as a child and had to rid myself of that accent when we moved to Toronto, where I promptly picked up Eh, then moved to Tucson…. et-damn-cetera! Maybe my brain cells are too worn out to have an accent!

      (PS. Thank *you* for your warm encouragement at my last difficult post. You can imagine that it’s a tough topic for me to talk about beyond a blog post.)

      • Wonder why some of us find language so fascinating. NJ accent is quite strong. Interestingly, when I moved to Oklahoma in my 20s I had some Canadian friends from whom I picked up “eh.” I still say it. I think that’s strange. But it still comes out. LOL

        And, gosh, you are so welcome, Laurel. I hate for a friend to be in distress. Illness sucks.

  9. I had no idea Pittsburgh had all these little nuances in their dialect. It’s interesting that you mention when you go back for a visit you fall into the dialect so easily. I do the same thing when I visit my mom, having spent so many years living in the South.

    Of course Brooklynese is well known. Fuggeddaboudit!

    • Glad I’m not the only one who slips back into an old dialect when headed “home.” I don’t return to a significant degree. I just notice the slippage beginning. Guess I don’t stay long enough. And, yes, quite an accent you have there in Brooklyn! Has any of that crept into your speech patterns?

  10. I have always found it very interesting that we can travel to different parts of our own country, and not be able to understand what someone is telling us!! I remember a story that my aunt told the family soon after she and my uncle moved to Alabama – she went into a McDonald’s and ordered some McNuggets. The cashier asked her if she wanted “hodamile” sauce. My poor aunt had to ask a number of times for the cashier to repeat themselves before she finally realized that they were asking if she wanted “hot or mild” sauce!!! :D I guess I don’t really know what dialect is specific to Michigan (seeing that I’m not really a big traveller) – other than Mid-Westerners using the word “pop” instead of “soda”.

    I agree with you, though – I’m a stickler for proper use of the English language! I refuse to even shorten my words if I send someone a text!! ;)

    • LOVE that stubborn refusal Holly! I think folks in Michigan have a strongly identifiable accent. I have an hilarious dialect story I could tell, but it’s too long and involved for a comment. At any rate, it makes me truly enjoy your aunt’s story. Great to hear from you today, my friend.

  11. I find it interesting that some Picksburghers use the local dialect only in certain situations like stillers game day, this would almost be a proper use of the dialect… When you go into the poorer neighborhoods it tends to remind me almost of a type of Cockney Rhyming Slang… sometimes it’s almost inaudible… I love it and embrace it though!

    • Excellent point about the Cockney similarities. I hadn’t even thought of that. And yes, gotta wonder how the accent comes and goes. Thanks for stopping by, Chris. Great to hear from you. Say hi to Wilkensburgh for me.

  12. I love the linguistics lesson! Fantastic! I was born and raised in the suburbs of Atlanta, and we tend to say that we are not exactly Southerners…I have no accent to speak of, but my husband, born and raised the next state over, good lord can he lay on the thick drawl when he’s not thinking about it. I’m curious if Mel will develop an accent as she becomes verbal.

    My favorite pronunciation in these parts is the exaggerated “h” sound coupled with a flat “y” sound in “why.” I myself pronounce it “wy-ee.” My husband, particularly when he’s upset or around a particular group of people, will pronounce it, “hw-i.” (Like the letter “i,” not the sound “ee.”) It’s adorable and almost always breaks me out of whatever funk I may be in. If Melanie says “hw-i,” I will be just fine with that. I do allow “y’all” in my speech for two reasons: 1. my students recognize that as a normal pronoun, and 2. I have been told it softens my edges. Which is apparently important in academia. Apparently. If we end up moving out of the South for a future job, however, I will likely drop it because I understand that maintaining Southern dialects in some other regions can often backfire and call into question one’s intellect.

