The Philadelphia Accent
March 2, 2014 11:01 AM   Subscribe

I grew up in South Philly and spent most of the past decade working as a translator in Beijing, and I am pretty sure that if "mumbled Mandarin without the tonal shifts" made sense it would be wrong. But this is a fun article otherwise, and it does a nice job of pointing out the underrepresentation of the Philly accent in movies.

One of the best Philly accents I can remember hearing in a major movie was from Toni Collette in The Sixth Sense. It's been years since I saw it, so I could be wrong, but I remember thinking that she absolutely nailed the accent.
posted by bokane at 11:24 AM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

It's been a long time since I saw the Sixth Sense, but I was also impressed with Julia Stiles in Silver Linings Playbook. I used to live in the Philadelphia area. Every time she opened her mouth, I thought, "Damn, I used to work with that girl."
posted by jonp72 at 11:57 AM on March 2, 2014

The sense of horror when you realize you can't hear a philly accent because you nearly have one.
posted by Ferreous at 12:10 PM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

I made a conscious effort to stop saying wooder long ago, but I could never seem to give up on youze guyz.
posted by orme at 12:24 PM on March 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

I really enjoyed Silver Linings Playbook, and at first I was disappointed Cooper didn't have an accent, but it's probably not a good idea to turn a native Philadelphian loose while everyone else has to fake it. An accent in the "uncanny valley" between caricature and native speaker could ruin an otherwise good performance, so the winning move is probably to just let the acting do the talking and use the generic "Hollywood American" accent. Rob McElhenney doesn't employ a real strong Philly accent on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and has said it was because he was coached out of him... I'd imagine he could accentuate it more, but that might put his co-stars in an awkward position of trying to keep up.

Seth Green is one guy who's still keeping it real with a lot of Philly in his accent, and Kate Flannery of The Office let it slip a few times, too, which of course wouldn't be out of place up in Scranton.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:40 PM on March 2, 2014

Lived in Philly during grad school and picked up the accent a bit. Now I'm living in Yonkers and picking up that accent. I miss Philly. The one nice thing is that both of the above refer to tomato sauce as gravy.

Confusing thing
Hoagie: Philly
Wedge: Yonkers
posted by sciencegeek at 12:48 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

The one my Sunday school teacher hated the most was saying myun for mine. I still do it. Mostly out of spite. And I will not stop saying wudder.

"that boddle of wudder is myun. I bought it at the Acame."
posted by interplanetjanet at 12:49 PM on March 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think I have this right:

Snocone: Oregon
Water ice: Philadelphia
Italian ice: NYC
something completely else: Baltimore

The Baltimore info came from a student who described trying to sell his water ice in Baltimore and everybody was confused because it is something else there. Frankly, calling something water ice is inherently confusing in its redundancy.
posted by angrycat at 12:59 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Dan's a friend....he's also written two books of poems based on every Queen song.
posted by brujita at 1:00 PM on March 2, 2014

My boyfriend, who used to have this charming slightly southern accent from growing up in Atlanta, has lived in Philly for five years and says wooter and cawwwowowwoffee and goes to the Wawa fera hewgie. It is a goddamn tragedy, I'm telling you.

I've been here three years and haven't picked up Philly at all. If anything, I've shifted toward sounding even more Midwestern than I ever did when I was growing up in Ohio.
posted by coppermoss at 1:01 PM on March 2, 2014


They're "sno(w) cones" in Maryland. Come summer, kids and adults will have stands of varying levels of professionalism serving the public. Orange with marshmallow cream, please.
posted by the sobsister at 1:31 PM on March 2, 2014

Snow cone isn't the same thing as Italian ice.

