If you’re new to Chicago, you’ll likely hear a lot of words and phrases that don’t make sense out of context. Chicagoans are distinctive and weird—no one would argue against that.
To make it easier for an outsider to understand our complex lexicon, here are some of the words and phrases you’ll only hear in Chicago—complete with an understandable definition!
1. The Second City
Chicago was at one point in time, the second largest city in the United States. Learn more about the history of the term from Chicago Reader’s in-depth article.
Popularized by the Chicago Bear’s beloved Coach Mike Ditka, the term “Grabowski” refers to blue-collar, first generation Polish Americans. If you were wondering, it’s an affectionate term.
It can take ages to shovel out a car and parking spot after Chicago snowstorms, which is why people have taken to the habit of calling “dibs” on their shoveled spots when their car isn’t there. Usually, a chair is used to reserve a spot, but other objects have also made an appearance in Chicago’s neighborhoods.
A fun way to refer to Lake Shore Drive. For example:
“I’m driving on LSD.”
To a cab driver: “Are you going to take LSD?”
5. The L
Simply refers to our elevated public transit trains. You either love it or hate it, or something in between.
The “Chicago” way to say “front room.” The Chicago Bar Project shares additional Chicago slang that derives from our unique “accent.” (Do we really have an accent?)
The way Chicagoans refer to one of their favorite, or at least most convenient grocery stores – Jewel Osco. (Personally, I prefer Mariano’s, but they don’t have any fun slang names yet.)
8. The Drake, The Taste, The Loop
The Drake – A nice hotel in Chicago.
The Loop – Downtown Chicago, more specifically, the “loop” shape that public transit makes around it.
The Taste – The Taste of Chicago, a food festival that tourists love, occuring in the Summer.
Basically, we like to simplify things by just referring to them by a word preceded by “The.”
An exciting neighborhood to go out at night in Chicago, made up primarily of gay men.
10. Lincoln Park Trixie and Chad
Chicago neighborhoods are all distinctive in their own ways. “Lincoln Park Trixie and Chad” refers to a couple who lives in Lincoln Park or another trendy neighborhood – usually in their 20s-30s. The nicest way to describe them is #basic. Urban Dictionary digs deeper into the stereotype, if you’re interested.
11. Woo Wap Da Bam
12. Expressways by Names, not Numbers
We have the Kennedy, the Eisenhower, and the Stevenson (to name a few). Sure, they have numbers, but we don’t use them!
13. Streets by Names, not Designations
Chicagoans never add “Road,” “Street,” “Avenue,” or any other designation to the end of street names – people know what you’re talking about without that minor detail. One of the main streets in Lakeview doesn’t even have a designation – it’s just “Broadway.”
14. Chicago-style hot dog
Defined as an all-beef frankfurter on a poppy seed bun, topped with yellow mustard, chopped white onions, bright green sweet pickle relish, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices or wedges, pickled sport peppers and a dash of celery salt. Oh, and NEVER any ketchup so don’t even ask for it.
15. Viagra Triangle
A geographical area in Chicago’s Gold Coast/Near North Side. The “viagra” refers to the affluent men who tend to hang around the area. Urban Dictionary has their own take on the phrase.
16. Belmont Transfer
So inappropriate that we won’t even link to it here. Look it up at your own risk!
17. Pop, Gym Shoes, and Washroom
No, not soda.
No, not sneakers.
No, not the bathroom.
Some of these may be typical of Midwesterners as a whole, but all are definitely slang favored by Chicagoans.
18. Sears Tower – Not Willis
Although the Sears Tower was renamed as the Willis Tower after a lease change in 2009, no self-respecting Chicagoan would actually refer to it as such. We have a soft spot for the architectural marvel’s birth name.
If you’re curious about the words that Chicago has contributed to the English language (not just slang!) check out this article from Chicago Magazine. Are there any words and phrases you’ll only hear in Chicago that you’d add to this list? We’d love to hear your input in the comments below!