    Oh! Another fun one is “ain’t.” But, this is what I love to tell my students: ain’t is actually a linguistically correct word…when you use it to pair with “I.” Any other time, you are basically saying “the cat am not,” which doesn’t make sense. But since we don’t have a contraction version of “am not” (unlike aren’t or isn’t), the word “ain’t” arose from the linguistic need to combine am with not. It originated as “I a’h’n’t.” And eventually, I think maybe in the second English vowel shift (although I am not sure about that…), the “ah” became “ai” and there you go. “Ain’t.”

    • Great explanation of ain’t, Amanda. And interesting that your husband has the accent but you don’t. Never thought of folks from Atlanta not having an accent. Isn’t the “why” pronunciation a hoot, though? I suppose Melanie’s accent will depend largely on whether you stay in the south or not. It’s so great t hear from you. Hugs to you, my friend.

  13. I remember working for a call center a few years ago. There was a lady calling in about her account who lived in Florida. She said to me “You’re from the midwest, aren’t you?” After telling her I was from Ohio she said to me, “I grew up in the midwest and, if I’m not careful while listening to you, I’ll slip right back into that accent.” My thought was, “Lady, you sound just like me! Accent?! WTF?!” Who knew? I think Ohio doesn’t really have an accent of it’s own, they are all borrowed from bordering states. Speaking to someone raised in southern Ohio is like talking to someone in the deep south……..With family from Tennessee and Kentucky, I never realized what colloquialisms they brought back and shared with their Ohio kin until I was married. Then I’d say something and Jim would just stop and stare at me. For example, the first time we went to the grocery store. I said, “We’re getting too much stuff. We’ll need to get a buggie.” Jim stopped and looked at me and said, “What the hell is a buggie?” I also have a tendency to chop the “g” off the end of words like “walking” and “talking”. It drives Jim crazy……..Incidentally, I had a prof in college from PA who pronounced “towel” as “tall”.

    • Your call center story is interesting, Sista–as you DO have an accent–very mid-western. I recognized it as soon as well met in person. Actually, lots of Pittsburghers use the word “buggy,” as well. It is interesting that you haven’t retained any southern sounds. You sound very mid-western to me. WHat about me? Do you detect an accent in me? It’s fascinating to me what other notice about how we sound.

      • While I don’t recognize an accent in your voice, I do recognize that you speak differently than I do. I can’t really tell you why, it’s just something very subtle about the way you speak. You sound very different from my brother-in-law who is from Reading, PA. But I think, like I told you this weekend, that has more to do with his Old German heritage. Jim has a cousin from somewhere not far from Picksburg ( ;) ) and he sounds like us…….I’m shocked I never picked up on all those southern accents I was raised around. Maybe because of school? Who knows. Just thinking that I have an accent is funny to me. Midwestern Miranda, lol!…. Now, Sara’s accent sounds very muddled to me. She sounds like a mix of midwestern girl and southern gal all rolled up into one.

      • I don’t think Sara has an identifiable accent either–maybe because she has literally lived all over the planet. Intersting that you recognize a difference in me but don’t know how to label it–thus I suppose different from Sara’s accent, as well. Language just totally intrigues me. And, I must say again, how great it was to chat with you this weekend!

  14. Since I was born and raised in San Francisco, I was not a product of dialect, but in the 30 years that I have resided in New York City, two of my closest friends have distinct East Coast accents — Martini Max from New Jersey and Coco from Long Island. Every year we keep trying to plan a get-together where those two can engage in the battle of the accents, preferably over martinis — their libation of choice.

    • It’s interesting how Californians don’t seem to have accents. Wonder why that is. I’m sure there is some linguistic explanaation. I’d be curious to know if you have picked up any of the New York dialect in the past 30 years, as I think I may have absorbed just a tinge of the Southern–just a tinge. I only hear it once in a while. However, my younger sister and brother sound much more Southern to me. Your battle of the dialects sounds hilarious. Hope you manage to do it this year. Stay safe, my friend.