I don't think I've ever met anyone with a Philly accent but from peoples descriptions it doesn't sound too dissimilar from L.i. At least in terms of a=aw.
posted by bleep at 1:33 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Three years living in Philly and the only thing I gained was the ability to say "a'ight" without feeling like an ironic douchebag.
posted by 256 at 1:45 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

My mother worked really hard to lose her Philadelphia/South Jersey accent when she was heading to college (this is the accent where radiator rhymes with gladiator, and creek sounds like crick) and I never picked up much of it despite being in the area from the age of 6 to 22. I've only ever been pegged as from the Philadelphia/South Jersey area by one person and he grew up a couple of towns over from me. My brother-in-law has a full on South Jersey version though (i.e. the Eagles are the Iggles.) It's not my favorite accent, but it is distinctive. If I ever get homesick all I have to do is listen to Chris Matthews, who has never lost his accent. This article on the Philadelphia accent has a link to a video of Chris Matthews, who to my ear has a pretty classic version of the accent. See also Sean Monahan (youtube link). If you hear the way Sean is pronouncing the word Philadelphia, particularly as the video goes on, that is a real "tell" that he is from the area.
posted by gudrun at 1:47 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Man, gudrun, that Sean Monahan video really hammered home how much I have been missing Philly without knowing it.
posted by 256 at 1:51 PM on March 2, 2014

"Shore thing" were the last words ever spoken to my face by my soon-to-be-ex wife at the Philadelphia International Airport, and she wasn't talking about going to the beach.
posted by item at 2:00 PM on March 2, 2014

256 - it really takes you there doesn't it. You can check out Sean Monahan's 5 videos on Mid-Atlantic English here.
posted by gudrun at 2:04 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

Kevin Bacon used his full Philadelphia accent for Sleepers, where he played an awful villain, and it made his performance so much more chilling because he sounded like half of the men in my family.

I feel like I don't have much of a Philadelphia accent, except when it comes to "twenty" which will always rhyme with "money."
posted by gladly at 2:08 PM on March 2, 2014

The one thing I'll say about Chris Matthews is, yes, a lot of Philly people talk fast and mash words together, but not as fast as he does. He'll mash entire sentences into like two syllables such that I even have a hard time following him. And if he has Ed Rendell on his show, I feel very bad for the closed captioning people. Another frequent MSNBC guest with a really pronounced Philly accent is fmr. Rep Patrick Murphy, and here's a fun clip of Matthews and Murphy talking politics.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:10 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh, and the Mike Kern "Tagger Woods" thing from the Sean Monahan video? Nobody I knew exaggerated it like that. I think there might be some affectation there.
posted by tonycpsu at 2:12 PM on March 2, 2014

tonycpsu - Mike Kern may be exaggerating a little, but I wish I had a video of my brother-in-law, because his accent is that extreme naturally.
posted by gudrun at 2:15 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Movie producers are lazy about accents and pander to the mainstream: yeah, we knew that. The Philadelphia accent being less-known in popular culture certainly makes an already-difficult dialect even less imitable. What's happening to the accent "in the wild" is a totally different issue than how it's being represented in mainstream Hollywood movies, though.

But the author cites a "charming Southern drawl" an example of a recognizable accent...what praytell is that supposed to mean? That's just like lumping Philadelphia and South Jersey in with North Jersey and New York.
posted by desuetude at 2:18 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Angrycat: It's actually Wooder Oice.
posted by Ike_Arumba at 2:20 PM on March 2, 2014 [5 favorites]

Here's an interview with Bradley Cooper, demonstrating that he can do the accent quite well if he puts his mind to it.
posted by gudrun at 2:34 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

posted by DoctorFedora at 2:59 PM on March 2, 2014 [9 favorites]

One thing I do like about It's Always Sunny is the sort of accent "generation gap" embodied by Danny DeVito vs. the younger cast, who generally talk with a much more "neutral" accent.

