How To Talk Like a Local (AKA Clevelandisms)!!!!

by | Jun 2, 2021 | NE Ohio in the News

Every town has colloquialisms and historic references that the locals all understand but that might make a newcomer scratch their head. How confusing is it for a recent transplant to hear locals refer to a building by it’s previous tenant/name even though it was renamed decades ago? Old habits die hard!
Acronyms and nicknames may instantly resonate with people who have lived in Greater Cleveland a long time, but can cause confusion to those new to our region, so we asked EA’s Brad Withers to come up with a curated list of shorthands and local references  (Clevelandisms?) we all take for granted but might need an explanation to someone who is new to town. Here is his short list.

Neighborhoods

Over time Clevelanders have shortened the names of many suburb to these abbreviated nicknames:

spring trees bloom in the Heights

  • River = Rocky River
  • Shaker = Shaker Heights (not to be confused with the main thoroughfare, Shaker Boulevard, \ that traverses this city and several other eastside neighborhoods)
  • Chagrin = Chagrin Falls (again not to be confused with Chagrin Boulevard, a major east/west route that runs to but not through Chagrin Falls)
  • Bay = Bay Village
  • Pepper = Pepper Pike

Saying it right:

  • the southeast suburb of Solon is pronounced SO Lin rather than like a hair salon
  • Mantua is pronounced Manaway, not Man Cho Uh
  • Mentor is pronounced Menner not MenTOR. Just helping you sound like a local!

Sports Related

Clevelanders are big sports fans. Monday Night Football was devised by a past Brown’s owner Art Modell (read more about that story here).  The  former stadiums and arenas for our sports teams are still often referenced. Here’s the cheat sheet on those terms:

  • The Stadium – the 80,000 seat stadium the Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Indians played in before they moved into their current locations; and the current Browns stadium is still referred to this way.
  • The Q – the Cleveland Cavaliers play basketball in the Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse (no nickname has yet emerged but we are thinking Rocket or Fieldhouse?). The Q was short for Quicken Loans Arena (when it originally opened it was known as Gund Arena for the Gund family that relocated the team back downtown after a long run at The Richfield Coliseum (AKA The Coliseum) in Summit County.
  • The Jake – The Cleveland Indians play at Progressive Field , but before the Cleveland-based insurance company claimed naming rights, it was known as Jacobs Field or The Jake (by all but the man who it was named after, Indians then owner, Dick Jacobs)

Transportation & Roads

First of all, no matter how far anything is in real-time, locals all say “oh that’s only 20 minutes away”. Fact check them with GPS before you hop in the car, chances are it’s more like 30 or 40 if it’s on the other side of town.

  • The Innerbelt –  When I-71 deadends into I-90 just west of downtown Cleveland there is a high-level bridge, then the road goes below grade as it passes thru city streets.This 3.2 mile section of roadway is known as The Innerbelt
  • Deadman’s Curve  – The Innerbelt makes a 90-degree turn as it leaves downtown Cleveland and heads east as I-9o and this abrupt turn is the scene of many accidents, despite blinking links and signage that warns drivers to slow to 35 MPH. In fact, driver’s ed film crews have set up cameras to catch these crashes on tape to show their students. The curve was “softened” about twenty years ago and it has lessened fatal accidents dramatically.
  • The Shoreway most often refers to the section of I-90 that parallels Lake Erie’s shoreline as it heads east out of downtown Cleveland.  This is the East Shoreway; There is also a West Shoreway which is Rt 2 headed west along Lake Erie from downtown until it deadends into the Edgewater Park neighborhood
  • The Rapid – Cleveland’s above-ground train system. Originally called the “rapid transit” which supplanted slow trolley cars. Now it is run by the RTA which stands for the Regional Transit Authority that oversees all of the busses and trains in the county. There are 3 different train lines: the Red Line, Blue Line and Green Line. The Red Line goes from the Airport to Windemere in East Cleveland. The Green and Blue Lines both start at the Terminal Tower and head East to Shaker Heights. At Shaker Square they separate. The Green Line goes directly East following Shaker Boulevard and terminates at Green road and the Blue Line follows Van Aken Boulevard and terminates at Warrensville Road.
  • The Healthline – RTA bus that serves Euclid Avenue from Public Square to University Circle, connecting two of our major hospital systems (Cleveland Clinic and UH) with those who live and work in downtown
  • SOM – this road, also known as Rt. 91 is short for Solon, Orange, Mayfield and is a major north/south connector thru east side neighborhoods

Places That Might Not Be On A Map

The city of Cleveland has more than 30 distinct neighborhoods, created in the 1980s to help smaller areas of the city focus on their individual assets and opportunities for growth or development. Some of the ones you might visit:

  • Warehouse District – west of Public Square from West 3rd to W.10th – first district neighborhood formed; many commercial and warehouse buildings have been converted to residential and office buildings with ground-floor retail & restaurants; Artists squatted in these buildings in the 1970’s and ’80’s until City Council changed the laws to allow residential living
  • Gateway District – the area surrounding the Indians ballpark and the Cavaliers arena was originally known as Gateway and was built on a former market for fruits and vegetables. This residential and office district is still known by that name.
  • Midtown  – the roughly 3  mile stretch between downtown (Cleveland State University campus) and the museum district known as University Circle is known as MidTown.
  • University Circle – was originally a large circle for public transit to flip around and head back downtown; today is home to most of our major museums, two major hospitals, and many non-profits. When driving in the area, you may notice silver arches planted in the green space in between lanes. That delineates the original circle space.
  • Ohio City  – was a separate city from Cleveland just west of downtown and across the Cuyahoga River. It was incorporated into Cleveland in the early 1900s. Generally, it spans from W. 25th Street to Lorain on the south and Detroit Road on the north. Its western boundary has always been a bit fuzzy. Proud residents fly a pennant blue flag with stars (the original flag from when it was it’s own city)
  • Hingetown – a section of Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood anchored at W. 28 & Church by restaurants, bars, the Cleveland Museum of Art’s westside outpost Transformer Station and lots more. Concept was that this section of town is the hinge between Gordon Square Arts District, Downtown and Ohio City
  • Tremont – a triangular neighborhood bounded by The Innerbelt to the west, the Cuyahoga River to the east and north, and I-490 on the south. Widely known as a restaurant destination. Originally it was meant to house a college and you can see that reflected in the street signs (Professor, Literary, College, etc.)
  • Duck island – Tremont claims this neigborhood, but it’s just as close to Ohio City; If you are on Abbey Road heading from the West Side Market over to the CLE sign for a photo, or to a spot in Tremont, you are driving thru Duck Island, justs a few streets make up this small micro neighborhood in the city of Cleveland. Our favorite spot here? Forest City Brewery. Go there and you will have been to Duck Island!
  • Shaker Square – shops, restaurants, and two lines of the RTA Rapid anchor this area just west of Shaker Heights – and home to one of the best farmer’s markets in the region!

Other places you might wonder where the heck they are:

  • Muni Lot – Muni is short for Municipal and it refers to the city-owned lot east of FirstEnergy Stadium and just south of I-90. It is well known as the site for Cleveland Browns tailgating parties before and during games.
  • The Islands – head west from Cleveland about 90 miles and you reach the Sandusky Island of Put In Bay (AKA South Bass Island) Kelley’s Island and others. This is where one of the largest concentrations of pleasure boats in the world exists. Nearby Cedar Point Amusement Park is one of the destinations
  • The Heights – while many neighborhoods in the Cleveland/Akron area have the name Heights in them (Broadview Heights, Richmond Heights, Fairlawn Heights) when locals refer to The Heights, they are talking about the three suburbs just east of Cleveland: Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights and University Heights.
  • Public Square – exact center of downtown Cleveland anchored by elegantly, and brightly lit, Terminal Tower
  • Emerald Necklace – how we describe the beautiful green ring around our region created by the many public parks in the Cleveland Metroparks system
  • Towpath although originally the name of the public trail that hugs the Ohio & Erie Canal and runs from Lake Erie to Zoar, Ohio (some parts still under acquisition/construction), we all laugh that almost any trail that even touches this trail is seen as part of the Towpath
  • Blossom – refers to the summer home of the Cleveland Orchestra (and dozens of other great popular bands on alternate nights), Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls Ohio
  • Opportunity Corridor – connects near westside neighborhoods to University Circle on the east with a swath of newly recreated roads, with the goal of creating opportunities in a large area of town ungraciously called the Forgotten Triangle
  • Whiskey Island – just east of Edgewater Park, this area is not really an island but sits on the western side of the mouth of Cuyahoga River. Legend has it that this is where illegal alcohol was delivered to the US from Canada during Prohibition. Wendy Park is part of this public park

Weather Related:

  • Lake Effect Snow – Cleveland receives around 60 inches of snow a year. The moisture is picked up off the lake until it freezes over in the Winter. Then we have beautiful blue skies.
  • Snowbelt – is an east side of Cleveland phenomenon. The lake on the West side parallels the air movement of Eastbound fronts. On the East side the shoreline turns a bit North, and the beginning of the Allegheny mountain range’s foothills emerge. Thus, compressing the clouds. The further East you go, the more snow. In general, the snow belt is East of Cuyahoga county and Chardon is the epicenter of our snowbelt.
  • Snowbirds – You will notice small elegantly shaped metal leaves on the roofs of many homes. Especially slate roofs. These hold the snow back so that it will melt and not remove the gutter from the force of the heavy wet snow.
  • Mudroom – This is at one’s back door. It may be just a corridor or and actual functional room. It is a space to remove one’s shoes so as to not track mud,. snow or slush thorough the house.
  • Here’s an earlier blog post on winters in Greater Cleveland/Akron for more info

Food

While Cleveland does not have one food that we are instantly known for nationally like deep dish pizza in Chicago, ribs in Memphis, or sourdough bread in San Fran, we have lots of local foods that might be fun to explore that are unique to our town or showcase the 100+ nationalities that make up our region. And just to start it off, we call it pop, not soda.