      • I do not think I have any NYC accent, but every so often I do say “or what” as in “Should we go to the movies tonight or what?” It’s also possible that I’ve been saying that my entire life. Storm surge is happening right now. For the first time in a year or maybe two, I’ve been compelled to fully close my window. Hurricane force winds have that kind of effect on me.

      • Yes, I think of the “or what” as a New York verbal tic of sorts. I suppose this comment means you still have power. Glad you broke down and closed the window. Stay safe. Please!

      • I still have power for now. It didn’t go out in my classy hood when Irene struck last year, either, but this one seems slightly more than a million times worse in my humble estimation.

      • Coco just emailed me about that. It’s not far from where she lives. The joy just never ends. Her building’s a sturdy relic and I live in a brownstone that’s seen it all. She and I should both be fine.

      • Okay, I’ve been essentially “off-line” trying to write, so I haven’t had a chance to respond to comments in 2 days. Sorry. But I need to know. Has “Coco” surfaced yet? Is she okay? Have you heard from the boss? Must you go to The Grind tomorrow? And, above all else, are you getting paid?

      • I’ve heard from Coco and that’s a huge relief. She’s had a rough few days. She tried to get up to me to recharge her electronics, but traffic is insane in lower Manhattan. Fortunately, she found a UPS store with a generator that allowed her to recharge everything for five clams. She’s seen a lot of hardship and incivility up close and personal. As for my boss, she’s also had it rough since she is also trapped in the blackout zone. I’ve been her go-between on communicating on her behalf with the outside world. I don’t know if I’ll get paid a full week’s wages but I should get at least least half pay. They’ll probably make me offset lost wages with vacation time. Milton is livid about that; he can’t go into work, either, but he’ll get full pay. I expect my company to be closed for the remainder of the week or at least until power is restored — whichever comes first. I’m very lucky to be on the Upper West Side.

      • Glad to hear that Coco and your bloss are both okay. However, I was afraid they might not pay you this week. These are the folks who asked you to take a 20% paycut, after all. I think it should be illegal not to pay you during this crisis–especially if you’re acting as a go-between.

      • Since my company remains closed for the time being, I cannot say with authority what The Powers That Be will decide. I’m hoping for the best but expecting things will suck.

  15. Oh hilarious, Kathy. So you can hear this accent in others, now that you’ve left Pittsburgh? I’m from the Maritimes, where accents are infamous and ever present (thankfully and strangely totally different from the hard, brittle Maine accent, although we liked to shop there!). People still point at me when I use ‘ar’ words, so after I’ve had a few drinks I entertain my guests by telling them how I took my car to the bar on the far side of town. They laugh, but I cannot hear how I say these differently from anyone on the west coast. When I go home (do you still call Pittsburgh ‘going home?’), everyone speaks the way they should to my own ears. Having been brought up amongst these accents, they sound right to me, like a finely tuned piano.

    • Fascinating, Deanna. I don’t really think of Pittsburgh as “home” in the sense that my family still lives there. But it is my home-town. My remaining family live 60 miles east of Pittsburgh. Yes, I can definitely hear the accent in others. It’s very noticable. It’s also fascinating that you don’t hear your own accent. What about your husband? Where is he from? By the way, how did you weather the earthquake. I thought about you the other day.

  16. Kathy, your description of the woman’s sound from Eastern KY brought a tear. That was exactly the way my Mamaw talked. Her house burned to the ground before she died, but I don’t think she ever tried to light her grill inside.

    I love Pittsburgh. I am glad I will know how to fit in when I next visit. :)

    • Oh, Andra, I’m so sorry to have mocked the eastern KY accent. I know it’s terribly insensitive of me. Both of my grandmothers had very strong accents from western PA–as did my dad. My mother seems to have lost it. I don’t know how, exactly. Glad to know you love Pittsburgh. I do, too.