I love the way Danny DeVito pronounces "hoors"
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:12 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

also in this same class, the students were amazed that I didn't know what an indoor porch was. I honestly don't know if that is a philly thing or an upper darby thing or what
posted by angrycat at 3:13 PM on March 2, 2014

I've only ever been to Philadelphia once or twice, and was completely unaware that there was a distinctive accent. But I've listened to every video linked above, and I can only hear the accent at certain moments -- a couple of the old guys in the Sean Monahan video, and when Bradley Cooper does the hoagie commercial bit, for example. The rest of the time I'm just not hearing it, like it's too close to my idea of normal for me to catch it or something.
posted by Dip Flash at 3:21 PM on March 2, 2014

I thought it was bad when I moved from Oklahoma City to Austin, and my Texan coworkers made fun of my Oklahoma accent. "Say that again! Dude, say what you just said, again..."

Watching some of Sean Monahan's videos, I can hear and understand him just fine; it's when I try to pay attention to the captions that I start tripping up. Maybe it's the past twelve years of working for a large international company with coworkers from EVERYWHERE, a manager originally from Canada, and a direct peer and friend who is from Australia but has more of a British accent...
posted by mrbill at 3:30 PM on March 2, 2014

A thing that doesn't come through terrible well on paper or on certain videos is the flowing way a philly accent works in general conversation. It's one of the most slurry accents I can think of, full sentences will be compressed into one continuous word. "d'jawannago'tawawa?"

While little tidbits of philly accented speech are perfectly comprehensible, a conversation between people with said accent is a messy pile of highly condensed phrases bouncing back and forth like late game pong.
posted by Ferreous at 4:18 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Love this, though as someone who's never been to Philadelphia, the person it's reminding me most of is Philly Boy Roy.
posted by benito.strauss at 4:50 PM on March 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

posted by SansPoint at 5:10 PM on March 2, 2014

wanna gototha pizzajawn?
posted by sciencegeek at 5:12 PM on March 2, 2014

It's one of the most slurry accents I can think of, full sentences will be compressed into one continuous word.

This is highly characteristic of certain parts of West Virginia.
posted by Wolfdog at 5:26 PM on March 2, 2014

something completely else: Baltimore

The definitive Baltimore ice-based summer treat is the snowball, which is really only like water ice insofar as they're both served frozen. The snowcone (what I grew up with in South Jersey) and snowball start with a base of plain ice, crushed or shaved, and then have luridly colored and flavored syrup added to them. Your student might've gotten more traction calling it "Italian ice" as there's a great homegrown place to get it in Baltimore, as well as a fair few Rita's locations (although I think Rita's has moved in within the last 10-15 years). It definitely doesn't have the local cachet of the snowball, though.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:44 PM on March 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

"Italian Ice" is what I grew up eating in Baltimore, but it's got finer crystals and is more dense than water ice.
posted by desuetude at 9:17 PM on March 2, 2014

In New Orleans they put condensed milk in their snowballs.
posted by brujita at 9:27 PM on March 2, 2014

See also Sean Monahan

I'm so glad he came up. I've been sitting on those Philly Tawk videos for a long time thinking of making a post, and hadn't gotten around to it. He's very, very good.
posted by Miko at 9:53 PM on March 2, 2014

Just a note, snowcones and water ice ("wooder ice") are different. Italian ice is even different. They're all variants. Italian ice is frozen fairly hard and is a cohesive mass. Water ice is quite soft, one step stiffer than a slushie. Snowcones have large ice granules which are doused with syrup. They're related but unique not just in name, but composition.

It confuses matters that outside Philly, "Rita's Water Ice" carries the name "Rita's Italian Ice."

I also had some kind of ice in Chicago that was pretty water-ice-like. I forget what they called it.
posted by Miko at 9:55 PM on March 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

We moved from Philly to St. Louis when I was 12, and the first thing I did was try and ditch the accent. I succeeded only in submerging it. So now, I mostly talk in boring American newscaster English, but certain words are dead giveaways. And yes, the slurring thing. Not only do I talk like that, I text like that.

Humorously, my mother made absolutely no attempt to disguise her Philly accent, and my friends would tease me about how my mom sounded like Kyle's mom from South Park. I guess the Philly accent is do unrepresented in the media that, to Midwestern ears, it sounds identical to Mrs. Broflovski's Long Island-ese.

