How to Sound Like a Local in Pittsburgh

Rege Behe
November 29, 2017
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When you arrive in Pittsburgh, don’t be surprised if you are warmly greeted by longtime residents. Especially in older neighborhoods where houses are built right next to each other, folks tend to be welcoming.

Don’t be dismayed, however, if you occasionally have a hard time understanding your new friends. The Pittsburgh accent is one of our trademarks, even for some famous natives. It’s such a point of pride that there are T-shirts, bumper stickers, coffee cups, and other items emblazoned with our unique pronunciations and mangled words. There’s even a website that translates ordinary language into Pittsburghese, our convoluted version of English.

Derived from the Scotch-Irish, German, and Central and Eastern European immigrants who settled here, the Pittsburgh accent can be grating to some ears. A few years ago it was chosen as the Ugliest Accent in America, but for locals Pittsburghese is as natural as the confluence of the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers.

Here are some quick tips to help you understand some of our more distinct and unusual words and phrases.

Yinz, as in “What are yinz guys up to?”

Yinz is the equivalent of the mellifluous contraction `Y’all” heard in the American South, but a lot harder on the ears. Pittsburghers show a perverse sort of pride in this second-person plural pronoun to the point where many residents call themselves Yinzers and proudly wear Yinzer apparel.

N’at, as in “Yinz want to go to the mall n’at?”

Short for “and that,” n’at is a catch-all phrase that can mean anything or nothing at all. In the above example, n’at is an open-ended invitation to shopping with coffee, drinks, dining … or just a shopping trip. The phrase is so ubiquitous that a handful of area businesses, and at least one restaurant and a food truck, incorporate it in their names.

Stillers, as in the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rule No. 1: Don’t criticize our beloved Stilllers if you’re new to the region – only natives and longtime residents get to do that. Rule No. 2: Don’t laugh at how we pronounce the team’s name, which is not to be confused with actor Ben Stiller’s family.

Also, for baseball fans: We often call the Pittsburgh Pirates the “Buccos,” short for Buccaneers. Long ago the team really was known for its piracy.

Dahn-tahn, as in “Let’s go Dahntahn for the Fourth of July fireworks.”

This is how many pronounce Downtown, the area of the city where much of the region’s business is conducted. And yes, we really do love Dahntahn fireworks displays, and not only on holidays. At many outdoor sporting events fireworks are part of the game-day experience.

Redd up, as in “Billy, redd up your room.”

Or more precisely, “Billy, clean your room.” Redd up is one of the odder Pittsburghese quirks, a phrase that doesn’t make the slightest bit of linguistic sense. But longtime residents frequently say it on cleaning day.

Nebby, as in “I don’t mean to be nebby, but you sure look tired.”

Which means, “I don’t mean to be nosy …,” and indicates the innate curiosity of many residents. It can be off-putting if you’re not used to it – we’re not shy about asking direct questions or keeping track of what goes on in neighborhoods. But being nebby is a sign that Pittsburghers do look out for each other in a unique way.

Warsh, as in “I need to go to the car warsh.”

Or, the car wash. We warsh our clothes, warsh the dog when it gets muddy, and sometimes, when the weather is nice, hang the warsh out to dry on clotheslines. We also refer to the nation’s capital as “Warshington, DC.”

Jagoff, as in “Don’t be a jagoff and cut in line.”

Succinctly, don’t be a jerk. Jagoff, long deemed slang by even the most diehard Pittsburghers, was recently added to one of the most esteemed arbiters of language in the world. Closely related is jagger bush, used to describe any bush with briars or thorn. There’s poetic justice when a jagoff gets scratched in a jagger bush.

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