Deb Amy Is Up On The Roof. Or Is That Rough?

This might not be what you think it is!

I moved to the midwest in the mid-1990’s after a lifetime in Philadelphia. Until I took the twelve hour drive I’d never been farther west than Harrisburg, PA. I was thirty. My son was two-and-a-half (don’t do the math, he turns 21 in March) and was slow to speak, so he really lassoed his speech skills as a resident of a quaint Chicago suburb.  Which is when we realized that not only were we raising a little boy who liked Batman and hats and Disney movies, but one who had — AN ACCENT.

It had never occurred to us that our kids would speak differently, that their colloquialisms would not resemble ours. Nor did we realize that this would become a source of endless entertainment as we added a daughter to the family and she, too, talked funny.

Or was that us?

Even recently when we were having dinner with a friend from Philadelphia, we ambled into our favorite game: How Do You Say This?

So I thought we could play it here!  But you have to say the words aloud!  I promise, no one is listening.

1) Say: forehead (did you say it?)

Did you say 4-head or far-head?  If you’re my kids you said 4-head. If  you’re most people you said 4-head.  But if you’re from Philadelphia, like me, even though I took a college class to rid myself of the Philly accent, I still say far-head.  This amuses my almost-grown children to no end.

2) Say: orange (very good)

Did you say OR-ange or did you say R-ange? I say R-ange. Or-ange sounds funny to me still, and I haven’t lived in Philly since 1990. You can take the girl out of the old neighborhood…as they say.

3) Say: sub (as in sandwich) Ha, this was a trick question. It’s a hoagie.

4) Now this is a tricky one. Read this line aloud.  Really. It doesn’t work if you say it inside your head.

Merry Mary Married Hairy Harry

 Ok, now when my kids read that line, Merry, Mary, and Married sound EXACTLY the same. When I say it (obviously correctly) they all sound different. Same goes for Hairy Harry (poor guy).

When my kids read it, Merry, Mary and Married sound like: MARY. And Hairy and Harry sound like: HAIRY.

It’s an A thing.

When I read it, Merry has a short e, Mary sounds NORMAL and Married sounds like Maah-ried.

You know, CORRECT.

This does not even start to get into the realm of jimmies which the world thinks of as sprinkles, or playgrounds that Chicagoans call parks, or movies that Chicagoans call shows. A friend used to say she was going to a show almost every weekend and I imagined her heading downtown to the swanky Broadway in Chicago theaters and spending a boatload on tickets. In reality, she was dropping $9 at the movies in the town over.

I love regional dialects and the special names that go with special places that we know. In Philadelphia when you go downtown you go “into town.” It looks like this:


If you’re in my small Chicago suburb and say you’re going “into town” then you are going here:


Both destinations are lovely, but very different. The biggest drawback to Mayberry? You can’t get a soft pretzel on a street corner.

So, do you have an accent?

9 Replies to “Deb Amy Is Up On The Roof. Or Is That Rough?”

  1. I apparently have a Canadian one. It pops out at unexpected times. Actually, what has begun to happen is that I just pronounce words weird. This is a result of a) learning most of my vocabulary from independent reading and not knowing how to pronounce words in the first place b) growing up in Canada, c) living in the US and d) being extremely sensitive to other accents and dialects. Sometimes I’m talking and a word is coming up and I can’t make up my mind how to pronounce it and I just end up sounding like an idiot. But that’s ok. I can deal with it.

    1. People usually know I’m not from Chicago, but can’t place the accent. For this, I’m grateful since I think I probably had a Rocky/Adrienne sounding one before taking a speech class to soften/get rid of it. When I go back to Philly, it’s all I hear, and I’m sure I slip right back into it depending on the conversation. Sometimes I intentionally say things the way I know someone wants to hear it. Just makes things easier.

  2. So, I pronounce almost all of the above the same as you (yo, Philly!). That said, I definitely do not have a Philly accent. I say wah-ter, not wooter, Eagle, not Iggle, etc. My mom is originally from the midwest (Detroit) but has a non-descript North American accent, so I basically sound just like her ;).

  3. LOVE IT! What a great game!

    I talk like your kids … 100%.

    My mother went through the same experience you did – she’s from rural Texas (still has a soft accent even after 40+ years in California) but my brother and I were both born in California (which has no discernible accent) so for years she had children who pronounced almost everything very differently than she did. And you know – the oddity of that never occurred to me until today!

  4. I grew up in Maine andI went to college in Philly. After school I moved back to Maine where I was asked if I was FROM Philadelphia. Apparently I acquired the Philadelphia “O.” Have you acquired the Chicago ROOF that sounds like a dog barking RUFF? We all have our regionalized accents. Don’t get me started on my Maine accent.

  5. I love this post. I’ve never been to Philly, but it’s always interesting hearing about other accents. My little brother actually goes to college in PA (Pittsburgh) and is always talking about how much he wants to go to Philly with his friends for spring break.

    I’m from the Midwest, born and raised, which is slightly boring I’ll admit, but I don’t think we have an accent. (Isn’t that way everyone says?) I spent a year in Australia after college and roomed with a few girls from Germany, France, and one from Oregon. We didn’t sound different, but she always insisted that the West Coast is where there isn’t an accent, and I’d say it was the Midwest. Either way, we were certain that it was everyone else around us that had accents (even though we were the odd ones out in Australia…). That being said, a lot of Australians thought I was one of them. Apparently if you’re from the Midwest, they think you sound like them. I found that very amusing. But I love accents, they’re fun.

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