Chicago-pedia: Chicago-isms

An encyclopedia of the terms that define our city. In this edition, we cover some terms only Chicagoans use.


Jewel-Osco, 6014 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

Some call it “Chicago-ese,” or “Chicago-speak.” Whatever you call it, we’re capturing it here, in Chicago-pedia — highlighting our local terminology and linguistic quirks (sometimes with humor and obvious exaggeration).

THE SECOND CITY: 1. Initially a derogatory term for Chicago, now a nickname for the country’s third-largest city — soon to be the fourth- or fifth-largest.

2. Famed improv club and school that’s produced some of the best comedians in the business.

CHADS & TRIXIES: Term for upper-middle class white people in their 20s and 30s (originally from the suburbs) who moved to Chicago (River North, Lincoln Park and Lake View) after college (a Big Ten university).

DECENT: Describing something that’s really good, while not getting overly excited.

THE OPPS: The opposition; anyone/anything that’s against you.

PROPER NOUNS: Something Chicagoans aren’t very good at, with “O’Hara” Airport, the grocery store chain “Jewels,” Mitch “Trubinsky” and “Soldiers” Field regular bastardizations.


Proper Nouns.

Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

JAGOFF: The ultimate Chicago putdown. Sometimes pronounced “jay goff.”

A GUY: 1. A trusted, skilled and hard-to-replace practitioner — male or female — of whatever service needs rendering (shave-and-a- haircut, wing-tips resoled, cheating husband photographed in compromising positions).

2. Person frequently recommended to friends, relatives or even casual passersby in need of services rendered.

3. Major reason many Chicagoans will never leave Chicago. Idiom. “I got a guy.”

YOUS: Plural of the word “you,” as in: “The two of yous get outta da house and go play.”

DA: The (i.e., “Da Bears”).

DOIN: The one-syllable shortening of “doing,” as in “Howya doin?” or “Whatcha doin?”


The Chi-Lites.

Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

WINNER: The long, long season between fall and spring. E.g.: “We might go to Arizona this winner.”

BY: Replaces proper use of the prepositions “at” or “to.” E.g.: “I grew up by Montrose and Western.” Or: “I gotta go by the store to pick up a half a gallon of milk.”

THE CHI: Smooth slang for the city of Chicago. “We’re driving in from Naperville to party in The Chi.” The pronunciation is also used in “Chi-Town” and by The Chi-Lites, who sang the silky 1970s hits “Have You Seen Her” and “Oh Girl.” More recently, a Showtime TV series was called “The Chi.”

GET LITTLE: Leaving somewhere suddenly.

TWEAKING: Telling someone they’re full of it.



Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

FUFU: Describing someone/something who’s fake.

GOOF ASS: Silly person.

MIKE’S: Air Jordans

GYM SHOES: Not “sneakers,” not “tennis shoes.”

STIFF: 1. Drunk. “That wedding was fun, but, boy, did Dad get stiff.”

2. Lousy at one’s chosen profession. “We gotta get rid of that guy; he’s a stiff.”

3. Dead body.

15-20 MINUTES: The standard answer to any question about how far away something is in Chicago. The answer rarely takes into account complicating factors — say, traffic. Or that the person asking the question was actually wondering about distance, not time. Q. “How far is Sox Park from Midway?” A. “15-20 minutes.”

SKEETCHIN’: Dangerous, illegal and popular wintertime street sport in which participants, usually adolescent males, grab the rear bumper of a passing car and ride in a squatting position down icy, snow-packed or slushy side streets. The goal: to stay on without breaking a limb, causing an accident or getting beat up by the driver. Also called “skitchin” (North Side variant) or “mooshin’” (Archaic).

BEEF: Denotes complaint, problem, except in the context of an Italian beef sandwich.

BEEFER: Troublemaker, complainer, rat.

WITCHYA: With you. As in: “You mind if I come witchya?”

PROLLY: In all likelihood, very likely. As in: “I was sick today, but I’ll prolly go to school tomorrow.”

JEET: Fast way of asking: “Did you eat?”

BANG BANG: Chicago’s macabre nickname around the world where many people know the city only for mobsters and Tommy Guns — though with street gang killings never-ending these days, it’s still unfortunately appropriate.


Bang Bang.

Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

PULL UP: Calling someone’s bluff or answering a challenge.

LOOSE SQUARES: Cigarettes sold out of the pack, sometimes called “loosies.”

AH-MIN-UH: A notification or warning that you are about to do something or go somewhere, e.g., “Ah-min-uh go to the store.”

WHEREYAT: Where are you (at)?

THE SHOW: A live show in some parts of the country, here it refers to going to the movies. WXRT radio has a long-running film-critic segment called “Going to the Show with a Regular Guy.”

JAGWIRE: How Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico pronounces “Jaguar,” a luxury car that he has an affinity for.

YOUDA: You would have, e.g., “Youda loved the movie I just saw.”


HUNNERT: The number that comes after 99.

FRUNCH ROOM: “Front room” by the front door of homes that was for company only. Woe to the child who went there when it wasn’t a special occasion.

GRATCHKI: The small, notched metal item used to unlock a garage door. Alternatively, a house key kept in the garage in case someone is locked out.

LOUD: Marijuana.

TRO: To hurl, toss or pitch something. In other words, “throw.”


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