How to Sound Like a Local in St. Louis

Hello, St. Louis transplants! If you are about to or have recently moved to the Gateway City, you may be curious how to navigate the local lingo to avoid sounding or looking like a tourist.

With its free cultural attractions, tourist destinations are very popular with locals, and thanks to its popular locally themed fashion lines, rocking STL apparel is actually encouraged; however, there are some dead giveaways from verbal and written communication that can make you sound like you are only visiting. From how St. Louisans refer to their roadways to interesting foods with potentially confusing names, this “little big city” has a handful of lingo and colloquialisms you can easily familiarize yourself with to sound like a local.

It’s Highway 40, not Interstate 64.

Arguably the largest piece of St. Louis lingo is the Interstate 64 versus Highway 40 debate. Interstate 64 is one of the region’s most popular, but locals continue to call it Highway 40. Say Interstate 64 and get ready to be called a transplant, even if the sign and your GPS back you up.

It’s Bread Co., not Panera.

Hungry? Grab a sandwich, salad or soup at the Saint Louis Bread Company, or Bread Co. for short. The menu might look familiar since it’s the same thing as the beloved chain Panera.

Saint Louis Bread Company was purchased by Panera in the 1990s, but the name has stayed the same locally

It’s time you redefine “hoosier”.

The word “hoosier” is a term for a resident or native of the state of Indiana. For whatever reason, in St. Louis and its surrounding area “hoosier” is a derogatory term often used like “redneck.” As a fellow transplant, I’m just as confused as you are.

Get ready to talk baseball.

Regardless of season, the St. Louis Cardinals make up a (sometimes large) part of nearly all surface-level conversations in this region. In an elevator? Talk about the Cards. Chatting at the water cooler? Talk about the Cards.

Even if you aren’t a sports fan, prepare yourself and do just a little research on the team and the season. While liking baseball is not required in St. Louis, it’s sincerely harder to make small talk if you aren’t keeping up with at least some details about the Red Birds.

It’s St. Louis with an “S,” not with an “E”.

Nearby Illinois might have a silent “S” but the end of St. Louis is to be pronounced. “St. Louie” need not apply.

“The River” is the Mississippi River.

While actually smaller than the nearby Missouri River, when someone notes The River they mean the Mississippi. Located along the eastern boarder, this river is also where you’ll find the Gateway Arch.

“Across the river” means Illinois.

Illinois’ nearby suburbs are collectively called the Metro East, and someone from there lives “across the river.”

The Billiken is a (confusing) school mascot.

Saint Louis University, the oldest university west of the Mississippi River and one of the many four-year schools in the area, has a mascot many find perplexing: the Billiken. In case you spot this elf-like creature on display in a local sports bar, know it pairs with this Jesuit university and its corresponding basketball team.

Don’t trust your GPS to teach you correct street pronunciation…

St. Louis street names are known for their interesting pronunciation. While you’re sure to run into more, a few big ones to remember include…

  • River Des Peres sounds like “river day pair”
  • Gravois rhymes with “boy”
  • Chouteau sounds like “show toe”

…And the same goes for cities.

Much like the street names, a few St. Louis suburbs are easy to mispronounce. Here’s a quick guide:

  • Ladue sounds like “la do”
  • Creve Coeur rhymes with “door”
  • Frontenac sounds like “frun-ten-ack”

County comes up a lot.

While you’re speaking about cities, know people often drop their suburb name in conversation. Instead, residents will regularly say they live in West County, North County or South County. And remember, the city of St. Louis is seperate from St. Louis County, despite the confusingly similar name.

“Rav” is short for ravioli, particularly of the toasted variety.

Toasted ravioli, a St. Louis staple, is a deep-fried treat beloved across the Gateway City. If someone says they’re ordering a plate of ravs for the table, don’t anticipate soft pasta—this is closer to a meat-filled mozzarella stick than the traditional pasta dish.

Provel is a cheese found on pizza.

Speaking of food, if you order pizza in St. Louis be on the lookout for provel. Provel cheese tops St. Louis’ signature ultra-thin pizza, served in squares, and tends to be either adored or hated by those who try it.

Julia Cain