In last week’s issue of the Pittsburgh City Paper, there was a great article about how Pittsburgh Post-Gazette executive editor David Shribman told his staff to stop publishing “jagoff” in the Post-Gazette and on the website. The memo to the PG staff can be read on Jim Romenesko’s blog.
Chris Potter, CP editor and author of the cover story “Let us now praise famous jagoffs,” weaves a quick and not-so-dirty history of the term “jagoff,” tracing the word back to the British Isles, with his analysis on Pittsburgh identity. What resonated most with this writer and native Pittsburgher was the commentary about the new generation of Pittsburghers who long for the regional distinction earned by the old Pittsburgh working class – born in steel, boxing and jazz, as Teenie Harris saw it.
The truth is that I don’t say “yinz,” unless I’m speaking ironically or at least on this blog. My parents are immigrants, and I was raised in the ‘burbs – far from ‘sliberty and dahntahn. I am guilty of some lazy speak, as I take shahers (showers) before bed, watch out for “slippy” spots when it rains and use gumbands (rubber bands) to seal up a bag of chips. But I can’t be sure if I picked up on this so-called dialect unintentionally.
Pittsburghers love their regional code — evidenced by Kennywood’s Open postcards, Pittsburghese T-shirts in the Strip, restaurants like Taste of Dahntahn, bars like Jaggerbush, parking chairs, Pittsburgh Dad and even our own pronunciation of Stillers. One of my favorite episodes of Pittsburgh Dad features the Pittsburgh Dad trying to woo his wife on Valentine’s Day. He pours a tall glass of boxed blush wine for Deb and his signature Iron City beer into a wine glass for himself. It is a scene that embodies what I see in Pittsburgh – a place where a blue-collar worker can make a comfortable home for his family — with a “good living room” and a family room.
The Pittsburgh Dad many Pittsburghers imagine is a no-nonsense man who goes to church and tucks his polo shirt into his jean shorts. As I’ve gotten older, I see fewer Pittsburgh Dads and classic examples of yinzers, but also, I’m more aware of the physical and behavioral qualities that set Pittsburgh natives apart. Though encounters are becoming more rare, I still get giddy when I hear a Pittsburgh dad at the Regatta tell his son to quit being a jagoff or quit jagging off.
This creates a dilemma of what I call the “new yinzer” : For people who did not grow up hearing “jagoff,” are we entitled to reclaim it?
“But ever since last winter, when I saw a billboard boasting ‘Yinzers save with Nationwide insurance,’ I’ve wondered whether our fixation on the local dialogue is itself a pretense. How long, after all, can we boast about our “authenticity” before we start sounding inauthentic?”
This blog, titled Pixburgh N’at because of the play on pix (as in pictures) and Picksburgh, is an example of what Potter is talking about. The new yinzer is not inauthentic if he or she distinguishes himself or herself from the yinzers of the past. Yinzer is a dialect and a culture that, like all others, is ever evolving. New yinzers can carry on the prized regional slang and quirks as they fit with the new image of the city.
At risk of sounding like a jagoff, but I do consider myself a new yinzer — as much as one can be with an English writing degree.