Local Life and Lore in Pittsburgh
Learn why Pittsburghers are so proud of their city, and master the local lingo.
GEOGRAPHY & GETTING AROUND
Pittsburgh’s one-of-a-kind topography makes the city scenic, but can also present some challenges when it comes to navigation. Orient yourself in the city by keeping the locations of Pittsburgh’s famed three rivers in mind. The Allegheny River flows along the north side of the city while the Monongahela River cuts through Pittsburgh’s southernmost neighborhoods. They join toward the western end of the city to form the head of the Ohio River, and it is the confluence of these three waterways that gives downtown Pittsburgh its distinctive triangular point.
At 1,223 feet above sea level, Pittsburgh is notably hilly, with quite a few steep streets that can be tricky in snow and sleet. Another word of caution to drivers: The city’s long winters can create some pretty sizable potholes.
Many suburban commuters make their way to the city using major roads including interstates 279 and 376, both referred to as the Parkway, traversing rivers and crossing underneath hills via Pittsburgh’s many bridges and tunnels. Public transportation in Pittsburgh is overseen by the Port Authority of Allegheny County, which operates buses and a light rail system. About 250,000 riders use the system daily, boarding buses that travel within the city and to outlying areas. The light rail system, known as the T, is comparatively limited, comprising only of one service line that links downtown with the suburbs of the South Hills.
Located where the Northeast meets the Midwest, Pittsburgh has a language and culture all its own. Here are some examples:
Yinz: A plural version of “you” that is Pittsburgh’s answer to “y’all.”
Dahntahn: You won’t ever see “downtown” spelled this way, but you may overhear someone with a strong Pittsburgh accent pronouncing the word in this manner.
The Dropped Infinitive: Listen closely and you’ll notice that many Pittsburghers omit the words “to be” in certain phrases. In most of the country, for instance, someone might say that their car “needs to be washed.” Not so in Pittsburgh, where it’s simply “My car needs washed.”
Redd Up: Pittsburgh’s version of tidying up or straightening up. The city even created a street cleanup campaign using the phrase.
Sweeper: If you’re going to properly redd up, you’ll need a sweeper. That’s Pittsburghese for vacuum cleaner.
Pop: Not soda. Not Coke. Not soft drinks. Just pop.
Gumband: What might be called a rubberband elsewhere is referred to as a gumband in Pittsburgh.
Stillers: If you’re in Pittsburgh, you’d better be rooting for the Stillers, aka the Steelers.
Pittsburghers are an intensely proud group of people and are happy to claim any honor for their city. Luckily for them, there’s plenty to be proud of, from a legendary football team to a number of notable firsts.
- The Steel City brought a marvel of engineering into existence when Pittsburgher George Ferris designed the first Ferris Wheel for the 1893 World’s Fair.
- KDKA became the world’s first commercial radio station in 1920. It’s still in operation -- and now has an associated TV station -- and has one of the few call signs beginning with “K” east of the Mississippi.
- The first American public television station was Pittsburgh’s WQED, the station that brought the world Mister Roger’s Neighborhood. The station began broadcasting in 1954.
- Just one year later, the Food and Drug Administration approved the polio vaccine created by Dr. Jonas Salk at the University of Pittsburgh. The vaccine would go on to virtually erase the devastating disease.
- The Big Mac was invented just 50 miles outside Pittsburgh in Uniontown in 1967. And if you want some fries with that, be sure to reach for the Heinz ketchup, created in Pittsburgh by H.J. Heinz.
INSIDER SECRET: PITTSBURGH'S FILM INDUSTRY
Over the past decade or so, Pittsburgh has become a prized locale for the shooting of film and television productions. The city and region’s variety of scenery includes woody hills, glossy skyscrapers and industrial tracts. Plus, an attractive tax credit from the state is intended to ensure the Pittsburgh Film Office and local production companies stay busy.