Chicago-pedia: People

An encyclopedia of the terms that define our city. In this edition, we cover some famous folks with deep ties in Chicago.


Chance the Rapper.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

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).

CHANCE THE RAPPER: One of Chicago Public Schools’ biggest cheerleaders, thanks to a 10-day suspension from Jones high school that launched his rap career. Grammy Award winner. Comedic chameleon, as recently demonstrated again on “Saturday Night Live.” Not to be confused with Chance the Snapper, nickname of alligator caught in Humboldt Park lagoon in 2019.

OPRAH: Deity, giver of knowledge, and cars.

KANYE: Rapper Kanye West, who grew up on the South Side, doesn’t go by a single name like Common or Prince but is universally known by one.

THE COLONEL: Robert McCormick, the longtime politician-publisher of the Chicago Tribune, who was as right-wing as his newspaper’s editorial page.



Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

BLAGO: Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, known for ‘70s-style hair, cheesy Elvis affection and landing in prison for trying to auction off Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat.

NINJA: Japanese warrior; more locally, a popular YouTuber, streamer and master of the video game Fortnite, hailing from Grayslake.

BIG TUNA: Media-generated nickname for longtime Chicago mob overlord Anthony Accardo, whose moniker wasn’t as cool as those belonging to a predecessor, Al “Scarface” Capone, or a successor, John “No Nose” DiFronzo.


Big Tuna.

Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

TRIPLE J: Jesse Jackson Jr., son of the Rev. Jesse Jackson; once a rising political star whose name was floated as a future mayor and, perhaps, president — until he landed in prison for corruption.

BESSIE COLEMAN: 1. Famed Chicago aviator who moved north from Texas in 1915 and, despite prejudices she faced as an African American woman, became an airplane pilot. Wasn’t allowed to train in the United States, so she learned French, got her international pilot’s license there and returned here as a barnstorming pilot. Killed in a 1926 plane crash in Florida.

2. The namesake of Bessie Coleman Drive at O’Hare Airport.

JANE ADDAMS: Pioneering social activist in the late 1800s and early 1900s who co-founded Hull House on the Near West Side, where “educated women” could “share all kinds of knowledge, from basic skills to arts and literature with poorer people in the neighborhood,” according to the National Women’s History Museum. She won the Nobel Peace Prize. She helped immigrants, spoke out against war and was “instrumental in successfully lobbying for the establishment of a juvenile court system, better urban sanitation and factory laws, protective labor legislation for women and more playgrounds and kindergartens throughout Chicago.”


Jane Addams.

Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

MJ: When it comes to basketball, someone who defies words, and gravity.

BENJI: For many in Chicago of a certain age, the name still refers to one person: Simeon High School basketball standout Ben Wilson, who was the best prospect in the country when he was gunned down in 1984 at 17. ESPN described him as “a symbol of everything promising about Chicago: a beloved, sweet-natured youngster from the city’s fabled South Side and America’s most talented basketball prospect” whose “senseless murder on the day before his senior season sent ripples through Chicago and the nation.”

POOH: Longtime nickname for NBA player Derrick Rose — though there are conflicting stories about its origins. Rose once said that when he was little, his skin had a yellowish tint, so he was called “Pooh” after Winnie the Pooh. But it’s also been noted “Pooh” spelled backwards is “hoop” — and that Rose, like the honey-loving character, had a penchant for sweets.

STEVE HARVEY: Almost as funny as Sinbad.

THE CHAIRMAN: Sure, it’s a nickname for Sinatra, but in Chicago, also a reference to Jerry Reinsdorf, chairman of the Sox and Bulls organizations.

BETSY DEVOS: Answer to question: “What Donald Trump fanatic besides Todd Ricketts owns a piece of the Chicago Cubs?” (Her family has a minority stake.)

MICKEY FINN: A sedative secretly slipped into an unwitting person’s drink, incapacitating the victim. According to Herbert Asbury’s 1940 book on the Chicago underworld, the secret dose is named after a pickpocket who, from 1896 to 1903, operated a sleazy South Loop dive named the Lone Star Saloon and Palm Garden. Finn was known to slip a powder — believed to be chloral hydrate — into drinks of patrons, who were later robbed in a back room. Usage: “He slipped me a mickey.”

BARTMAN: 1. That poor guy.

2. Nominee for canonization by White Sox fans.

KIM KARDASHIAN: Chicagoan? Not a Chicagoan? Husband Kanye West, a South Side native, said in 2018 they’re moving to Chicago, but they’re nowhere in sight. Maybe it’s enough that their daughter is named “Chicago.”


Kim Kardashian and Chicago.

Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

RUDY LOZANO SR.: Beloved activist, labor organizer murdered in his Little Village home in 1983, shortly after losing an aldermanic race. Fought to empower Latinos in Chicago, backed Harold Washington for mayor. While a reputed gang member was convicted in his killing, there are questions about whether others were involved.


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