Featured, Theory & Essay

Yup, Black Pittsburghers Have A “Pittsburghese” Too

pittsburghI went to college in Buffalo, NY, a city which shares many cultural and aesthetic similarities to Pittsburgh. Well, Pittsburgh in a time warp. It’s a city that’s perhaps 10 or 15 years behind where Pittsburgh currently is, which makes it five years behind Cleveland and 225 years behind D.C. That said, I greatly enjoyed my time there, and I also learned many lessons, including…

1. Toronto is the best city on Earth

(There are two types of people in this world: People who believe Toronto is the best city on Earth. And people who are wrong)

2. Dominicans and Puerto Ricans really, really, really, really hate being mistaken for each other

3. Both ranch and blue cheese are good for dipping both wings and pizza

4. There are few worse feelings in the world than being at a party during the dancehall reggae set and having no one to dance with

(Seriously, I’d bet that 90% of the male-on-male fights I saw at clubs then stemmed from an extended bout of no dancehall dance partner frustration)

5. I have an accent

Although Buffalo and New York City are on opposite sides of the state, both my school and the city had a robust New York City presence and influence. Initially, I was fascinated by the New Yorkers there. They had their own language and slang, they made curious fashion decisions, and they all assumed New York City was the epicenter of everyone’s life, not just theirs (which became extremely annoying).

Example:

Me: “Where are you from?

Them: “The City.

Me (thinking) “There are like 38053 cities in America! Which fucking city are you from?

It was also through them that I first realized I had an accent. As hard as it was for me to understand everything they were saying, it was just as hard for them to understand me. Some even assumed I was from the Deep South (which is as hilarious now as it was then). I was flabbergasted by this. I assumed I spoke “normal, accent-free English” and the New Yorkers were the odd ones. But people from other cities (Buffalo, Toronto, Cleveland, etc) also noticed I had an accent they’d never heard before. It wasn’t until sharing this with my best friend — who was in school in Baltimore — who shared that he’d hear the same thing from his teammates and classmates, that I realized it was a Pittsburgh thing.

My surprise at my accent may come as a surprise. After all, Pittsburgh did just win Gawker’s Ugly Accent tournament. Perhaps people don’t know exactly what Pittsburghese is, but people are aware it is a thing, and native Pittsburghers should be hyper-aware. And I was, but here’s the thing: (Generally speaking) Pittsburghese isn’t associated with Black Pittsburghers. We (Black Pittsburghers) speak regularly, while they (White Pittsburghers) are on that Yinzer shit.

But this is wrong. Perhaps we don’t use the same slang (it’s been over 25 years since I called someone a jagoff) and perhaps there are prominent distinctions within our diction, but Black Pittsburghers also have a “Pittsburghese” with its own unique cadence and rhythm. It’s just not something we tend to recognize until we get away from home and its more noticeable.

It still took me some time to embrace this. After assuming I was the baseline and everyone else spoke with an accent, it was a bit jarring to learn that the way I spoke wasn’t “right,” just Pittsburgh. Also, as anyone who’s ever been in close proximity with a native New Yorker (Harlemites especially) for an extended period of time will tell you, they’re such assholes that they force you to be assholes by osmosis, resulting in you thinking things like “Look, asshole. The way I speak is the right way. You’re wrong, and your city is filled with rats the size of penguins.”

But it eventually happened. And here I am today, over a decade after first learning I had an accent, beaming with pride after seeing my city being recognized for a way of speaking that I’m not even really completely a part of. This might not make much sense if you’re not from Pittsburgh. But I’m used to things said by Pittsburghers not making much sense if you’re not from Pittsburgh, so I don’t care.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • This article is perfection. As i type this I am working in Harrisburg and THEY think I have an accent. I, like Damon always thought that it was just white Pittsburghers till one day I was taking calls as a customer service rep for Verizon back when I was young. The lady on the phone asked where I was located. I said Pittsburgh. She said she could tell THROUGH THE PHONE!! Oh well. If YINZ DAHNT LIKE THE WAY AH TAALK YOU JAGOFFS CAN KICK RAHKS.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    How long does it take to catch? I’ve lived in the North and the South and I find some words come out with a Southern drawl but I’ve yet to hear any yinzer in my conversations.

  • Meridian

    Panama: New York is trash son!
    Damon: I went to school there.

