How to Sound Like a Local in Omaha

Welcome to Omaha, where the people may not speak with any kind of accent, but they do have their own way of saying things.

Omaha is full of music, art, Fortune 500 companies, one of the richest people in the world and some unique words, phrases and traditions you ought to be aware of.

So if you’re coming to Omaha, you gotta learn the lingo. We can help.

Aksarben

Say it with me: “Ak-Sar-Ben.”

It’s not an encantation from Harry Potter, but rather “Nebraska” spelled backwards. But it’s also the name of a neighborhood (Aksarben Village), a philanthropic organization (The Knights of Aksarben) and more than a few businesses (pages and pages of them in the phone book). A group of influential Omahans banded together in 1895, and the nonprofit still holds a ritzy annual ball complete with a coronation of a king and queen. (They also give out scholarships.)

We say “pop”

When asking for your favorite carbonated beverage. you’ll be asking for a “pop.” It’s cool if you say “soda” – people will know what you mean – but in these parts most people simply say, “pop.”

GBR, ‘Skers and Blackshirts

If you want to blend in on Saturdays in the fall, wear red and learn a little lingo. Sure, they’re technically called the Cornhuskers and once, long ago, were called the Bugeaters, but we call the Nebraska football team the Huskers.

Sometimes, you can get away with calling them the ‘Skers. The Husker defense is informally known as the Blackshirts. And people casually saying, “G-B-R!” aren’t weirdos who only speak in consonant letters. They’re simply abbreviating “Go Big Red!”

Red beer

It’s a thing. Depending on your views of tomato juice, you may be disgusted or find your mouth watering when you see someone pour a can of Campbell’s tomato juice or a bit of Clamato into their Bud Light.

The Good Life

Though local tourism departments are always finding new slogans, Nebraskans know the state is all about “the good life.” The motto has been branded on highway signs since the ‘70s. The slogan also been adopted as the name of a popular indie rock band, a local clothing line and an Omaha sports bar.

Learn the grid

Omaha’s streets are primarily laid out on a grid system, which makes it easy to get around. Dodge Street is the main thoroughfare that cuts through all of town, and a building’s address is based on how many blocks north or south of Dodge it sits. Interstate 80, which everyone just calls “The Interstate,” is on the south side of town, and it cuts through the city from east to west.

Don’t ask about the farm

About 2 million people live in Nebraska, and about half of those live in and around Omaha. There are open plains and plenty of cornfields, but most people in the city have always lived in the city. They haven’t detasseled corn, driven a tractor or raised an animal for 4-H. They may have never seen a cow that wasn’t grilled and served to them on a plate. Asking someone if she grew up on a farm will make you sound clueless.

Downtown, midtown and North O/South O/West O

The rough designations for parts of town do have technical boundaries, but downtown is the area near the Missouri River that contains one-way streets and the Old Market. North O and South O are, obviously, to the north and south of downtown. Midtown runs from downtown to Saddle Creek Road, which cuts through the city and serves as the namesake for Saddle Creek Records.

West O is the always expanding network of subdivisions and retail developments that seem to sprawl ever-westward into the Nebraska plains. Everything else is just plain old “Omaha.”

Peony Park

There was once an amusement park in the middle of Omaha. For decades, kids went there in the summers to ride the rides, swim in the pool and rock out at Sprite Night concerts. It was torn down in 1994, and though it’s long gone (there’s a grocery store there now), people still speak of it with reverence.

You guys

Other places have “y’all” and “yinz.” When we’re referring about a group of people, we say, “You guys.” It’s a Midwestern thing.



Kevin Coffey