So you’ve come to Cleveland and are looking to fit in. The easy way to do it: Eat pierogies, complain about the Browns (example: “FirstEnergy Stadium has been designated as a tornado shelter. Touchdowns there are exceedingly rare”), and memorize these slang terms so you can sound like a native.
1. Dead Man’s Curve
Just east of downtown Cleveland, Interstate 90 makes a 90-degree right turn, forcing drivers to slow down. Residents call that stretch of road—which is equipped with flashing lights and rumble strips as a warning—Dead Man’s Curve.
2. Dyngus Day
Dyngus Day is a Polish celebration held the Monday after Easter, usually featuring polka music, pierogies, and paczki (see below). Because of its large Eastern European population, Cleveland celebrates Dyngus Day annually.
3. and 4. East Side and West Side
The Cuyahoga River runs through the city of Cleveland, and forms the dividing line in the region’s culture, creating a great rivalry: The East Side is older and more refined. The West Side is newer, more expansive—and more blue-collar. To residents on the East Side, there be dragons on the West Side, and West Siders think the same about the East Side.
5. The Feast
The Feast is the informal name Clevelanders use for the Feast of the Assumption, a Catholic holy day in August celebrated with a weekend street festival in the city’s Little Italy.
6. The Flats
Locals refer to the area on the banks of the Cuyahoga River as it heads toward the lake The Flats. Once an industrial area, it became a trendy site replete with bars, restaurants, and music venues beginning in the 1980s. If you know a Gen Xer in Cleveland, chances are pretty good they misspent at least some of their young adulthood in the Flats.
Cleveland residents who mention Ghoulardi are referring to legendary host Ernie Anderson, who, for three years in the 1960s, donned a wig and fake beard to show late-night horror movies on Cleveland’s WJW-TV as the character. After he set off for California, where he did voiceovers for networks, Anderson was replaced on WJW by Bob “Hoolihan” Wells and Charles “Big Chuck” Schodowski. Hoolihan also left for greener pastures, and Big Chuck paired with Li'l Jon for decades.
Fun fact: Anderson’s son is director Paul Thomas Anderson, whose production company is called Ghoulardi Film Company. The director discovered firsthand how much influence his father’s character had on Clevelanders at an event for his movie Phantom Thread, where Akron native Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders was also in attendance. “She made her way across the room and came over to me. My ego perked up. I said, ‘Wow, Chrissie Hynde is coming to tell me just how much she loved Phantom Thread,’” he recalled. “And she arrived and said nothing about the film and everything about Ghoulardi. It was great. The same thing with Jim Jarmusch. The reach of the impact of this thing is so far and long-lasting. It’s wild, isn’t it?”
8. Guardians of Traffic
Each pylon of the Lorain-Carnegie bridge—which spans the Cuyahoga River and links downtown with the Ohio City neighborhood on the near west side—features art deco carvings of a person holding some means of wheeled transportation (trucks, covered wagons, trains, etc.). These figures are known as the Guardians of Traffic, a name given to them by bridge engineer Wilbur Watson. The statues, which were in danger of being torn down in the 1970s to expand the bridge, have become a photogenic point of civic pride in the Cleveland area—and were even the namesake for the Cleveland baseball team.
9. The Islands
The Islands is a generic term Clevelanders use for the Lake Erie Islands, a popular summer day trip or vacation destination [PDF]. (Put-in-Bay is particularly popular for bachelor or bachelorette parties.) They’re located in the western basin of Lake Erie, near Sandusky and Port Clinton.
10. and 11. The Jake and The Q (or The Gund)
Jacobs Field is the former name for the ballpark that’s home to the Indians-turned-Guardians. Although it’s been called Progressive Field since 2008, locals still refer to it as the Jake. Nearby is the Cavaliers’ home arena, which—like the Jake—opened in 1994 as part of the Gateway project. The arena is now called Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, but to residents over the age of 30, it’s still the Q (for its previous name, Quicken Loans Arena). Residents over the age of 40 may still call it the Gund after its original name, Gund Arena.
12. Lake Effect Snow
Lake Effect Snow isn’t necessarily a common term in most areas of the U.S., but Clevelanders know it well—especially those who live on the East Side. When cold air passes over the lake, it picks up moisture from Lake Erie … and promptly dumps it, in some instances by the foot on the East Side—making this another front in the East Side-West Side rivalry. In the same snowfall, the West Side, which does not get Lake Effect Snow, might get a dusting.
13. Len Barker’s Perfect Game
Every city with major league sports has at least one game where everyone claims they were there. In Cleveland, it’s the perfect game thrown by Len Barker on May 15, 1981. (Actual attendance: 7290.)
14. Muni Lot
Formally the Lakefront Municipal Parking Lot, the Muni Lot is one of the most venerable tailgating spots before Browns games. It’s located on Marginal Road, just east of downtown and within staggering distance of the Browns’ stadium. (There’s no drinking of alcohol allowed in the Muni Lot … at least, not officially.)
15. The North Coast
If there’s an East Coast and a West Coast, why can’t there be a North Coast? That’s the tongue-in-cheek nickname for the Cleveland area with Lake Erie as its northern border. North Coast is a popular term to incorporate into local business names.
A heavy pastry usually filled with fruit or cream. The story goes that they were created in Poland so that people could use up all the sugar and lard before Lent started. Fat Tuesday usually features brisk paczki sales at Cleveland area bakeries.
17. Polish Boy
19. The Rapid
Residents refer to the commuter train that runs through Cuyahoga County as the Rapid. It has three lines: Blue and Green through the city’s eastern neighborhoods and suburbs, and the Red Line, which goes from the East Side out to the airport. When the Red Line was completed in 1968, Cleveland became the first city in North America to have a train line that goes from downtown to the airport.
A lollipop. When people in Ohio think of suckers, they’re usually the little round Dum-Dums, made in Bryan in northwest Ohio. No trip to the bank is complete without one.
21. Tree Lawn
Tree lawn is the term for the right-of-way between the sidewalk and street (which usually consists of a strip of grass) where residents often leave their garbage cans. Going trash picking is sometimes called “tree lawn shopping.” (If you go south to Akron, it’s not a tree lawn, it’s a devil strip.)