  17. I LOVE this, it’s so fun to hear the different dialects. I think it would be hard to write these words as they sound, but, as always, you excel, from one grammar-snob to another. Happy to get to read you.

    • Ah, you’re a grammar-snob, as well! Good for you, Vicki. Glad you enjoyed this post–dialects and all. Great to hear from you! You, by the way, have a definite Southern accent–which is lovely–the best the South has to offer!

  18. HA! I love this! I have to show it to my neighbors who hail from that neck of the woods and my boss (Wheeling but considers this language her own) and one of directors, also from “Picksburgh”. It wasn’t too long ago they were sharing this same info with us. So I actually had audio of this in surround sound from the two of them. :) I don’t think we have any dialects in Ohio. ;)

    • Oh, but I bet you do have dialects in Ohio, Colleen. You just don’t realize it since you live there. At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. LOL Seriously, I’m glad you got to hear the Picksburgh accent–and in surround sound, no less. I’m sure you were rockin’!

  19. I was a nomad when I was younger, so I never picked up a dialogue per se, but if you stick me in the south, my southern girl comes out…think Georgia peach, not slack jawed yokel. I am an east coaster, so the word pocketbook and dungarees are in my vocabulary occasionally. My dad is famous for switching -er endings to -a, and -a endings to -er. Motha, soder, etc. When I lived in MAryland, I did say Balt-more instead of Baltimore… I refuse to say ya’ll though. Even when I lived in the south, I refused! I am familiar with “the line”…and weather you live above it or below it!

    • Okay, Jamie, I had NO idea you had lived in the East, let alone Baltimore. Wow. And a southern drawl? I’m amazed. Somehow all of this is hard for me to imagine. But then it’s been a long, hard day of writing and not getting much of anywhere. Great to hear from you Jamie!

  20. Too funny, Kathy! I had no idea about the Pittsburgh dialect. So when will you now get to go there, btw? I’ve lived in California for over 20 years, yet the first thing folks notice when they meet me is my NY accent. Anyway, the only thing I can think of that I say and people here take issue with is, “on line.” I refer to the thing you do when you go to the bank and there’s a long line ahead of you, as “standing on line.” But here, they say you’re standing “in line.” For the life of me, I can’t figure out why they would say it that way. After all, you cannot be “inside” a line. You’re ON it! Duh.

    • Fascinating, Monica. I had no idea that anyone even said “on line.” That tells you how much regional difference there is in the way we speak. I grew up in the state next door to you and I had never even heard of that. This is one of the many reasons I love language.

  21. I was having this conversation the other day. In the UK, dialects are all different which is why I’m always surprised we are stereotyped as being posh. There are so many for such a small island. I guess the major one is the differences between the north and south. Take the word bath. A southerner would usually pronounce it “ba-r-th” and a northerner “ba-th”. There’s also different dialects in different social groups. One of these groups, often referred to as “chavs”, are notorious for using the word “innit”. I accidentally say it sometimes and get a telling off.

    • Gosh, you all do have a lot of dialects for such a small place. ANd I’ve never quite understood how or why. I suppose someone with a degree in linguistics could explain it to us, but I find it curious. Love these details you’ve shared, Megan. Thanks so much.

  22. About 2 months ago, friends of mine, James and his partner Tristin, prepared to launch their first trip to NYC. The former having grown up here in Oklahoma and the latter in Georgia, both were a bit apprehensive about their speech/dialects having heard horror stories about how snobby the Left and East Coasts can treat people from out- parts of the country. They bought new clothes, practiced proper speech, had vogue hair styles done before flying to the Big Apple for the time of their lives. A particular concert on their must-do-list was so important they had pre-purchased tickets. Another reason for this trip was to check out cost-of-living because both of these very pleasant gentlemen were seriously considering a move, Tristin hoping to attend Cornell University Medical School. So, they are standing in line at the concert venue; a large man vetting ticket holders asks James for I.D. “Do you live here(NYC)?” as drivers license is handed over, James proudly replies “I’m fixin’ to.” Doorman looks at the license….*laughing* *Boy you country as hell! No wonder. This says you’re from Oklahoma!” *laughing* Since their return, we’ve recalled the story several times laughing our arses off at their almost perfect caper ….passing for New Yorkers. Being the great men they are, both took it in stride and still want to make the move if Tristin’s application is approved. The End.

