Chicago boasts many distinct sights, foods, architecture and events that define the city and make it the exciting place it is to live in and visit. We also have plenty of our own phrases and slang that you don’t often hear in other areas. For an outsider, hearing these phrases can be confusing. Some are easy to decipher. Other Chicago sayings leave outsiders looking confused and speechless.
Whether you’re just visiting or recently moved to the city, knowing a few of our most popular and unique terms can help you feel like a real Chicagoan right from the start. It also helps you avoid awkward conversation pauses when you’re trying to figure out what your new friend is saying. Study these famous Chicago words, slang and phrases before your next outing to the Windy City.
If you hear someone mention the frunchroom, you may wonder if that person is confused, has a speech impediment or simply doesn’t know what they’re talking about. But frunchroom is one of many terms known and recognized by other Chicagoans.
So what does it mean? You may be able to make a guess if you hear someone say, “The frunchroom is right this way. Take off your shoes and have a seat.” Have a guess? It actually refers to a space like a living room or a similar area, usually used for entertaining.
If you listen closely, it almost sounds like the word “front room” smashed together with a twist to the pronunciation. The traditional Chicago bungalow-style home usually includes a “frunchroom” off the entryway. If you end up living in your own Chicago bungalow, make friends with your neighbors by saying, “Let’s eat this pizza in the frunchroom and catch the big game.” They’ll think you’ve lived here your whole life.
For those who like sweet fizzy beverages, it’s best to order a pop when you’re in Chicago instead of soda. This isn’t a Chicago-only term, but here in the Big Onion, we have a strong preference for calling the beverage pop. So the next time your Chicago host asks what you want to drink, say, “I’ll take a pop, please.”
Saturday Night Live fans know the phrase, “Da Bears,” but the word “da” is widely used for other purposes around Chicago in place of “the.” Examples include da Lake, da Taste and da Bean, just to name a few. You may think of this word when you think of the typical clichéd Chicago accent. It’s a classic Chicago word you can expect to hear everywhere. As in, “Let’s head to da Lake before we hit da Taste.”
This Chicago lingo is more a shortened version of the full name, but if you aren’t from Chicago or aren’t familiar with its lakeside location, you may wonder which lake Chicagoans are talking about. Why would one lake deserve such a high pedestal that it would be called THE Lake, as if no other lakes exist?
“The Lake” refers to Lake Michigan, the Great Lake that offers some amazing views from our city. Chicago stretches along 22 miles of the Lake’s coastline, so it spans many neighborhoods over a significant area. The Lake offers up a number of great photo ops and a variety of activities, including a day at the beach and architectural tours. So Lake Michigan really has earned its title as the lake, because it has such an impact on the city.
Yet another shortened term turned Chicago classic, the Taste is another way to say the Taste of Chicago, a popular food festival that takes place every year in July. Unlike taking a taste of a friend’s dessert, the Taste leaves you feeling stuffed and swearing you’ll never eat again. The festival packs in all sorts of local dishes and specialty cuisines in one spot for your enjoyment. So now when you hear someone say, “Man, I just got back from the Taste and I’m stuffed,” you’ll understand why.
The official name of this distinctly Chicago sculpture is Cloud Gate, but Chicagoans refer to it as the bean — or da bean if you really want to nail the Chicago accent. If you’ve seen the Millennium Park staple — and most people have, since it’s a visitor photo op must — you can easily tell why we use this lingo for the sculpture. The sculpture basically looks like a giant mirrored bean. The curved mirror-like surface makes for some fun photos, often stretching and distorting your image. Many a Chicago vacation photo shows only the tourists’ reflections on the bean. If the Cloud Gate sculpture is on your must-visit list, make sure to ask, “How do I get to the bean?” if you need directions from a friendly Chicagoan.
When we talk about the L in Chicago, we aren’t talking about a letter of the alphabet. We’re talking about the elevated train running throughout the city above the streets. It’s a popular public transit system in the city, and it’s known as one of the most reliable of all public transportation systems in the country. But that doesn’t guarantee your ride will be smooth and hassle free.
Don’t be confused if you see the El versus the L. While the CTA asserts the correct name for the overall system is the L, some people see it as the El. It sounds the same when you hear it, and it all means the same thing, so don’t let the spelling deter you from heading right to the nearest elevated train station when someone gives you directions involving the L.
