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).
— Philly Mag (@phillymag) June 29, 2016
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.
Philadelphia: Passyunk Avenue. pic.twitter.com/gEGstAnl0H
— Seymour D. Fair (@seymourdfair) July 4, 2016
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!)
My first week of college.
Hall mate from Cali: …what?
Me: Wooder ice.
Her: WHAT ARE YOU EVEN SAYING?
Me: WOODER ICE.
— Josh Kruger (@JoshKrugerPHL) July 13, 2016
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.”
— Marvin DeBose (@TheMindOfMarvin) July 3, 2016
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.”
— Jefferson Burdick (@stalegum) June 28, 2016
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.)
— Bob Kelly (@bobkellytraffic) May 5, 2016
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.
— Billy Penn (@billy_penn) January 20, 2016
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.