Posted by Bob on December 15, 1999
In Reply to: Chicago posted by ESC on December 15, 1999
: : : Are there any phrases that originated where you live?
: : : Here in Sheffield the phrases 'nose to the grindstone'
: : : comes from the early steel industry, where grinders lay
: : : face down on platforms over grindstones to sharpen and
: : : polish cutlery.
: : : 'The Full Monty' has also become associated with
: : : Sheffield as the eponymous film was located here,
: : : although that's a much earlier phrase of course.
: : : I see lots of traffic to the site (2,000 people/day)
: : : and wonder where you all come from. Many from the
: : : USA of course. Looking at the log files it seems
: : : that the most common location is (if memory serves)
: : : Vienna Falls, Virginia. I'd guess that this is
: : : where an ISP like AOL hangs out rather than where
: : : any of you are sitting.
: : : Anyway - where are you, and what phrases come from
: : : there?
: : : Gary
: : : Virginia
: : Chicago for the last 22 years. Although not a native, 22 years
is enough time to adopt local coloration.
: : Chicago is (and was invented to be) a transportation nexus. Where the Great Lakes met the river to the Mississippi, where the railroads converged. (The railroads had terminals NEAR each other ... but separated by enough distance to require brokers and handlers to transfer goods between stations... the city exists to do commerce.) Add to that a rich mix of immigrants from everywhere (Chicago is the 2nd largest Polish city; some 25% of the city speaks Spanish) and it has become an incubator of linguistic invention. One famous example is "clout." A noun, yes, but a person. One who is high enough in (the police department, or "streets and san") to protect you, and shield you from managerial control. Who's your clout? is a common question among those who lean on shovels around street repair. In other contexts this would be a mentor or rabbi or angel... but none of those terms has the whiff of un-respecability that Clout has.
: I am a fan of the Jimmy Flannery mystery series by Robert Campbell that is set in Chicago. (All the titles have an "animal theme," like "Nibbled to Death by Ducks" and, the latest, "Pidgeon Pie.) Anyway, Jimmy worked in the sewers and became a powerbroker in Chicago's Democratic Party. The character talks about a political sponsor or mentor, a "rabbi," but he also uses the term "chinaman" to mean the same thing. He also calls one of his friends a "lipstick lesbian," to mean she is a lesbian who uses makeup, etc. I don't know if that last one is a Chicago term. I heard actor Ellen DeGeneres (spelling) refer to herself as a "Chapstick lesbian."
"Lipstick lesbian" has wider circulation than Chicago, but "chinaman" can be narrowed down to the 11th Ward (Bridgeport) and City Hall. I've speculated that the term derives from the old "inscrutable" stereotype, reflecting the mysterious ways that power is wielded in Chicago's municipal heriarchy