When you hear the word “dip,” what comes to mind? A dip in the pool? A tasty creamy treat that makes chips taste better? While some Chicagoans may use the term for those purposes, we’re also known to use the word “dip” when they talk about leaving. For example, “I’m tired of this party. Let’s dip and get some Giordano’s pizza instead.” It might feel awkward at first, but dipping out is the most Chicago way to announce you’re about to leave.
The term “yuppie” is not exclusive to Chicago, but it makes the list because of Chicago’s major role in the creation and popularity of the word. The first print use of the term, referring to young urban professionals in a somewhat derogatory way, was in Chicago magazine in May of 1980. Since the first print use of a word is often used to track a its lineage, we’re going to claim yuppie as a Chicago original. So while other cities use the word, Chicago has the inside connection that makes it one of ours. An example of using the term appropriately is, “This bar is full of yuppies. Let’s dip and find something else to do.”
Everyone uses the word “goes” when referring to going somewhere, but in Chicago, we have a different use for the word. You may hear someone say, “And then he goes, ‘Those yuppies had the nerve to take over our bar.’.” In other words, “goes” gets used as the past or present tense of “say.” You’ll likely hear this word when a group gets together and shares stories.
Chicago is full of expressways, which are the interstates that run in the Chicagoland area. While most parts of the country refer to their expressways or interstates by the number assigned to the road — think Interstate 55 — Chicago refers to the expressways as the names given to them. The locals call Interstate 55 the Stevenson, for example. Interstate 290 is the Eisenhower. Just to complicate things a little more, the Eisenhower is often simply called the Ike. If you’re not familiar with these names or the shortened versions of the names, figuring out which expressway to take can be quite a challenge.
Another quirky phrasing issue that often comes up with Chicago traffic is the use of inbound and outbound. Instead of using north, south, east or west, Chicagoans typically just use inbound or outbound. If you’re going toward the city, you’re on the inbound expressway, such as the inbound Ike. If you’re traveling away from the city, you’re on the outbound expressway. So you might take the outbound Kennedy to head away from the Loop area.
Brush up on the names, interstate numbers and the use of inbound and outbound before you try navigating the city by car. That way you’ll know what to do when you ask for directions and get, “Take the inbound Kennedy to the Loop.”
The sign on the State Street store may say Macy’s, but Chicagoans will forever refer to the store as Field’s. That’s because the store was originally Marshall Field’s, a Chicago-born department store chain. Macy’s acquired the chain, but just like how the Willis Tower is still the Sears Tower to Chicagoans, Macy’s will always be Field’s in our hearts. When you hear someone say, “I got this new outfit at Field’s,” just know you should actually enter Macy’s if you want to pick one up for yourself.
While we’re on the subject of shopping, let us help you figure out what someone means when they say, “I went to the Jewels to pick up some dinner.” Chicagoland shoppers often say “Jewels” when they mean Jewel Osco, a popular grocery chain in the area. Locals tend to chop off the “Osco” portion of the name and add an S to the end of Jewel. You might hear Chicagoans add an S to the names of many stores or locations that don’t actually have an S on the end.
You hear someone say, “The neighbor kids love to play in the prairie,” and now you’re scratching your head and wondering where to find the Chicago prairie. Forget the images of Laurie Ingalls Wilder, log cabins and the tall prairie grass. When a Chicagoan refers to the prairie, he means a vacant lot in the neighborhood. The lot particularly fills the prairie title if it’s full of weeds, so if you squint and use your imagination, maybe you can see “prairie grass” in Chicago. Just don’t expect a Little House on the Prairie moment when you find one.
Mike Ditka made the term “Grabowski” a common phrase back in 1985 as a fitting description for his Bears players. The term refers to a blue-collar type who is tough and hard working. Jim Grabowski, a star football player, played for Ditka and the Bears in 1971, and the name stuck, eventually used to describe the entire team. You could often hear Ditka screaming Grabowski from the sidelines or referring to his players as Grabowskis.
Grabowski also has Polish roots, and it is a popular surname for the large Polish population in Chicago. If you’re called a Grabowski, take it as a compliment. It’s meant as a term of praise for your hardworking style. Used in context, you might hear something like, “Those Grabowskis may be hard workers, but they also know how to let loose and party.”
Calling dibs is nothing new, and the term frequently gets used across the country, but here in Chicago it has a very specific use, especially during the many, many cold, snowy months of the year. When a Chicagoan calls dibs, it means he claims his parking spot along the street by placing any number of items in that spot while his car is gone. It’s a sign to stay away or find another parking spot, because he will return and he will expect to park there. Common items used to call dibs include patio furniture, suitcases, garbage cans, milk crates or any number of other items.
