Detroit Slang

Detroit Slang

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Detroit slang is an ever-evolving dictionary of words and phrases with roots in regional Michigan, the Motown music scene, African-American communities and drug culture, among others. The local lingo of Detroit can be cryptic, but with a few pointers you should be able to decipher it easily enough.

Detroit has an unusual dialect. Although it shares some similarities, Detroit lingo is distinct from the local language used in the rest of the state of Michigan. Usually attributed to its proximity to Canada and the large number of Southerners who moved here during the first half of the 1900s, the Detroit accent is distinctive for its flat "a" vowel sounds and a slight drawl. Many people claim they can detect a Polish influence as well.

There's a tendency here to add a possessive "s" to the end of business names. It's common in other parts of the Midwest, too, even into New York state. The classic example is K-Mart, which is called "K-Mart's" in much of the region. Another frequent quirky feature of Detroit lingo is the addition of a "d" in the past tense of words like drown and stole, which become "drownded" and "stoled." Many Detroiters also add "eh" to the end of their sentences. It's that Canadian influence again.

But back to the subject at hand: Detroit slang.

Let's start with the city name. It's pronounced three ways: "Di-TROYT," "Di-TROY," or "DEE-troyt." All three are generally acceptable, although the first is probably a bit more common. Detroiters have a number of nicknames for their city. "The 313," a reference to the telephone area code, originated in drug culture but is common citywide now. "The D" and "D-town" are gaining ground, as is "Hockeytown" (go Red Wings!). "Rock City" has been in use since the 1970s, when Kiss recorded their anthemic Detroit Rock City. "Motown" and "Motor City," sadly, are falling out of usage as the glory days of music and automobiles fade.

Detroit slang phrases sometimes sound downright unintelligible to those uninitiated in the local lingo. For instance, "stopda" means "stopped to," while "amadoo" means "I'm going to do." You'll hear any variation on "amunna," "imunna," or "imown" for "I'm going to."

"You guys" generally stands for the plural of "you," although it can also be used for one person, and for women. In the South, it's "y'all." In New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston and so on, it's "youse" or "youse guys."

"Geez o pete" is an exclamation similar to "jeez Louise," while "What up, Doe?" is Detroit slang for "How's it going?"

Also in Detroit local language, the word "davenport" is used in place of "sofa" or "couch," a "doorwall" is a sliding glass door, and "dethaw" means simply to thaw something.

Virtually everywhere you go you can find examples of slang terms or phrases that don't mean what you'd expect. In Detroit (all of Michigan, in fact), the obvious example is the word "pop." Most of the rest of the country call a carbonated beverage a "soda." It used to be that if you ordered a soda at a restaurant in the Midwest, you'd get an ice cream soda. Nowadays, people generally know what you mean when you say "soda," although they would never use the term themselves.

Detroit has a few indigenous foods and beverages, the names of which have become part of the local lingo. The average tourist probably doesn't know what a "Vernor's" is, but a Detroiter knows that it's ginger ale. Not just any ginger ale, though. Developed in Detroit in the 1860s, Vernor's ginger ale is unique. Faygo is another carbonated beverage originating in Detroit. It comes in a range of flavors, mostly fruity, with Redpop being perhaps the most popular. "The Coney," or "Coney Dog," is Detroit's claim to foodie fame. Essentially, this is a chili dog, but of course the chili is what sets it apart.

Here are some slang terms for Detroit locations:

1. Downriver: The suburbs farther along the Detroit River.

2. Eight Mile: The nickname given to the M-102, the road that divides Detroit from its northern suburbs.

3. Wooderd: Woodward Avenue.

4. The Joe: The Joe Louis Arena, home of the Red Wings.

Joe Louis Arena
600 Civic Center Dr
Detroit, MI 48226

5. The Ren Cen: The GM Renaissance Center, a huge complex with offices, retail, dining, entertainment, lodging and exhibit and meeting space.

GM Renaissance Center
100 Renaissance Center
Detroit, MI 48243

6. Party Store: A liquor store.

7. Windsor Ballet: Strip clubs across the river in Windsor, ON.

8. Many Detroit suburbs have nicknames: Wasteland (Westland), Sterile Whites (Sterling Heights) and Royal Joke (Royal Oak).

If you've paid attention to this list of Detroit slang terms and phrases, you should now have a rudimentary knowledge of the local lingo. You'll discover more once you visit – after all, that's part of the fun of traveling – but this gives you a good start.
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