    Sike. That’s not what happened here. *slurps tea obnoxiously loud*

  • Andrea

    I still think white Long Islanders only sound like they are from Lawng Island? And the Black people sound normal. These days no one can guess where I’m from. That could be a DC thing. I guesssss the accent affects Black people too. But when I go home sitting near a Black person on the LIRR is way less annoying than sitting near any white person on the LIRR. I actually am actively avoiding sitting near white people on the LIRR. And I just moved away 4 years ago. Was there a moral to my story? Oh. I don’t know what I sound like. Massapequa, Massapequa Park, Amityville, Copiague? Can’t tell. I probably say Copiague with an accent.

    • Ms. Bridget

      That white Lawng Ooyland accent is something serious!

      • Andrea

        Yes!!!! I wonder if the differences are because of how segregated it is? Or something else.

      • RewindingtonMaximus

        I hate that accent. So so so bad.

    • LEE007

      I generally try not sitting next to anyone on the LIRR. I am one of those assholes that use my bag as a seat filler, LOL.

  • Ray Jefferies

    I didn’t know Pitt had an accent. But then again, I didn’t know Maryland had an accent until I moved back in the area. Sometimes it’s just a few words that I guess constitutes an accent. LIke if you ever hear someone say they want a “hot dug” they’re from Baltimore and they want a “hot dog”.

  • Lagorval

    PPG moved us from da Burgh to rural NC when I was 7. My new classmates (and teachers) spent the first few days of school giggling at everything I said, and in turn I had to ask them to repeat almost everything, and in some cases request that they spell or write down what they were trying to say to me. I think moving to a foreign country would have been easier, since the language barrier would have been expected. I think the Pittsburghese kept me from developing a true southern accent; people tend to express surprise when I tell them I grew up in the South – “You don’t sound Southern!” Now I live in Maryland, or rather “Merlyn” or “Murrahlind”, and people from this “urry-ah” swear they sound like Tom Brokaw. Nobody wants to think they have an accent. :)

    I do love hearing Yinzer, though. Pittsburgh Dad is a hoot, and as Stillers fan I get to hear Pittsburghese on the rare occasions I get to a bar to watch a game. Da Burgh is a special place, and I still miss it.

    • The Merlin accent is like a half-a$$ed Southern accent, like they kinda wanna be down…but not really.

      • Epsilonicus

        The MD shade aint gonna happen old man.

        • Maryland is a very strange place culturally. It’s not bad, but it has a lot of different influences that at first blush don’t seem to go together. On the bright side, you can actually have good Soul Food and good ethnic food on the same street.

        • RewindingtonMaximus

          Nah man, its true. Took a minute to get used to MD slang and drawl…I was not prepared.

        • Rog

          Damn right, it’s not our fault we’re smacked dab in the middle of the East Coast. Travel a little further North they call you country, travel a little further South and they call you, uh, whatever they call Northerners.

          Shoot the accents differ from Central MD to Southern to whatever the hell this is:

          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=su_wmFZ66l0

  • Kim

    lmao the Harlem shade made me feel some type of wayyyy.

    • Andrea

      Pretty Avi!!

      • Kim

        : ) Thank you, yours is pretty as well.

    • Agreed. You’re cute. :) HARLEM WORLD!

      • Kim

        lol thank you, *does the diddy bop*

  • That’s why I appreciated the Gawker tournament using black accents to represent Atlanta. And even with that are differences: we have westside Atlanta (country), eastside Atlanta (less pronounced), and whatever the he11 country mess is on the southside (Young Thug level gibberish). It’s not just different slang and expressions, but different cadence and tonality.

    The moral is, I love black people.

  • miss t-lee

    You have an accent Champie, I remember picking up on it when you first did the podcasts back in the day.
    The gawker tournament is sheer comedy.
    I used to pretend I didn’t have an accent, but that ship has sailed.

    • Bout time u accepted this

      • miss t-lee

        Have a seat…lol

  • Julian Green

    I always wished my accent was thicker; I had to leave South Carolina and to Chicago before anybody told me I sounded southern.

    “4. There are few worse feelings in the world than being at a party during the dancehall reggae set and having no one to dance with”

    That lonely feeling you get when you’re at the Homecoming pajama party and that girl in the pink boy shorts and catwoman t-shirt with no bra that you been with all through the Go-go songs decides she wants to go get some water right when ‘King of the Dancehall’ comes on…

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