Please? Y’uns think we sound funny? Oh, Jeezle Pete!
It can’t be taught: We speak with a slightly nasal, lower-Midwest-with-a-hint-of-Appalachia accent that must be acquired slowly, by osmosis. So your best bet, if you hope to pass as native, is to pay attention to telltale words. New Yorkers: mayonnaise and caramel have two syllables here, not three. Louisvillians: if you’re arrested on the north bank of the Ohio you need to hire a LOY-er, not a LAW-yer. At the bakery, it’s PEE-kahn (not pee-KAHN) pie. And if you find yourself in the company of people who are still profoundly in opposition to the city’s streetcar, call it a trolley. Lard the word with as much dismissive disdain as your vocal chords can muster and you will be welcomed into the fold.
Our linguistic icon is, of course, Please? Derived from our German forefathers’ bitte, this polite substitute for Huh? is “a strong generational word,” says University of Cincinnati archivist Kevin Grace. Use it and you’ll sound like your family has lived here for ages. Grace notes that many of our linguistic characteristics are more evident on the west side, where 19th century immigrants settled. That’s where you’re more likely to hear youse and its variation, y’uns (east-siders favor you guys). There are pockets of the citizenry that call the city Cincinnat-uh, but “I can’t pin down the neighborhood that it came from,” Grace says. He suspects it may have been spawned by Sparky Anderson.
Our native nice-ness comes through even when we curse. The gentle exclamation Jeezle Pete!, while not exclusive to Cincinnati, gets a lot of play here. It’s a combination of “Jesus!” and some ancient slur against St. Peter, made tame by the goofy mash-up. “We don’t want to offend too much,” says Grace.