Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Pittsburghese N @

By Annette Dashofy

(No Citizens’ Police Academy this week, due to Memorial Day. Sorry.)

About twenty years ago, I attended a dinner theatre’s production of Don Brockett's Forbidden Pittsburgh. Rarely before or since have I laughed so hard. One of my favorite bits dealt with our rather unique dialect around these parts.

Most days, I forget about our local accent, but my recent trip to Virginia brought a variety of speech patterns to my attention. Surprisingly, not as much southern-fried conversation as you might think. That close to our nation’s capital, you get a mix of everyone from everywhere.

Including Pittsburgh.

Then I had a friend (I won’t name names, but you know who you are) make the pronouncement that she doesn’t speak with a Pittsburgh accent. In her next sentence, she proceeded to tell me something about her haus. No. No Pittsburgh accent there. Heh heh.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Pittsburghese, let me give you a crash course. We live in hauses. A small rodent is a maus. Before the collapse of the industry, many of our locals worked in still mills and we continue to cheer on the Pittsburgh Stillers. Some of us live in EaSliberty (East Liberty for the uninformed). Others live on the SouSide (South Side). A few even live dauntaun (down town). And any of yunz who haven’t been to Primanti’s just don’t know how to eat a sammich. Speaking of which, you might get asked, y’eat yet? Translation: did you eat yet? If you ate at home, you’ll have to worsh the dishes.

Basically, Pittsburghers only use the front of their mouths to speak. It’s like the backs of our tongues are paralyzed.

Side note: this winter I watched the movie Fargo a couple of times and realized I could do that dialect simply by speaking as if my jaw were frozen (which in the bitter north, it probably would be). Yah. You betcha.

In all honesty, I don’t think I have much of a Pittsburgh accent. It’s been watered down by having so much family from West Virginia. I don’t recall ever saying yunz. Now y’all…that’s a different matter. I did, however grow up worshing clothes and living in Worshington County, but I have since trained that out of my speech. We have a crick (creek) out back, but I’m not sure if that’s Pittsburghese of just countrified.

There is one word from my childhood that I’ve never heard spoken by anyone outside of my West Virginia family. Hoopy. As in a West Virginia hoopy. I did find this definition online, but it’s not the same thing. A West Virginia hoopy is something like a hillbilly or redneck, but not quite that backwoods. All of my dad’s family were hoopies. I’ve heard it used in a derogatory sense by folks who looked down on country folks, but used with pride by self-proclaimed hoopies.

So there you have my little essay on words, accents N' @. And if you have to ask what N' @ means, you obviously aren’t from Pittsburgh. Even our news reporters have started using it.

(And that)


Gina said...

Great post, Annette!
I love Pittsburghese -- it being one of the few languages in which I'm fluent.

Martha Reed said...

Annette, my Dad used hoopie and it did mean hillbilly, but I haven't heard him say that in years.

Pittsburghese is also about grammar and sentence structure, and I don't think I'll ever truly master the rules. The best Pittsburghese I ever heard was in a Co-Go's (Coe-Goes) parking lot when a mother saw her teenage daughter eyeing a group of boys. "So?!" she said. "Yunz in big love?"

Priceless. I recommend riding the 91A for more samples!

Annette said...

Thank you, Martha! I'd love to hear if anyone else has heard hoopy (hoopie, whatever) used and where they're from. And I love the "Yunz in big love?" quote. LOL.

Gina, it is definitely a language unto itself.

Tory said...

Having grown up in Michigan, even after almost 20 years living in Pittsburgh I still get stumped from time to time by extreme Pittsburghese. One of our front desk staff at work told me (nicely, I think), "You aren't from here, are you?"

That, and Pittsburgh-style merging onto the Parkway. I'm not sure I'm going to get that one in this lifetime!

mike said...

Great post, Annette. Localism are so much fun. "Hoopie" is a new one to me, but a "crick" did flow thru the farm in southcentral PA, so that's probably a country pronunciation. I've never gotten used to "gum band" for rubber band or "yinz" or "yunz"--I picked up "y'all" in my teens and just can't shake it.

Joyce said...

For all the Pittsburghese fans out there:

I know I sound like a Pittsburgher, although not the extent that some people do. We like to end sentences with prepositions which drives normal people nuts n'at.

We also give directions like this:
"Yinz jus' go dahn past da Stiller stadyum an get on da Wes' End Bridge. Then go arahnd dat traffic doo-hickey and dahn Carson Street to get to da Sah-side. Ders some rilly good bars to get an Ahrn City n'at."

Annette said...

Joyce, you forgot the part about turning where the Islay's used to be.

kathie said...

Very funny, Annette! My mom is from the west coast so my sibs and I didn't have "bad" accents. But, still, at college, my not-from-Pittsburgh friends said as soon as I talked on the phone to people from the burgh, my accent came way out!!! What accent??? Who me??? Please.

Joyce said...

Did you know there's still an Isaly's in West View? It's right on Perrysville Avenue.

Annette said...

Joyce, I don't even know where West View is, let alone Perrysville Avenue. Farm girl from Washington County, remember?

Joyce said...


Annette said...

Yep, that's me.

Cathy said...

One thing I did get out of my first internet dating experience was introduction to the word "Hoopie." Dick was from Weirton, West Virginia, and he used it liberally to refer to his redneck beginnings. He also told me that the word originated from a barrel factory in those parts; people would appear from everywhere to work with the hoops, thus the term began.

Sounds like hoopie talk to me, whether it's true or not.

Annette said...

Hey, Cathy, that works for me. I've never heard any other explanation for the word.

Annette said...

Okay, folks, I just did a little Googling of West Virginia hoopie (spelled "ie" NOT "y" which is where I ran into trouble earlier) and came up with lots of WV references including this one:

So, yes, hoops did figure into it.

Now I'm an educated hoopie.

Anonymous said...

My favorite is when people ask me, "You have an accent, where are you from?" I just stare at them and think, "and yunz don't?"

Annette said...

Doris! You have an accent? I never noticed! :-)