Polish boy – Seti’s food truck’s specialty

  • Hough:  Cleveland had a small chain of bakeries by the name of Hough (pronounced huff).  Just say that name and anyone over the age of 40 will involuntarily lick their lips. Having a Hough cake at your birthday party or graduation was mandatory. But then the bakery closed.  Luckily, their former head baker, Archie, had those recipes in his brain so he opened Archie’s Hough Bakery and locals still can enjoy these cakes with icing that can’t be described, just taste it!
  • Pączki– there are about 8 ways to spell it but it’s pronounced “poon shki” and it’s a deep-fried Polish doughnut that is enjoyed in the Lenten season.
  • Chip Chop Ham – Lawsons, an early convenience store chain, had a product of thinly sliced and then chopped ham. There was a secret sauce which made it popular. It is a food that lives in people’s memories. A couple of independent stores still make their own version.
  • Polish Boy – our town’s unofficial signature dish is the Polish Boy and it’s a kielbasa sausage plopped into a hot dog style on a bun and often loaded up with coleslaw or chili or French fries. Don’t even count the calories, you’ll scream, but sometimes it’s an indulgent treat. The best one in town is in Ohio City, walk to Lorain & W. 42nd Street and look for the Seti’s Polish Boy food truck. We know it’s a weird name, but it’s delicious.
  • Pierogis – every nationality has some version of delicious dough filled with savory items – comfort food! Lots of Eastern Europeans settled in CLE and brought these delicious little dough pockets filled with cheese and onions or potatoes, sometimes they are fried, sometimes boiled, always yummy with apple sauce or sour cream
  • And speaking of dogs in buns, Clevelanders love a different kind of mustard on their hot dogs and there are strong feelings about both locally made Stadium Mustard & Ballpark Mustard – read about that fun rivalry here.

Local Store Pride

Clevelanders will still refer to some shops that have been gone for decades (nostalgia?) including three long-gone department stores: Halle’s, May Company, and Higbees. While these shops may be long gone, their beautiful buildings on Euclid Avenue in downtown CLE have all been repurposed, the former two as residential apartment buildings and the latter as the JACK Casino. Other big local stores/chains you should know about:

  • Malley’s –  is a local chocolate confectionery, and Easter is not to be celebrated without their signature green & pink wrapped chocolates. Gotta love their advertising – three large pink tanks noticeable from I-480 east of Hopkins Airport that spell out Milk, Cocoa and Sugar
  • Heinen’s  – When someone says they are going to Heinen’s, they are headed to one of the supermarkets run by 3rd generation Heinen family scattered all over the region
  • Marc’s – a deep discount store that has many stock items and randomly has highly discounted items that are closeouts. It is a small local chain that appeals to bargain hunters.

Misc/Random: 

  • The Clinic – refers to world-renowned The Cleveland Clinic, with the main campus in University Circle
  • Metro – refers to MetroHealth Medical Center, with the main campus on the near west side of Cleveland
  • Devils Strip or Tree Lawn – Akronites call the strip of grass between the sidewalk and street the Devil’s Strip. Clevelanders, the tree lawn as in “take your garbage cans to the tree lawn” on trash pick up day
  • Case – refers to Case Western Reserve University, located in University Circle
  • The Feast – every August the Little Italy neighborhood throws a week-long party that closes down Mayfield Road and Murray Hill Road to traffic and entices all around with mouth-watering smells of pasta and garlic, along with live music.
  • Dyngus Day – a Polish tradition celebrating the day after Easter as part spring is here and part, Lent is over let’s celebrate.
  • You guys – our version of saying y’all (the south) or yinzers (Pittsburgh) as in “Hey, do you guys want to go to dinner Friday night?”

Acronyms You May Hear:

  • US – University School, private all-boys PreK-12th grade with campuses in Shaker Heights and Hunting Valley
  • HB – Hathaway Brown, private, all-girls PreK-12 grade with a Shaker Heights campus
  • UH – University Hospitals, with a main campus in University Circle
  • RITA – that dreaded income tax collection agency known as Regional Income Tax Authority that surprises newcomers
  • MMS – this will usually be an old rocker, referring to WMMS, 100.7 FM radio station that was nationally known for launching the careers of many rock stars in the 1970’s and 1980’s and is still on the radio dial today

What other local slang should we add to this list? Share away, we’ve all heard them.
Executive Arrangements made it through the pandemic and is a stronger, leaner, and more creative company than before. We didn’t lose a single staff member and believe we have the best team around. Grateful for our brisk return of business in 2021 and ready to help organizations in Greater Cleveland/Akron to attract and on-board the best talent possible by providing the critical first impression of our region for candidates, then acclimating and connecting newcomers once they arrive.

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