St. Louis Slang

St. Louis Slang

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If the United States had a belly button, that central spot would be St. Louis, Miss. It has been called the "northern-most of southern and the southern-most of northern" cities with good reason. Visitors quickly discover that St. Louis blends Midwestern hospitality, ethnic influences and historic roots with a quirky sort of one-off charm. This is revealed in large part by common St. Louis slang, and whether you come to "the Lou" to see the Mardi Gras celebration (largest in the Midwest), the sports teams (Best Sports City, rated by The Sporting News) or the mosaics (largest installation in the world), you're bound to hear some intriguing local lingo. St. Louis visitors can avoid awkward conversations with locals by adding the following slang phrases to their repertoires.

1. Wash U.

As in, "He's graduating from Wash U." No, that doesn't mean he's finally learned to do his laundry. "Wash U." is St. Louis slang for Washington University. Once called a "streetcar college," it's now ranked 13th in the nation by the U.S. News and World Report.

Washington University
1 Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
(314) 935-5000

2. "Meet me in St. Louis"

Clarification may not be necessary for St. Louis natives, but this local language tends to confuse visitors. Just know that "St. Louis" might not be where you think it is: There's the county of St. Louis and it surrounds, but does not include, the city of St. Louis. Got that? This divorce occurred back in 1876 and both parties insisted upon keeping their original names (naturally).

3. "She's a South County girl" or "He's a U-City boy"

South County is local lingo for the St. Louis suburbs, more specifically the largely blue collar, working class suburbs. Geographically speaking, it's the area of town below the 270 beltway. U-City is St. Louis slang for University City, the most diverse and erudite of all St. Louis neighborhoods.

4. "Just take 270."

Interstate 270 is the beltway, not to be confused with going "to 70," or I-70, which is a northwest route and the road to Kansas City. People who live inside of 270 seemingly take an oath to never venture outside of 270, while people outside of 270 never, ever get caught inside of 270. A bit tricky, but somehow these shenanigans preserve the balance of the universe. Oh, and 270 is 270 only until it becomes 255. (Yet another reason not to cross the line. You might never find your way back.)

5. "Stop by Schnucks" (and pick up a gallon of milk).

Schnucks is the name of a regional grocery chain with more than 90 locations. It rhymes with "cooks," as opposed to the other local grocery chain, Dierbergs, which rhymes with nothing. (At least nothing I can think of. How about you?) They're both great places to shop.

6. "Do you go to services at the Old Cathedral or the New Cathedral?"

Visitors will likely hear about both the Old Cathedral and the New Cathedral, as both are heralded St. Louis landmarks. Local language deems the Basilica of St. Louis, King, 209 Walnut Street, the "Old Cathedral." It started as a log church back in 1770 and sits adjacent to the Arch. The "New Cathedral" is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis, 4431 Lindell Boulevard, which was founded in 1907. It's rather close to the campus of St. Louis University, a Jesuit university the locals call "Slew" (rhymes with "new"), and houses the largest mosaic tile installation in the world. Prepare to be dazzled.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis King of France
209 Walnut Street
St. Louis, MO 63102
(314) 231-3250
Mass daily, times vary
Tour times vary

Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis
4431 Lindell Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63108
(314) 373-8242
Mass daily, times vary
Tour times vary

St. Louis University
3700 Lindell Boulevard
St. Louis, MO
(314) 977-2500

7. "I'm taking my dog to Bark in the Park."

More than a noisy outing, Bark in the Park is the Midwest's largest outdoor pooch party. Bring your furry family members and don't forget that it's only proper to BYODPB (Bring Your Own Dog Poop Bag). The event promises to be a barking good time.

Bark in the Park
Cricket Field in Forest Park
Cricket Drive
St. Louis, MO 63112
(314) 951-1567

8. "My sister went to Mary I."

With more private schools than Chicago but only one-quarter of the population, St. Louis is a snob's paradise. "Mary I" (pronounced "Mary Eye") is St. Louis slang for Mary Institute, the city's oldest girls' school. It was founded in 1859 but merged with Country Day School in 1992. The conjoined entity is known as MICDS ("em-eye-see-dee-ess"). May Day celebrations -- complete with ribbons, a pole and dancing maidens -- are still held on the grounds of the headmaster's home. One note of warning: If you step on the school's seal at the front of the main building, you are required to bend down and kiss it as an act of repentance.

Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School
101 North Warson Road
St. Louis, MO 63124
(314) 993-5100

9. "Let's have dinner at Bread Co., grab a Kaldi's and get a concrete at Ted Drewes."

In St. Louis, Panera Bread goes by its original name: St. Louis Bread Company. Most folks shorten that even further to simply, "Bread Co." Kaldi's is another local favorite. This popular coffee chain has become synonymous with java. And of course, a concrete is frozen custard so thick it can be served upside down. On any given evening, you can join the limousines, buses and cars vying for parking spots at Ted Drewes Frozen Custard.

Kaldi's Coffee Roasting Company
(888) 892-6333

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard
4224 S Grand Boulevard
St. Louis, MO 63111
(314) 352-7376
6726 Chippewa Street
St. Louis, MO 63109
(314) 481-2652
(314) 481-2124

10. "Somebody forked my lawn! Could it be that scrubby Dutch neighbor of mine?"

For St. Louis visitors, the local language above may seem strange. But in St. Louis when you want to send that certain someone a message, you can forget stringing toilet paper from the trees (that's so passé). Instead, you buy a package of white plastic forks and stick them tines-up in their grass. (I repeat: tines UP. Otherwise the little boogers break off below the soil level.) Who would do such a thing? Hmm? Your neighbors, maybe? If they seem a little house-proud, that's only natural. The German ("Dutch" is Deutsch, but mispronounced) immigrants to the city are known to be quite proud of their meticulous housekeeping. Not only do they scrub their front walks, but they've also been known to trim stray bits of grass with nail scissors!

With this St. Louis slang in your vocabulary, you should be able to talk like a native. Just don't do it with your mouth full, okay? After all, St. Louis is a very proper town!

Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of the Kiki Lowenstein Mystery Series, which is set in St. Louis, Missouri. Her first novel, Paper, Scissors, Death, was an Agatha Award Finalist. Read her blog on Red Room.
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