While not as nasally as a Midwestern accent or quite as strong as, say, a Boston accent, there’s a definite “sound” that separates Philadelphia from the rest. The Philly accent is as distinct as that of residents of neighboring New Jersey and New York and bears a strong resemblance to both. When paired with words and phrases that are distinctly Philly, it can be an entertaining sound.
“What accent?” That’s the reply you’re likely to receive if you question a Philadelphian about his manner of speaking. Perhaps there is no better time to experience the unique coupling of the accent and phraseology than when ordering food at a Philadelphia eatery.
“Witterwitout?” – “With or without?” is a common question when ordering the venerable cheesesteak. Often times, vendors forgo pleasantries and instead opt for speeding up the ordering process.
“Whiz Wit/Wit’out” – These two all-important cheesesteak ordering methods could mean the difference between being sniffed out as a tourist or being respected as a local. To order a “whiz wit” means you want your steak topped with Cheese Whiz and fried onions; a “wit’out” is made without the onions. Remember, this is a city where the cheesesteak is a civic symbol and an icon, so it’s a good idea to get the lingo down pat before setting foot in a line because asking, “May I have a cheesesteak sandwich with fried onions?” is sheer sacrilege and the love shown to those who get it wrong can be—well, a little less than brotherly.
“Wooder Ice” – Grammar lovers beware! The bastardization of the word “water” is commonplace—especially in South Philly. Philadelphians are already aware that the term ‘water ice’ is an oxymoron all by itself, so do yourself a favor and don’t point that out.
“Philadelphia Iggles” – First things first, the Philadelphia Eagles are an NFL team—they are not edible—but the team is worth mentioning because talking about food and one’s favorite sports team often goes hand in hand. For example, one might say, “Yo, I just watched the Iggles get crushed—I need a whiz wit bad.” Translation: “The Philadelphia Eagles just suffered another crushing defeat and to nurse my wounds, I am in desperate need of a cheesesteak with Cheese Whiz and fried onions.”
Whether you’re a lifelong resident, or a city newbie, this list should help you perfect your Philly lingo.
Iris McCarthy is a freelance food writer and blogger in the Greater Philadelphia region with a passion for writing and food culture. Iris lives in the Philadelphia suburbs, but spends much of her time eating, working and playing in the city. When she’s not attending local food events, scoping out new ice cream spots to satiate her sweet tooth, or covering the Philly food scene, Iris can be found checking out the latest community theaters and museums. Follow Iris as she dines around Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs on her popular food blog The Palate Princess and via Twitter @PalatePrincess.