Local Life and Lore in Cincinnati

Knowing these fun facts and the local lingo will help you blend in with the natives.
By: Geoff Williams
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Geography and Getting Around

Cincinnati is easy to get lost in, but easy enough to find your bearings as well. There is one giant interstate, I-275, that stretches around the city, dipping into Indiana and Kentucky, and if you wanted, you could drive around that circle interminably, stopping, of course for bathroom breaks, food and lodging. In the middle of that giant circle are two interstates, I-75 and I-71, and so if you have a modest sense of where you are, the interstates are helpful to help you find your way back home.

Of course, if you were unfamiliar with the city and without a map or GPS system, even with the knowledge of the Interstate system, you could still find yourself lost for hours. But it would be a pleasant drive. Cincinnati is a hilly city with seven major hills that have all become communities and towns within Cincinnati: Mt. Adams, Walnut Hills, Mt. Auburn, College Hill, Mt. Harrison (aka Price Hill), Vine Street Hill and Fairmount (aka Fairmont). Then, just to make things more confusing, there are other hilltop communities, including Vine Street Hill, Mount Echo, Clifton Heights and Mount Storm.

Driving around, the hills eventually become just part of the landscape. You probably won’t even notice them, but joggers and bicyclists understand this terrain well: It’s not for the faint of foot or heart.

Learn Cincinnati-ese

Please: This is how many Cincinnatians are known for saying, “What?” Also used to replace the phrases, “I beg your pardon” and “Excuse me.” The verbal quirk got its start when German immigrants to the city, who used to make up about one-third of the population, would say "bitte?" -- German for "please" -- when they didn't catch your drift.

Fixin’: “We’re fixin’ to go to the store,” as in, “We’re going to go to the store.” Yes, there’s a bit of the Appalachian influence in Cincinnati -- not to mention plenty from Germany as well as a bit from Scotland and Ireland.

Pop: As in “soda pop,” but without the “soda.” Everyone around here calls soda pop, “pop.”

Goetta: Pronounced ged-da, get-uh or gett-aa, as in "Goetta life." It was originally a peasant food from Germany that’s become very popular around Cincinnati. It’s mostly ground meat and pin oats, and is a common fixture on local breakfast menus. Glier’s Goetta, across the river in Covington, Ky., is the largest commercial producer of goetta, and they produce more than 1 million pounds every year. Around 99 percent, it’s said, is consumed in greater Cincinnati.

A three-way: Get your mind out of the gutter; if someone in Cincinnati asks for a three-way, they're referring to three-layer meal of pasta, cinnamon-spiced chili and finely grated cheese from legendary Skyline Chili or one of the many other "chili parlors" in the city. A “four-way” means you want beans or perhaps onions.

East side vs. West side: Don't be surprised if someone asks you, "Are you from the East side or the West side?" There's a long-running good-natured rivalry between everyone on the West side of I-75 (like those from Delhi) and everyone from the east side of I-75 (neighborhoods like Hyde Park and Mount Adams) that once led Cincinnati Enquirer editorial cartoonist Jim Borgman to equate Vine Street with the Berlin Wall. Those in West Cincinnati view people on the East side as affluent, sophisticated folk, while those from the East think West siders are beer-guzzling, NASCAR-loving, not all that bright people. Each image is a stereotype spurred on probably by the median income levels of each area, and nobody, hopefully, really takes any of that seriously.

The Queen City: Cincinnati’s nickname. It was first called that by a local newspaper in 1819, but the name stuck after poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow referred to Cincinnati as the “Queen of the West.”  

Purple People Bridge: Several bridges stretch across the Ohio River in Cincinnati, but the most striking of the bridges is the purple one, known as the Purple People Bridge (officially it’s called the Newport Southbank Bridge, but no one calls it that). You can walk across this bridge, the longest pedestrian-only bridge in the country, to get from downtown Cincinnati to Newport, Ky. The bridge brings you right to Newport on the Levee, which houses restaurants, bars, shopping and the Newport Aquarium.

For a time, some entrepreneurs had a business where you could pay about $60 and walk on the very top of the bridge, attached to cables to keep you from falling off, but lack of interest, or funds from the public, doomed the project.

Cincinnati Fun Facts

The first professional baseball team. The Cincinnati Reds was the world’s first professional (as in, they were paid) baseball team in 1869. Not surprisingly, opening day in baseball is like a national holiday around here.

The Boy Scouts have origins in Cincinnati. Daniel Carter Beard founded the Sons of Daniel Boone in 1905 in Cincinnati, a forerunner of the Boy Scouts. In 1910, Beard wound up merging his group with several other youth leaders, and then the first Boy Scout troop was created -- in Flushing, N.Y. Ah, we were so close.

Cincinnati has a subway. It’s not in use, but residents are still proud of it and find it amusing that beneath the streets of Cincinnati is the nation’s largest abandoned subway tunnel -- 7 miles of it. The construction project began in the 1920s but was stopped, with local leaders deciding it was cost-prohibitive. About once a year, members of the Cincinnati Museum Center will organize a tour and take people down for a five-block walk underground.

Cincinnati stars. A lot of famous people got their start in Cincinnati or its suburbs, including George Clooney, Vicki Lewis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Roy Rogers and Steven Spielberg.

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