How to Sound Like A Local in Philadelphia

Ask anyone who’s lived in Philadelphia long enough, and they’ll regale you with stories about how much this city has changed.

You’ll hear about streets that no one would dare walk down at night 15 years ago that now play home to beer gardens, cutesy pocket parks and top-tier restaurants. They’ll marvel at the flock of millennials choosing Philly over more expensive towns like New York City, turning once-downtrodden neighborhoods into veritable up-and-comers. Then there’s the burgeoning entrepreneurs who are transforming this historic city into a hotbed of forward-thinking innovation.

But don’t let all that new-fangled sheen fool you. When you get out on the streets you’ll find that, underneath all the fancy new infrastructure, one thing remains firmly intact: that unflappable Philadelphia charm.

Our Eagles fans are still insane, our cheesesteaks are Cheese Whiz-y as ever, and the local lexicon, well, it’s one of a kind.

Whether you are a transplant or just visiting for an event like the 2016 Democratic National Convention,  here is a quick primer on Philly’s quirky native tongue.

Don’t call it downtown

If you tell your cabbie you want to go downtown, he just may take you to Camden (and trust us, you don’t want to go there). The heart of our town is called Center City. That’s where you’ll go to see Love Park, shop in Rittenhouse or grab lunch at our iconic Reading Terminal (pronounced “redding” as in Otis Redding).

Go Ahead, Call it Philly

Unlike snooty-pants cities like San Francisco and Chicago who turn up their nose at people who call their city “Frisco” or “Chi-town,” we are cool with pretty much any abbreviated pronunciation of Philadelphia. Most people go with “Philly,” but you can also get away with “The 215” if you’re cool like that.

Native American Words

Philadelphia’s map is dotted with names we got from the Lenape Native American tribe who settled here before William Penn. Some of the stranger ones are Passyunk (Pash-yunk), Nockamixon (knock-a-mix-en), Poquessing (poe-kess-ing) and Shackamaxon (shack-a-max-en). The one you’ll reference (and misspell) most is the river that snakes through the city: Schuylkill, pronounced SKOO-kil.

A Tall Glass of Wooder

In a restaurant, your waiter may ask you if you’d like still or sparkling “wooder.” Don’t be alarmed. That’s how he pronounces “water.” (Our tap wooder is great here, by the way. Have a glass!)

A Primer on Jawns

Besides funny pronunciations, we also like to make up our own words. Our favorite? Jawn. A jawn is basically anything you want it to be—an item, location, event, anything. For instance, you could ask, “What time does that jawn get started?” or “I’d like one of those jawns, please.”   

Mummers the word

The Mummers Parade is an age-old Philadelphia tradition. Every New Year’s, hundreds of everyday dudes, dress up in elaborate costumes and march down Broad Street. We’re talking feather boas, sparkly headdresses, heels, the whole shebang. It’s like one big drag show in the middle of the city, and our people eat it up.

Youse Come Back Now, Ya Hear?

The South has “y’all,” Pittsburgh has “yinz,” and Philadelphia has “youse.” If you haven’t guessed, it’s our lazy way to reference a bunch of people without having to use exhausting multiple-syllable words or phrases like “you all” or “everyone.” Example: “Are youse ready to go to the Mummers Parade?”

We Are The Iggles

It may sound more like a Saturday morning cartoon than a rough-and-tumble NFL team, but locals reference their beloved Philadelphia Eagles as “The Iggles.”

Yo, Yo, Yo

We use the word “yo” in a variety of ways. It could be an informal greeting, like “Yo, cabbie, take me to Center City,” or a way to punctuate an expression of disappointment, like “Yo, the Iggles blow this year!”

The Other Philly Sandwich

Our most famous sandwich may be the cheesesteak, but for a lot of Philadelphians, a hoagie is where it’s at. What’s a hoagie, you ask? You may know it as a submarine sandwich or a grinder. It’s a sandwich on an Italian roll stuffed with your choice of cold cuts, veggies, cheese and seasonings. The best one you’ll ever eat is at Paesano’s in the Italian Market. (Say yes to the long-hots.)

Watering Hole Lingo

If you want to get plastered like a Philadelphian, order one of our signature Citywide Specials. It’s basically a Jim Beam with a PBR chaser for around $3. If you want to try a locally brewed Yuengling Lager (say it “ying ling”) , all you have to ask for is a lager. The barkeep will know what you mean.

Toot Your Own Horn

Sounding like a Philadelphian doesn’t always involve what’s coming out of your mouth. If you find yourself in a car while you’re here, use that horn liberally. It’s our way of saying “hurry the you-know-what up!” Bonus points if you learn to honk at the slowpoke in front of you a split-second before the traffic light turns greens–chances are they will have New Jersey plates.

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