How to Sound Like a Local in Atlanta

Come to Atlanta, a sprawling metropolitan area with more than five million people in 14 counties that span 50 miles in each direction, and you’re likely to get a good dose of Southern hospitality.

But don’t expect to hear a lot of Southern accents. That’s because so many of us are transplants, immigrants from colder climes who sought out sunshine, a lower cost of living and a slightly calmer — though not slow-as-molasses — state of being.

Still, that doesn’t mean Atlanta doesn’t have its own language, a lingo that separates the locals from the tourists. Want to fit in? Oh, bless your heart — have a glass of sweet tea (yeah, it’s basically a cup of sugar with a splash of iced Lipton), pull up a chair and let us teach you our unique vernacular. You’ll sound like an Atlantan in no time.

Say it with me.

First things first, learn to say the name of the city properly. To get it right, just pretend the “T” is silent.

It’s At-lanna. Not At-lanTa. And certainly not Hot-lanta. Never Hot-lanta.

If you try to sound out the names of some of our towns and cities phonetically, you’ll fail miserably. So here’s a handy guide to some of the more counterintuitive pronunciations:

Albany. Don’t say it like the New York State capitol. It’s Al-binny, not Awl-bun-ee.

Cairo isn’t pronounced the way you think. It’s Kay-row, like the syrup.

McDonough is Mick-donna, not Mick-dunna.

Chamblee is Sham-blee.

Forsyth is Fer-syth.

Smyrna is Smur-nuh.

Dekalb is Duh-cab. Leave out the “L.”

Roswell is Roz-wool.

Oh, and when you’re driving on Ponce de Leon Avenue, don’t get fancy — it’s Ponce duh LEE-on.

Are you ITP or OTP?

There’s an invisible line that’s become an even more important demarcation than the Mason-Dixon — it’s the division between ITP and OTP. If you’re inside Interstate 285, you’re in “intown” Atlanta, or Inside the Perimeter. If you live outside 285, that’s called OTP, or Outside the Perimeter. Given that our terrifically bad traffic swells as you cross the line — and that city-dwellers often assume OTP is all McMansions, strip malls and rabid soccer moms — a lot of in-towners claim a severe allergy to going outside the Perimeter. Speaking of allergies …

Tell us about your sniffles.

See that heavy dusting of yellow dust that’s coating every car? That’s pollen, and we love talking about it. Just about everyone here is allergic to it. Allergies can even count as an excuse to skip work. Even if you’ve been allergy-free your whole life, the pollen here is likely to make you feel shnarfy, headachy, itchy and just super-icky. This mutual suffering unites us. So be prepared to discuss your favorite remedies and to compete over who has the stuffiest nose.

But don’t get us started on our local sports teams.

We loved the Atlanta Braves, we really did. Well, maybe not so much that we’d fill the seats during even great seasons, but we liked that they were nearby. Then they had to go and build a new stadium, scheduled to open in 2017, in Cobb County — that’s OTP, for crying out loud! The train doesn’t go there, the traffic from intown will be horrific, so we’re feeling a bit abandoned. Just like we did when the Atlanta Thrashers professional ice hockey team left town for Winnipeg, Canada, in 2011. Pardon us while we pout.

Pick up a Loaf — and we’re not talking about bread.

Other cities have a “New Times,” a “Scene” or a “Reader,” but here in Atlanta our alternative newsweekly is called Creative Loafing (“The Loaf” or “CL,” for short). It doesn’t sound edgy, we know. Founded in 1972, the name sort of fit into the era’s groovy, “Keep on Truckin,'” H.R. Puffinstuff vibe. These days it’s the best source for music listings, community happenings, irreverent stories on politics and an annual “Lust List” that highlights the city’s best-looking hipsters and Regular Joes.

Coke is it.

The Coca-Cola Co. is headquartered here, and we take the soda seriously. Indoctrination starts early, with even preschoolers taking field trips to the World of Coca-Cola museum and slurping as many varieties and flavors as possible in the tasting lounge. There are more than 100 in total, including Thums Up, a best-seller in India that the museum describes as a “mature, masculine drink with the ‘Taste of Thunder.'” We have no idea what that means either. The takeaway here is: Don’t order a Pepsi. Ever.

Don’t make fun of us when we freak out about the snow.

Yes, we know we tend to overreact when we see even the smallest snowflake. And yes, it’s nothing in comparison with (insert the name of your favorite tundra here). But here’s the thing: Because we’ve so rarely gotten snow, we haven’t had a lot of snowplows or plans in place to handle freak storms. That’s why Snowmageddon of 2014 managed to hobble the city, stranding some motorists on icy highways for 18 hours or more. Atlanta’s more cautious now, and has reportedly done more emergency planning, but so far that’s seemed more frustrating than helpful (“You’re letting my kids out of school early because it’s cold??”).

Just go with it, and join us in the pandemonium.

Christine Van Dusen