    • OMG, I LOVE this story, JK! Seriously, that is just too good. I have to admit that folks here in Kentucky say “fixin’ as well. But then we say a whole lot worse than that, too. Hope Tristan gets accepted.

      What I want to know is whether or not you’ve ever considered starting a blog–or writing another book. I swear, you’re a really, really good story-teller. I know you’ve not a fan of fiction, but there’s a lot of great non-fiction to be written. Come on, JK. Please! Write, my friend!

  23. Lighting a barbecue grill in your living room? That’s plumb-nar-stupid.

    Pittsburgh sounds like one strange place. I’ve never been, even though during my childhood we drove across the entire state of Pennsylvania many times. My family’s from Trenton, so I’m much more familiar with Philadelphia. Which Philadelphians pronounce as, simply, “Philadelphia.” (Or Philly. Even better).

  24. I admit to being a language snob. The Australian accent is a peculiar one….different from American and English, but the whole country speaks much the same way, with just a couple of small differences
    I wonder how different dialects arrived in USA. Perhaps groups of people from different countries gathered in one place and brought their accents with them. It is very interesting.

    • So glad to know that you, too, are a language snob. Wouldn’t want to be the only one. I would have thought you all would have more dialect variation in Australia. What about Italy? I suspect you’re right about how we got the many accents here in the US. It does have to do with immigration patterns, but also, we’re just such a large country. But then Australia isn’t exactly small.

      • Australia is huge, but we don’t have all that many people. The first European settlers were British, but we are a mix of everything. Italy has only been a unified country for just over 150 years and there are hundreds of dialects. Luckily for me Dante ( the father of the Italian language) was Tuscan, so the dialect where we live is close to Italian. I lived near Sorrento many years ago and this dialect bears little resemblance to Italian.

      • Wow, I bet there is a huge dialect variation in Italy. Hadn’t even thought of that, Deb. It’s great that you live where do these days. I would do well no where in terms of language, I suppose. LOL

  25. When my wife and I visit New England, her native region, I have learned that I take my life in my hands every time I try to pronounce a place name in the manner the spelling suggests. In the U.S. South, eponymous place names of Frenchmen are pronounced in ways that baffle French speakers. If you pronounce the surname of the marquis de Lafayette using roughly standard French pronounciation, people will stare at you.

    • I enjoyed reading your post, L Kelly. My mother’s people are from Louisiana. Their surnames and local pronunciation (phonetically):


      • Thanks for responding to L. Kelly’s comment, JK. I’ve been a slackard about responding today. Too busy writing. Didn’t know your mother’s family was from Louisiana. Thanks for the pronunciation tutorial!

        Now, about that blog, JK . . . .

    • Well, sadly, Southerners pronounce a lot of words in ways that baffle even us here in the US. I hadn’t thought about the issues in New England. However, here in the South, as least around Kentucky, we have towns named after European cities, but we don’t pronounce them the same way. Great to hear from you. Thanks so much for your comment.

  26. I like to think of myself as an accent/dialect collector. I’m always repeating dialog on TV and movies so I can get the sound of it right. There’s nothing more joyous for me than breaking into the perfect Georgian drawl when I’m feeling genteel or switching back and forth between a Liverpool and Sussex accent. I have friends who play this game with me, and we crack ourselves up. I’m working on Dubai, but that one’s hard for me.

    The only Iowan-ism I can think of is “warsh” for wash. Iowa’s a weird place for language–not quite Southern, not quite Western. Native speakers end up sorta sloppin’ their words together in this lazy, dumb-sounding mash.

