Cincinnati Slang

Cincinnati Slang

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The locals of Cincinnati use slang terms and phrases that have been part of the local culture for so long, nobody stops to ask why. Once they move away from home, they realize they've been using phrases that may very well have been passed down from their grandma's grandma's grandma.

Some say Cincinnati is more southern than northern and more country than city and that its German roots are at the heart of nearly everything. That might explain some of the strange local lingo in Cincinnati. The rest, however, is left to mere speculation. However these sayings came to be, if you learn a little Cincinnati speak, you'll fit in like a 'Nati' native.

Chili is a simple dish: a bowl of spicy ground beef and beans with crackers on the side. A few local restaurants sell that chili, but most serve up chili Cincinnati style, a dish that's served... well, in a dish.

Cincinnati chili is spaghetti, chili, red beans, onions and shredded cheese in mix and match combinations layered on an oval plate. If you want to order chili in the local Cincinnati lingo, ask for a 3-way (spaghetti, chili, and cheese), 4-way (add beans) or 5-way (add onions). If you're too hungry to figure it out, ask for chili with beans. It's probably close to the chili you're used to, and you'll even get it in a bowl.

Dear sweet Cincinnati, where mothers teach children to say "please" instead of "Pardon me," "I don't understand" or even "huh?". Only after they're grown and leave the city do people realize that nobody else talks like that. Imagine the first few conversations away from Cincinnati:

"I can't go to the mumble, mumble..." the New Yorker mutters.
"Please?" the Cincinnatian asks. ("Please?" is a question.)
"No, really, I can't mumble, mumble..., " the New Yorker reiterates.
"Please?!" the Cincinnatian says.
"Don't beg. I really mumble... mumble."

It only takes a few of these exchanges to change a lifelong habit.

Pepsi and Coke are known as "sodas" to most of the world, except in Cincinnati, where the slang term "pop" reigns supreme. Cincinnatians who move to eastern cities (not Pittsburgh, they call it "pop" also) may return home calling it "soda," but not for long. The first time they ask for "soda" with their 3-way and the waitress cuts her eyes and says, "Please?" they'll start calling it "pop" again.

"Reading Road"
R-E-A-D-I-N-G spells reading, as in a book, unless you're in Cincinnati. Then it's a street that runs from downtown to the suburbs and it's pronounced like Otis "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" Redding. Saying it the other way is a sure sign you're from out of town.

Reading Road passes through the City of Reading, also pronounced in that Cincinnati way. Some Reading bridal shops have been lobbying to rename their city "Wedding," in which case you would be able to take Reading to Wedding.

If you're in a Cincinnati grocery store and someone asks you for mangoes to stuff for dinner, hand them a few green bell peppers and they'll probably thank you and walk away. Somewhere, somehow, somebody got their fruits mixed up. There are many theories explaining this Cincy fruit/veggie confusion. It could be a southern, an elderly or possibly a German thing. It could even be a 17th century thing. Back then, mangoes and pickling were so closely connected that any pickled dish, including green peppers, was called mango. Who knows why the misnomer has lasted so long?

Unless you live in Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky, it's a sure bet you've never eaten goetta. Culinary experts can't agree on the origin of the breakfast food, although, like many Cincinnati traditions, some attribute it to the German heritage.

Goetta, in local Cincinnati language, is pork and/or beef with a mix of grain, possibly steel cut oatmeal and barley. It's pale beige before cooking and golden brown once floured and fried. If that doesn't sound appetizing, don't tell Glier's, local goetta maker and sponsor of GoettaFest ( Their website talks about "goetta taste," "goetta tradition" and a "far-reaching goetta public," but you should try it and decide for yourself.

So the flyer in your hotel lobby says a new artist is showing at a gallery in the OTR, but you can't find OTR on the Cincinnati map. That's because "OTR" is Cincinnati lingo for "Over the Rhine."

"Over the Rhine" is a culturally blended neighborhood of old and young, rich and poor, galleries and upscale shops, cafes and bluesy holes in the walls, and lots of historic architecture. The Rhine thing, well that's German, as you can imagine. Calling it OTR is an attempt at making an old neighborhood sound hip, cool and trendy instead of old and German.

"Dolly Parton Towers"
Who knows what the architect was thinking about when they created a corporate headquarters design reminiscent of that sweet country singer's well endowed upper frame. Even if it didn't dawn on those Proctor & Gamble bigwigs that their twin buildings resembled gigantic woman parts, everyone else in town figured it out right away. They've been calling them the Dolly Parton Towers ever since.

"Big Mac"
Northern Kentucky is just a river and a bridge away from Cincinnati. Walk over the Purple People Bridge, drive over the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge or the Brent Spence Bridge, and you're there. But if someone from Cincinnati uses the slang term "Big Mac," don't get confused. They're talking about the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge, named after the Boy Scouts of America founder who was born in Cincinnati.

Why Big Mac? Imagine a set of McDonald's golden arches built with an Erector Set, and you'll have a pretty good image of the Big Mac Bridge. The yellow color and its similarity to those other golden arches stand out as its most memorable features.

It's a Bengals thing. Although no one can agree who first said "Who Dey?" everybody seems to know when. The Bengals were so hot in the early 80s that their fans chanted "Who dey think gonna beat dem Bengals?" Not exactly grammatically correct, but it was a football chant, not a dissertation.

Some speculate that the Cincinnati slang phrase "Who Dey?" came from kids hanging outside the stadium on game days back then. That makes sense. But years later everybody wants credit for coining the term, even the Saints fans who have the similar phrase "Who Dat?"

Cincinnati drivers blow horns and yell, "Who Dey?" Fans sing it. There are Who Dey websites, and there used to be a Who Dey? beer. If you're wearing a rival team's logo, a Bengals fan may shout, "Who Dey?" A taunt? Perhaps. If it happens, simply smile, throw up your fist and yell Who Dey? right back.
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