It’s an age-old Chicago debate, similar to whether Pulaski is “four-thousand west” or “forty-hunnert west.” Is the name of our city pronounced “Chi-cah-go” or “Chi-caw-go”?
In the Mayor’s English, it’s “Chi-caw-go.” That’s how Richard M. Daley and his father pronounced it. So did Elwood Blues. In a more refined strata of the city, that’s also how the announcers on WTTW and WFMT say it. Dictionary.com lists both pronunciations as acceptable, but their sound bite is “Chi-cah-go.”
“If you hear someone say Chi-cah-go, ask them where they’re from,” says native Chi-caw-goan Rod Sellers, director of the Southeast Historical Museum. “Chi-cah-go sounds like more of a transplant.”
According to an in-the-know poster on Yelp.com, “Chi-caw-go is old-school south and northwest side talk. Nobody will say it like that in another 25 years’ time. The only people still saying it like that are Ron Magers, Carol Marin and his highness himself.”
The poster may be right. Nowadays, most Chicagoans are becoming “Chi-cah-goans.” After conducting a lingustic analysis (listening to their speeches on YouTube), Ward Room has determined that the only mayoral candidate who says Chi-caw-go is Gery Chico.
The reason may be that Chico is the only candidate with a South Side white ethnic background, similar to Daley’s: Chico's mother in Greek and Lithuanian, and he grew in McKinley Park, attending Kelly High School.
Most African-Americans, who grew up around a different set of linguistic influences than the immigrant Irish, Polish, Italians and Lithuanians, say “Chi-cah-go,” although not all. Harold Washington, who carefully cultivated his locutions, and hung around a lot of Machine politicians, said “caw,” but Carol Moseley Braun and Barack (“Hello, Chicago!”) Obama say “cah.”
Again, that may be also be attributable to generational difference. Chico is clearly a voice from Chicago’s linguistic past. Judging by the voices of our mayoral candidates, the future of Chicago belongs to Chi-cah-goans.