How to Speak Philly: An Excerpt from My Upcoming Book

OK, shameless plug time.  As many of you know, I am writing a book–a dining guide of sorts–focused on the city of Philadelphia.  In fact, the Food Lovers’ Guide to Philadelphia is available for pre-order right now on Amazon!  (I know, I know…more shameless plugging.)  I thought now would be a good time to share an excerpt from the book–especially since I recently hosted an out-of-town guest who was baffled by the Philly dialect as it pertains to food.  In fact, my friend almost got us unceremoniously thrown out of line when ordering–yes, you guessed it–a cheesesteak.  What’s there not to understand about “whiz wit” and “wit’out”?  Apparently a lot.

Read the excerpt below and let me know if I left out any of your Philly favorites:


“What accent?” That’s the reply you’re likely to receive if you question a Philadelphian about his manner of speaking.  While not as nasally as a Midwestern accent or quite as strong as, say, a Boston accent, there’s a definite “sound” that separates Philadelphia from the rest.  The Philly accent is as distinct as that of its neighboring counterparts New Jersey and New York and bears a strong resemblance to both.  Perhaps there is no better time to experience the unique coupling of the accent and phraseology than when ordering food at a Philadelphia eatery.  Below is a guide to help you decode the local dialect and navigate your way through the ordering process:

“Didjaeatyet?” “Did you eat yet?” is the official motto of famed sandwich hotspot Paesano’s—it’s even emblazoned on the staff’s t-shirts.  Asking someone if he has eaten yet is almost a kind of greeting and akin to asking “How are you?”  In the city that’s always hungry, you’re bound to hear this one a lot.  As a variation, expect to hear “You’s eat?” as well—“you’s” being a totally acceptable substitution for the more proper “you”.

“Witterwitout?” – “With or without?” is a common question when ordering the venerable cheesesteak.  Often times, vendors forgo pleasantries and instead opt for speeding up the ordering process.  Be prepared to answer properly by knowing the tried-and-true response (see below).

Whiz wit/wit’out – These two all-important cheesesteak ordering methods could mean the difference between sniffed out as a tourist or being respected as a local.  To order a “whiz wit” means you want your steak topped with Cheese Whiz and fried onions; a “wit’out” is made—you guessed it—without the onions.  Just about every cheesesteak vendor in town recognizes the ordering lingo and is happy to serve those in the know.  Remember, this is a city where the cheesesteak is a civic symbol and an icon, so it’s a good idea to get the lingo down pat before setting foot in a line because asking, “May I have a cheesesteak sandwich with fried onions?” is sheer sacrilege and the love shown to those who get it wrong can be—well, a little less than brotherly. 

Wooder ice – Grammar lovers beware!  The bastardization of the word “water” is commonplace—especially in South Philly.  Philadelphians are already aware that the term ‘water ice’ is an oxymoron all by itself, so do yourself a favor and don’t point that out—just enjoy the sound of the sometimes hilarious Philadelphia pronunciation and accent.

Philadelphia IgglesFirst things first, the Philadelphia Eagles are an NFL team—they are not edible—but the team is worth mentioning because talking about food and one’s favorite sports team often goes hand in hand.  For example, one might say, “Yo, I just watched the Iggles get crushed—I need a whiz wit bad.”  Translation: “The Philadelphia Eagles just suffered another crushing defeat and to nurse my wounds, I am in desperate need of a cheesesteak with Cheese Whiz and fried onions.”  Much more fun to say it the Philly way, right?

Beggles – Yes, Philadelphians love bagels almost as much as New Yorkers and we have some pretty awesome bagel joints to prove it.  In the city, the word “bagel” gets the same dialect treatment as “eagles” (see above).

Pressels/prezzels – Ahh, pretzels—Philadelphia’s street snack of choice.  If you’re in line and hear someone ordering a pressel or prezzel, you don’t need a GPS to tell you you’re most likely in a South Philly neighborhood.


About Iris "The Palate Princess" M.

Food writer | Author of Food Lovers' Guide to Philadelphia, Main Squeeze: Juicing Recipes for Your Healthiest Self, and On the Line (coming soon)


  1. February 1st, 2012 12:38

    This is so hilarious and true! Believe it or not, I’ve lived in the Philly suburbs my entire life and I’ve never ordered a cheesesteak that way… I don’t even like wiz on my steaks, I like a chicken cheesesteak with white American cheese (or sharp provolone and broccoli rabe). I know, I know… I’m not from Philly!

    I hear “you’s” all the time at work and it drives me crazy! It’s not a word! 🙂


    • Iris "The Palate Princess" M.
      February 1st, 2012 13:21

      A chicken cheesesteak over a whiz wit?? Please voluntarily return your Philly card by the end of the day…LOL. Seriously, as a native Delawarean, the whole cheesesteak ordering process is still daunting.


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