How To Sound Like A Local In Cincinnati

Cincinnati is a treasure trove of quaint colloquialisms and turns-of-phrase you’ll want to be well-acquainted with when settling in among the locals. Some of them are typical Midwestern standards; others, wholly unique to the 513 (our – yes, single – area code.) Brush up, try ‘em out, and Godspeed.

Say what?

It’s by far the norm for Cincinnatians to say, “Please?” when they’ve misheard you or misunderstood you. Some say only Baby Boomers use it anymore instead of, “Excuse me?” but we say anything is better than, “Huh?”.

Note, “Please?” is the polite way of asking someone to repeat or explain something. A more casual way is, “Do what?” We fully acknowledge this term may appear in other parts of the country, but we’re just helping you get by here.

A rose by any other name.

Question: What do you call the shoes you wear when you’re doing physical activity?

Cincinnati answer: Gym shoes.

You might know them as sneakers, but as anyone who’s been a fourth grader in the Greater Cincinnati area will tell you, they’re good ol’ fashioned gym shoes. Why? Because you wear them to gym class!

Question: What do you call a pepper?

Cincinnati answer: A mango, duh.

You’re probably as confused as those of us Cincinnatians who haven’t had this delightful case of mistaken identity seep into our own vocabulary. It’s a rare thing – like a wild mango in the Midwest – but you’ll hear it here and there. Here’s an interesting article on the proliferation of the pepper/mango interchangeability in the Midwest.

Question: What do you call a carbonated beverage or soft drink?

Cincinnati answer: Pop.

This is perhaps the most well-known Midwestern-ism. The state of Texas has “Coke” for all soft drinks, most of the country has “soda”, but we in Cincinnati (and the Midwest) have “pop”. Orange pop is for Sunkist, pop is for everything else. Maybe the onomatopoeia origins of the word lay in the soft drink’s tell-tale bubbles – they pop! Makes sense, really.

It’s not possessive, but we’ll try hard to make it so, anyway

Cincinnatians have the unique proclivity for making singular brand names possessive nouns. Folks the city over will call Kroger – singular, and headquartered here – “Kroger’s.” Use it in a sentence? Sure thing: “I’m going to Kroger’s.” Just know, the only time you should really be making Kroger possessive is when you say, “I’m going to Kroger’s gas station.”

Casual interactions

If someone else bumps into you in line at Kroger or Graeter’s (which is actually possessive), or heck, even if you bump into someone else, you’re sure to almost immediately hear an exclamation of, “Ope!”

Not a real word, not a sound that mimics anything else, “ope” is the Cincinnati way of saying, “I’m so sorry!”. It’s funny and endearing and you’ll hear it coming out of your own mouth soon enough.

How did I get here?

We don’t preface our highway numbers with “the” or “I”. They are just straight up 75, 71, 275 and 471. 75 and 71 run north and south, 275 (which is formally called Donald H. Rolf Circle Freeway) forms a loop around the city I still haven’t figured out, and 471 takes you to Kentucky. Until you’re familiar with them, I recommend using GPS.

Also, the bridges. There’s the Brent Spence, pronounced by locals in one breath: Brenspenss; the Big Mac, which, yes, has two yellow arches and is vaguely reminiscent of McDonald’s but properly titled the Daniel Carter Beard Bridge; and the Purple People Bridge, aka The Newport Southbank Bridge. It’s actually purple (albeit a bit faded), and pedestrian/bike-riders only!

Who Dey!

The Bengals, that’s who. “Who Dey!” is something people wearing orange and black on football Sundays will yell ceaselessly – it’s our good-luck cheer for our beloved NFL team, with the full phrase of origin (in all its grammatical incorrectness): “Who dey? Who dey? Who dey think gonna beat dem Bengals?!”

Try it out, it’s pretty fun. Just don’t be a fair weather major-league fan. We can’t stand those, for the Cincinnati Reds OR the Bengals.

When the world ends

According to legend, Mark Twain said of Cincinnati, “When the world ends, I want to be in Cincinnati, because everything happens ten years later there.”

This is a false attribution, but we admit, relatively true. We just got a streetcar. Dedicated bike lanes are new in the downtown area. We’re trying to keep up with the times, and you’ll want to be here when it all happens.



Leyla Shokoohe