If you’re from Chicago or the ’burbs, you might think the way we talk around here is pretty normal.
And let me tell you, you’d be right.
It’s everyone else in the United States who talks strange, not us. Agreed? Well, what we likely can all agree on is that we talk uniquely. We have our own accent, sure, but beyond that, we have our own language in a way — terms and tones that are very Chicago.
Some call it “Chicago-ese,” or “Chicago-speak.”
Whatever you call it, we’re capturing it here, in Chicago✶pedia — published by the Chicago Sun-Times, highlighting our local terminology and linguistic quirks (sometimes with humor and obvious exaggeration).
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For longtime readers, you might recall this was a little feature years ago in the paper itself, where we’d include a definition a day — many tongue in cheek, historical in nature or involving the Bears ... er ... “Da” Bears.
We’ve greatly expanded on that theme, updating and adding definitions in a volume that hopefully will be followed by others.
By the way, “da” is one true Chicago word, equating to “the.”
“Anyone know what da time is?”
“You check out da game last night?”
“Are da sandwiches ready yet?”
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And then there’s “tree.”
Sure, it’s a towering leafy plant, but also how “three” is often said here.
“Give me two, tree of those donuts.”
Other Chicago✶pedia words are less about pronunciation and more about meaning.
Like “the woods.”
Technically the Cook County Forest Preserves. By our definition: “Peaceful plots of wilderness in the city and suburbs where people go to unwind, hold family picnics and take the kids for a stroll; alternately in Chicagoland, places to find anonymous sex, dump a body or abandon unwanted pets.”
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Chicago✶pedia isn’t all light- hearted. Often there’s social commentary in the words we use, or as we interpret them.
Our definition of much-maligned “TIF” districts: “Tax increment financing, a financial instrument used by local government to funnel taxpayer money to rich people under the guise of urban renewal.”
Or our take on what “middle class” means, through a Chicago lens: “The middle-income people who once populated Chicago’s neighborhoods, now largely filled with either poor people, or rich people.”
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Enjoy paging through Chicago✶pedia, with definitions compiled by the Sun-Times staff and other experts.
Thanks for reading. And thanks for celebrating and learning about the language and culture of this great city.