"Chicago" How do you say it?

I say “Chic-aw-go.” (with a soft aw) Do you say “Chic-ah-go?” (with a loud honking ah?)

I’m asking because over the weekend we watched the movie Fracture (four out of five stars!) and a character in the movie said, “Chic-ah-go” and it sounded so wrong that I noticed it and it got me to thinking. I’ve always pronounced the soft “aw” in the middle and I was born and raised here. I’m not saying there’s a right way or a wrong way to pronounce the name of our fair city, but what if there is a way natives and non-natives do?

Has anyone else noticed this besides me? Perhaps more importantly, does anyone else even care?  Sure, the Chicago accent is ripe for mockery. And I got it bad. If you could hear me say that last sentence, the vowel sounds would be all drawn-out, loud and nasally, like in the old Saturday Night Live skits, Bill Swerski’s Super Fans. (which I'm pretty sure is based on my actual family.) But even with all the Saaah-sauges and Baaahb’s, George Wendt still pronounced it, Chicawgo. Ah, but wait; George Wendt is from here.

As a pilot, I’ve been schooled whenever I pronounce the names of other people’s cities incorrectly on the PA. New Orleans? Nawlens, all one syllable, is how I was told to say it, which I found amusing since it’s these very same Southerners who insist on adding a syllable to my name. Key-um. Bangor? Emphasis on the “bang,” which I’d thought I’d been doing, but apparently not adding emphasis enough. (They were pretty emphatic about it, too.) And don’t you dare forget St. Paul when you tell folks you’ll be landing in Minneapolis… St. Paul. See how I didn’t forget!

I know. You’re asking, Don’t you have anything more important to do today, Kim? Probably. But what if I want to help out some actor trying to get a part as an authentic Chicagoan and they’re Googling how to pronounce “Chicago” and sure, they can find other stuff on how it’s said, like Ask the Chicagoist: how do you say Chicago? But what I want to know is, how do most natives say it? And why did it sound so, well, mispronounced when that actress said, "Chic-ah-go?"

Regardless, I think one thing we can all agree on, is that it’s a Sh sound at the beginning and not a Ch, as in “chips”. Which reminds me, I need to pick up some Kielbasa at the store, you know, if I ever get around to doing something important today.

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  • For Native Chicagoans it is the law
    To pronounce 'Chicago' with the 'aw'/

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    Never heard that one, Aquinas wired! Love it (and not just because I'm of the "aw" ilk.) Who doesn't love a good comment poem?!

  • I too pronounce Chicago like you Kim. I was taken to task by an older lady upon arrival in Portland, OR once for mispronuncing the name of the Willamette River over the p.a. I pronounced it WILL-a-met. She scolded me and told me it was pronounced Will-AM-et as in "It's the Willamette, damn it!" I've never screwed it up since then.

  • In reply to scobatz:

    Oof. Been pronouncing Willamette wrong all these years too.
    I know there are more "lessons" I've had, just can't remember all of them. Thanks, as always, for the comment scobatz!

  • My husband and I have the same debate. I say Chic-AH-go and he says Chic-aw-go and we grew up in the same Chicagoland area. Personally, I think I say it correctly.

  • Chic-AH-go. If anyone knows anything about the Chic-AAAAHH-go accent, they would vote Chic-AH-go.

  • I say Chi-CAH-go, but with an English accent!
    My kids are all born and raised here but don't seem to have a thick Chicago accent. That is, my college freshman didn't think she had one until she went to college in DC, where her friends are all from the East coast. She was most indignant a few weeks ago when they kept asking her to say the name Jack! Apparently she gave it two syllables.

  • In reply to Expat in Chicago:

    Jack with two syllables? Uh oh. Guess I do it too. Suppose I shouldn't have been making fun of the Southern version of my name...

    Actually, I didn't even know I had a Chicago accent until I got into radio down at U of I. They had to beat it out of me. Then, when I moved back home in '89, it was all I could hear--the DJ's on the radio, the controllers in the tower.

    Now that I've been back all these years, I sometimes annoy even myself with the honking "ahs" and nasally "ays". But I'm proud of it! It means I'm from here!

    Thanks for the comment, Expat. (I know you're not from here, but at least you got here as soon as you could!)

  • Such a muckraker I am.
    Thanks for reading and for all the comments!

  • You're all wrong. Properly, it's Shhh-caw-go. At least that's how I pronounce it in my fronch room. MTM.

  • In reply to Mary Tyler Mom:

    MTM, I just tried that a couple a times and ended up hocking a loogie on the floor, just fyi.

  • In reply to Mary Tyler Mom:

    Agree. Shhh-caw-go. (I'm NW of Chicago by Wisconsin.)

  • fb_avatar

    Chi CAH go. I'm born and raised here. Maybe the uppity people say ir differently? :)

  • In reply to Jim Harasek:

    :-) The only time I've been accused of being uppity is when I'm in a plane! Now, if you want to get into the whole tom-ay-to vs. tom-ah-to and the uppity thing...

  • When I first moved here, I pointed out to my co-workers and friends that everybody up here says Chicago different than the rest of the country says it. Now I try to saw the "aw" so that I fit in. :)

  • I was born in Cincinnati, Oh. When I came here in 1978 I thought the Chi-ka-go accent was one of the worst, most harsh thing I ever heard. It made everyone sound stupid to me... not stupid as in absurd, but stupid as in dumb, illiterate, unschooled.

    I found girls with the hard Chi-ka-go accent to be less attractive.

    I pronounce it Chi-cah-go.

    But, I moved to the south side and I soon learned that not every area of Chicago had that harsh, ugly accent.

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