St. Louis Slang

St. Louis Slang

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You might think your high school French will be of use in understanding St. Louis slang, but don't count on it. The city has been through a lot since French fur trader Madame Chouteau decided to set up shop on the banks of the Mississippi River. And it's not just a variation on American slang, either: the local lingo in St. Louis takes time to get your head around. So here's a run-down of St. Louis' local language and its most common slang terms and phrases.Although the city was named for King Louis IX of France, the local language of St. Louis has been influenced by immigrants from Italy, Ireland, Lithuania and many other countries, as well as by African Americans who came here either as slaves or later willingly, seeking jobs. This multicultural mix of languages and accents has led to St. Louis developing a distinct lingo and rules of pronunciation. It is therefore dangerous to assume you can pronounce anything here, or that you know what folks are talking about when they use the following St. Louis slang.

First of all, in the local language "St. Louis" is pronounced "St. LOO-us" (think Jerry Lewis, not Louis Armstrong). Locals feel very strongly about this. If you call their city "St. Lou-EE," you will immediately be branded an out-of-towner and probably ignored. Worse, you could be viewed as terribly pretentious, and natives are not impressed by pretentious lingo. St. Louis locals will also likely scoff if you say "St. Lou." And let it be known that if you call their precious city "The Lou," you will be met with outright hostility.

Let's delve further into the local language. St. Louis street names and neighborhoods can be tough to pronounce, and naturally, residents are passionate about the name of the neighborhood or street they call home. Many of the pronunciations have come down through multiple generations.

Examples of some neighborhoods in St. Louis lingo:

Gravois: This main artery that starts in southern St. Louis and runs into the suburbs is pronounced "Gra-VOY" (rhymes with "savoy"), not "Grav-WAH" (you're not in France), or the all too frequent mispronunciation "Gra-VIS."

Carondolet: Pronounce it just like it is spelled: "Car-RON-do-let," not "Car-RON-do-lay."

Des Peres: When referring to either the town or the Rue Des Peres, believe it or not, it's "DE-pear." "De-pears," "Dez-Perez," or "De-spare" do not exist in St. Louis lingo.

LeMay Ferry Road: It's "Lee-May," not "La-May."

Missouri: "Miz-ur-ee" or "Miz-ur-ah?" Actually, either is acceptable lingo. St. Louis locals pronounce it both ways, sometimes in the same sentence.

Illinois: Only leave the "s" on the end if saying something disparaging about the so-called Land of Lincoln.

Understanding and pronouncing St. Louis' local language is one thing, but actually holding a conversation with a local is another. So prepare yourself: in St. Louis, the lingo often isn't as simple as it seems.

Mess up your St. Louis slang and locals will assume you are a Hoosier. Unlike American slang, in St. Louis "Hoosier" doesn't simply mean a resident of Indiana. "Hoosier" in the local language refers to anyone who is ignorant, stupid, uncouth, or simply annoying. According to some locals, the negative connotations associated with the slang term "Hoosier" comes from workers from Indiana brought in to break up a labor strike in the early 20th century. There are various other competing explanations for this slang term in St. Louis. Why the moniker has held on all these years as an insult is anybody's guess.

"Hoosier" is sometimes shortened to "Hoos," as in, "That guy is a real Hoos." Which could mean the guy is anything from a "hayseed" (American slang for a simple person) to an arrogant windbag. It's all about the inflection and situation.

One not familiar with St Louis' local language should be careful about what they read into this slang term; it could be a gentle tease or a grave insult to character. Although "Hoosier" is St. Louis slang that you can say in front of your mother, and it can be as mild as "moron" or "dork," it can also be linked to expletives in any degree of severity. Be aware that Hoosier is frequently linked to other words in order to more precisely target the put-down. "Hoos-bag," "Hoos-face," "Hoos-dog," and the recent but very popular St. Louis slang phrase "Hoos-master," all are common.

Common questions in St. Louis local language:

1. "Where did you go to high school?"

Just tell them that you are from out of town. Once they find out you did not grow up here, they won't care where you went to school. When two St. Louisians meet the first question asked is always, "Where did you go to high school?" It's a very important part of St. Louis etiquette, as it instantly gives clues to ethnicity, social class, religion and attitudes. If you are lucky enough to witness this ritual first hand, just step back and listen. Being from out of town, you can add nothing to the conversation.

2. "Where do you stay?"

This does not mean which hotel you are staying in. It means, "Where do you live?"

3. "How about those Cards, Rams, Blues?"

Keep in mind that you are not in Chicago and that in St. Louis we don't always love our teams. The wrong answer here could get you in trouble fast. The proper answer is, "Yeah, how about them."

4. "Would you like a soda?"

By this, we mean, "Would you like a non-alcoholic carbonated beverage?" Generally in American slang, sodas have ice cream in them. But the word "pop" makes our skin crawl, so we say soda instead. And, while we are on the subject, every single person from St. Louis believes that Vess Cola really is as good as Pepsi or Coke.

Keep the above in mind and you should get along reasonably well on your next visit to the Gateway City. But note that these are only a few of the peculiarities in St. Louis' local language; pronunciations and phrases can vary from street to street. If you're looking for an explanation behind St. Louis slang, prepare to be disappointed. Ask any local and they'll tell you: that's just the way it is.

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