‘How To Speak Midwestern’ Breaks Down The Origins Of Chicagoese

postcard chicago
Wikimedia Commons
postcard chicago
Wikimedia Commons

‘How To Speak Midwestern’ Breaks Down The Origins Of Chicagoese

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Compared to our fellow Americans in Birmingham, Brooklyn, Boston, or even Bakersfield, we don’t have accents, right?

We’re Midwesterners. Like the geography, our speech patterns are pretty flat.

Try telling those fellow Americans you want a can of pop.

They would argue there’s an accent in the way we say “caahn of paahp,” says Edward McClelland, author of How To Speak Midwestern.

So why do we say what we say the way we say it? McClelland broke down some of the origins of those Midwestern phrases and dialects on Morning Shift.

That “caahn” of “paahp”

Call it the Chicago accent or a Michigan accent — the way we pronounce our A’s and O’s is really just a Midwestern accent. The linguistic region called the “inland north” stretches from Milwaukee to Buffalo, and speaks with what’s called the “northern cities vowel shift.”

Midwesterners “lift” their A’s and “front” their O’s. It’s what SNL made fun of in the Bill Swerski’s Super Fans sketch.

Where does it come from? It’s a mix of migration patterns and an uncomfortable amount of vowels in the English language. Check out Curious City’s deep dive into the origins of the Chicago accent here.

Dese, dem and dose

This part of the accent is what McClelland calls an “immigrant innovation.”

English is one of the few languages that has the “th” sound and immigrants from Ireland, Poland or Germany couldn’t necessarily pronounce it. They instead replaced it with a “D” sound, which got passed on through the generations and made its way into the local dialect.

But McClelland said it’s not as common as it once was.

“It’s been theorized that one reason that one reason it’s dying out, at least here, is because of the ‘Superfans.’ That kind of gave it a stigma,” he said.

If you’re itching to hear the full-on Chicago sound today, McClelland recommends watching Da Bears play at Wrong’s Tap at 100th Street and Western Avenue.

Nicholas Eckhart/Flickr

Going to Meijer’s and Jewel Osco’s

The habit of adding a possessive “S” to grocery stores has its origins in Michigan,McClelland said.

“People who used to go to work at Ford, would say ‘We’re working at Mr. Ford’s,’ so they would add that possessive to a commercial enterprise,” he said. “Now they shop at K-Mart’s.”

And then there’s the word “jagoff”

It’s a word that some consider obscene, but McClelland argues it’s not if you look at where it comes from. Jag is the a Scots-Irish word for thorn.

“It just means to prick someone, to irritate somebody,” he said. “Which is a perfect example of what a jagoff does.”

Press play to hear McClelland’s full conversation with Morning Shift for more backstory on phrases like “frunchroom,” and to hear why midwesterners say things are “interesting” when they really mean they hate it.