Thanks to its mishmash of roads—due in part to its location in the Appalachian mountains and at the confluence of three rivers—Pittsburgh can be a hard city to get around, and residents may seem like they speak a different language. And in a way, they do: Residents call their distinct dialect “Pittsburghese.” Here are some slang terms to know so you don’t look too much like a tourist—even if you still get lost.
1. The Bathtub
When Pittsburgh residents talk about the Bathtub, they’re referring to a low-lying section of the Parkway East (see below) along the Monongahela River that’s prone to flooding during heavy rains.
2. Black and Gold
3. Chipped Chopped Ham
This lunchtime staple is made from a compressed ham loaf known as chopped ham that many deli counters sell chipped rather than sliced. The dish was a specialty of Isaly’s, a chain of convenience stores found throughout Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. (Another one of their inventions? The Klondike Bar.) Many Pittsburghers haven’t fully gotten over the chain’s demise.
4. Cookie Table
A cookie table is a table at a wedding reception that contains dozens of different cookies (it can also be found just over the border, in Youngstown and some other parts of Eastern Ohio). The tradition harkens back to a time when families might not have been able to afford a cake, but relatives would bake cookies in celebration of a wedding.
5. Farkleberry Cookies
These Christmas cookies—made with orange and cranberry flavoring, white chocolate chips, and a powdered sugar topping—have an unusual origin. It all started when a DJ at Pittsburgh radio station KDKA was doing a remote broadcast at a Children’s Hospital fundraiser in the late 1960s. “Start your heart,” he said. “Eat a farkleberry tart.” Soon, farkleberry tarts were being sold as fundraisers, and that morphed into the farkleberry cookie.
6. Grant Street
The street downtown with all the courthouses and government buildings. “I gotta go dahna Grant Street” could mean anything from getting a marriage license to making a court appearance.
A rubber band.
Decades ago, the Pittsburgh region had dozens of funiculars—counterbalanced trains that go up and down hills. Today, there are two left, The Duquesne and the Monongahela, both going up Mount Washington. Residents refer to them as inclines.
9. Iron City
Before Pittsburgh was the Steel City, it was the Iron City, home to a bustling ironworking industry. In 1861, a brewery called Iron City opened. The beer—whose name is pronounced “arn” instead of “iron”—has been a favorite ever since, sometimes with a shot of Imperial whiskey (an Imp ‘n’ Arn, in the parlance of the area).
Jagoff is an insulting term for someone who’s a pain in the ass or inept at whatever the task at hand is. Chicagoans use the word, too, and there’s some debate about which city came up with it first.
11. Kennywood’s Open
Kennywood is a popular amusement park in West Mifflin. But the phrase Kennywood’s open isn’t a reference to the park—it’s a subtle way to inform you that your fly’s down. (Bathrooms at Eat ‘n’ Park, a popular restaurant chain in Western Pennsylvania, have signs asking, “Is Kennywood Open?”)
12. Liberty Tubes
Pittsburghers call the tunnels that run from West Liberty Avenue through Mount Washington to the Liberty Bridge liberty tubes. When they opened in 1924, they were the longest tunnels for cars in the world.
13. The Mon
The Mon is short for the Monongahela, one of the three rivers in Pittsburgh. The river, an important industrial waterway, was heavily polluted for many years, so much so that it led to the joke that people who fell in didn’t drown—they dissolved.
Literally, “and that”; more figuratively, et cetera, as in “Went to Primanti’s for some sammiches n’at.”
16. Parking Chair
On narrow streets in Pittsburgh and its surrounding suburbs, it’s not uncommon to see lawn chairs set out to hold parking spaces. While not technically legally binding, everyone in Pittsburgh respects the sanctity of the parking chairs. (Chicago has a slang term for the action of placing chairs in a parking spot, too: dibs.)
There are two main highways through Pittsburgh, which uses a wheel-and-spoke system, routing all traffic through downtown. The interstate designations are 279 or 376, but nobody uses those—they’re all the Parkway. Interstate 279 into the North Hills is the Parkway North; Interstate 376 between the Fort Pitt Tunnels and the airport is the Parkway West; and Interstate 376 from downtown to the turnpike in Monroeville is the Parkway East.
When a Pittsburger says they want to go to Primanti’s for a sammich, they’re referring to Primanti Bros., a regional chain of bar/restaurants famous for its overstuffed sandwiches. The story goes that Joe Primanti was frying some potatoes and threw them on the sandwich, which soon became popular with truck drivers because they could eat with one hand. Primanti’s made a sandwich that contained meat, cheese, French fries, and a vinegar-based cole slaw, and they’ve been an institution ever since.
19. Redd Up
Redd up means “to clean up or make the place presentable.” When PNC Park hosted the All-Star Game in 2006, for example, the city’s mayor announced a “Redd Up” campaign.
Slippery, as in, “It’s snowin’ n’at. Roads are starting to get slippy.”
21. Three Sisters
Due to its rivers, the city of Pittsburgh has an almost comical number of bridges, and many are painted the same shade of yellow (Aztec gold is the precise hue). The Three Sisters bridges, which opened in the 1920s, span the Allegheny River at Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Street. They’ve since been renamed for Roberto Clemente, Andy Warhol and Rachel Carson, but nobody really calls them that.
Yinz is second person singular, or possibly plural, depending on the context. “Are yinz going to the Penguins game?” Yinzer is a term for someone from the Pittsburgh area, variously wielded with pride or shame.