As a side note, what is up with people in the Bay Area pronouncing the word "scenario" as scen-AR-i-o and not scen-AIR-i-o? Do they do that anywhere else?
posted by evil otto at 4:26 AM on March 3, 2014

It's a murrkle my kids don't have the accent too b'yaad. Dey got de atty-tood doh.
posted by Mister_A at 8:44 AM on March 3, 2014 [3 favorites]

Hm. Midwest is midwest, I guess; grew up on the north side of Chicago, and I can't hear any of this, except for the specific words I've learned to speak more neutrally so my ex would stop giving me a hard time. Most people think of the south side Chicago accent when they think of a Chicago accent, maybe because the north side is so generically like the one being discussed here.

I also had some kind of ice in Chicago that was pretty water-ice-like. I forget what they called it.

Italian ice, always italian ice. In a little paper cup.
posted by davejay at 8:44 AM on March 3, 2014

Also lots of Philly people say 'ax' for 'ask,' which I find hilarious.
posted by Mister_A at 9:04 AM on March 3, 2014

slightly southern accent from growing up in Atlanta

I'm from Atlanta and I would argue that the "Atlanta Southern" accent is so slight as to be non-existent. My relatives from Philly/Jersey with their thick as tar accents, however, disagree. Hypocrites.
posted by Panjandrum at 9:06 AM on March 3, 2014

My stepson, unlike me, was born and raised in fluffya, and was talking one night about how he'd seen "dravs" on their school trip, and I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. I asked him where they went on that school trip — the zoo, it was. I eventually figured out that he'd seen giraffes. So even after living in this 'burg for 15 years, I could still be stumped occasionally by the Philly accent.
posted by Mister_A at 9:39 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I lived in Philly for a few years, taught school there. One of the things that totally puzzled me at first was the kindergarten kids asking for "Crowns."

They meant "Crayons."

The other thing that struck my ear strangely at first was "Hollow-een" for "Halloween."

I didn't even grow up that far away - on the northern end of the Jersey Shore. We had a totally different accent, 1.5 hours away. I get an annual dose of Fluffya accents on our week "down the Shore" every summer, though. There's a clear dividing line, just below Long Beach Island, where the vacationers come from Philly rather than New York and the NJ 'burbs, and you can hear it immediately.
posted by Miko at 10:12 AM on March 3, 2014

I'm from Philadelphia. When I was growing up I was interested in astronomy and read once that comets were made out of "water ice". I was very confused until later on I read something about "methane ice".
posted by madcaptenor at 10:39 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

Also lots of Philly people say 'ax' for 'ask,' which I find hilarious.

That's been a feature of the word since the Old English days:

From Middle English asken, from Old English āxian, āscian

āxian: Alternative form of āscian.

Although, as someone born and raised in the shadow of Philadelphia, I have had a lot of the Philly accent growing up, but I don't ever recall saying "aks".
posted by grubi at 11:35 AM on March 3, 2014

Also lots of Philly people say 'ax' for 'ask,' which I find hilarious.

That is, from my extensive experience, an exclusive African-American thing.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:47 AM on March 3, 2014

The other thing that struck my ear strangely at first was "Hollow-een" for "Halloween."

Don't forget mischief night.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 11:48 AM on March 3, 2014 [2 favorites]

I remember being very impressed with The Wire for using authentic accents. (Yes, yes, that was Baltimore but the accent is very similar).
posted by deadbilly at 2:51 PM on March 3, 2014

Don't forget mischief night.

We had that growing up in NJ so it didn't seem funny to me. But it was a total shock to realize that almost no other part of the country even has it.
posted by Miko at 3:20 PM on March 3, 2014

A linguist's (in fact, the linguist whose work this is based on) take on the piece here. There are some issues, to say the least.
posted by damayanti at 8:46 AM on March 4, 2014 [4 favorites]

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