So while people from other cities might say, “I call dibs on that last piece of deep dish pizza,” a Chicagoan might say, “I called dibs on a killer parking spot right outside my door this morning.” Although he probably wouldn’t talk about it so much as just doing it. You might also hear it used in a negative way, such as, “I’m getting so sick of my neighbor getting dibs on the best parking spot on the block.”
If you walk or drive around the city during the winter months, you’ll likely see examples of “dibs” all over the place. Once you try to park in Chicago, you understand why. Driveway space and garages are not very common in urban areas, so residents rely on street parking. With so many people competing for limited street space, it becomes a bit like a competitive sport to find a spot anywhere close to home.
Winter makes parking even more of a challenge. Chicago averages 36.7 inches of snow per year — and some years we get a lot more. We have fresh snowfall an average of 28.5 days per year. That’s a lot of snow. All that snow has to go somewhere before you can park a car. Many mornings Chicagoans wake up to deep snow covering their vehicles. Once they shovel away all that snow, they want to lay claim to the spot when they return, which is where dibs comes in to play.
No, Chicagoans are not obsessed with psychedelic drugs. While you’ve likely heard of LSD in terms of drug use, here in Chicago we’re actually referring to Lake Shore Drive. So when someone tells you to take LSD, he’s not suggesting you do drugs to handle the traffic here in Chicago. He’s actually giving you directions to take this urban expressway.
If you want to try it out yourself, you might say, “We drove down LSD yesterday and saw some popping architecture.”
Lake Shore Drive runs along the shore of Lake Michigan. If you take LSD, expect to see a pretty mix of city architecture, beaches, green space and sweeping views of the water — unless it’s wintertime, during which you will likely see snow. It’s a great way to experience the vibrant mix here in Chicago.
A Couple, Two, Three
While many Chicago slang words shorten the original, some stretch out the original to something longer. For example, “A couple, two, three” is a very Chicago way to say “a few.” When you throw in the Chicago accent, it often sounds a little more like “A cuppa too tree.” We suggest trying it in your normal accent and working up to the Chicago version.
Here’s a great way to put this Chicago phrase into action. The next time you share a pizza with friends and someone asks how much pizza is left, tell them, “There’s a couple, two, three slices left.” Just make sure you save one of those “couple, two, three” slices for yourself.
Over By There
Sometimes we want you to know where something happened, and when we do, we might say, “I went to Fields on State, over by there.” When some Chicagoans talk, it comes out more like, “over by dere.” Some people also change it up a little and say “over by here.” Either way, it’s our Chicagoan way of letting you know the location we’re referring to in our conversation.
When Chicagoans need to freshen up or use the facilities, we probably won’t tell you we’re going to the restroom or the bathroom. Many people from Chicago say, “I’m going to the washroom. Order me another beer while I’m gone.” If you’re out and about in Chicago and need to use the restroom, try asking, “Hey, where’s the nearest washroom?” Don’t be surprised if you hear, “There’s a washroom across the street at that restaurant, over by there.”
When you hear this plural for of “you,” it sounds just like the verb “use” so don’t be confused. In Chicago, instead of simply saying “you” to refer to a group, you often year people saying “yous”. For example, someone might say, “Yous all going to watch the Cubbies play tonight?” We want to make it clear that we’re talking to everyone and not just one person in the group.
Feeling hungry for a sandwich? If you want to be a true Chicagoan, you should feel hungry for a sammich, the slang term used in place of sandwich. Italian beef sammichs are a local favorite, but sausage sandwiches, often pronounced sassage, also have a solid place on the Chicago scene. When you go for the Italian beef, order it wet. It’s a Chicago tradition. If you’re not in the mood for pizza, the Giordano’s menu features a variety of “sammichs” to satisfy your hunger.
Just like frunchroom, this Chicago term may leave you wondering what in the world the person means. It’s another one of those smashed together phrases that starts with two words and ends in one sometimes difficult to decipher word. In this case, what sounds like “grachki” actually means garage key. “You lost the grachki again? You know I can’t get in without it.” What can we say? We like to blend things together to come up with our own Chicago style.
Test Out Your New Chicago Slang
What better place to test out your new Chicago lingo than an iconic pizza restaurant known for its Chicago-style deep-dish pie? Find a Giordano’s location near you, gather some friends, an see how it feels to sling around Chicago slang words like a pro. With a little practice, everyone will think you were born and raised in Chicago. Let us know what Chicago words you use on a regular basis.