    • I didn’t know this about you, Sandy! A Dubai accent? Where do you even hear it in Iowa–that you can learn it? Stupid question, I suppose. You hear it on TV or online, of course. I’ve known nothing about Iowan accents. Thanks for helping my ignorance. Great to hear from you, my friend.

  27. I love to hear the differences in the way Americans speak. There are even dialect differences between where I live and my Wisconsin “neighbors” just 30 to 45 minutes away. (I swear there’s a “farmer” dialect!) … They say “come” when “came” would be more appropriate. A couch is called a “davenport.”

    At work, I used to speak to people from all over the country. I was often asked where I was from. When I said, “Minnesota,” I would always hear, “Oh yeah! Minn – e – SOH – tuh.”

    • How totally fascinating that you have dialect differences 30 minutes away. That’s totally amazing. However, once one gets up into the mountains of eastern KY, accents change drastically. I supect you have the standard mid-west accent, right? Or am a generalizing too much? Is the dialect in your part of the country similar to what one would hear in Chicago?

  28. I’ve always been interested in accents and local pronunciation. It’s amazes me that in a small country like England, people just tens or hundreds of kilometres away can sound so different.

    I’m not sure I agree with Sara, that it’s snobbish to notice the differences in the way people speak. There’s a young British astronomer (so obviously intelligent and well educated) who speaks grammatically correctly, but has a very strong North England accent.

    • I wonder why that’s the case in the UK. Several folks have mentioned that. I’m afraid I don’t know as much about that as I’d like. But, like you, dialect facsinates me. Thanks for chiming in, Lisa.

  29. Who would have thunk? On a similar note, but not quite, do you make up words? Or do you stick by proven actual dictionary words? Just read what Terri said up above about a couch being a “davenport”. Yep, that’s what it was down in the little Michigan Thumb town where I grew up. But up here in the Yoop, it’s called a “couch”. In the thumb, the farmer folk call batteries “battries” and of course everyone goes to “Walmarts.” Except it was KMarts when I was growing up. Fun post!

    • Interestingly, especially since I’m the writer, Sara is the one who makes up words. She does it regularly. I rarely have. Suppose you are a word-maker-upper——–right? Is “Zoop” a real or made-up word? LOL

  30. lol! With family now living in Pittsburgh, I’ll have to pay more attention. I suspect some of that is similar to other parts of Pennsylvania and that’s why it went unnoticed during my previous visits to P’burgh. “Red up” is something I learned from my husband (who is from Lancaster County, PA) although he tends to say it with a t (“ret up”). I grew up in New Jersey so I’m no stranger to weird pronunciations. I’m the only one in my family who moved away, making me the only one who doesn’t say “wooder” for “water.” I do still use “youze guys” (the “ya’all” of NJ), and every now and than a “waddaya” will slip out (as in “waddaya mean??”) or a “howyoodoon?” (“how you doing?) makes an appearance. My kids tell me the NJ dialect and accent slip in when I’m angry. I bet I sound like my mother.

    • I suspect there are a lot of similarities across the state of PA. Fascinating that you revert to your NJ accent more when you’re angry. I suspect when we express intense feelings in either direction we are inclined to return to our roots linguistically. I’ll be curious to know what you notice about Pittsburgh accents. Great to hear from you, Robin.

  31. My parents grew up in Sewickley and I spent some time there visiting my grandmother. A Pittsburgh accent is one of the few that I am totally unable to mimic and I don’t know why. Also, the accent is on the first syllable in “dahn tahn” as I recall. Once I asked for a soda (being from New England) and was disturbed when I got a bottle of club soda. I learned quickly that you ask for pop in Sewickley.

    • Yes, I hadn’t even thought about the accent being on the first syllable, but you are exactly right. And I had forgotten about the pop/soda issue, as well. Fun reminders. Actually, I went to high school near Sewickley–such a lovely little town. Thanks so much for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment.

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