Posted by: Sue D. Gelber | November 13, 2011

A Wicked Pissa Lettah (aka A New Englander’s Introduction to Chicago)

When I heard that Theo Epstein, the savior who finally wrested a World Series championship out of those Lovable Losers, the Red Sox, was coming to Chicago, I was thrilled. Another local! Here in the Midwest with me! Maybe we’d even become friends. He grew up in Brookline; I used to work in Brookline at Pine Manor College. He went to Yale; I grew up right next door in Fairfield County. We probably spent years listening to the same radio stations. I wondered if we knew the same people.

But I knew from experience that moving to Chicago would be a big adjustment for him. So, I decided to write him a letter to help him with the transition. Then I decided to send it off to the Tribune. And then they decided to publish it. However, I got a message on Friday to call the editor ASAP. Oh no, I worried, was there something wrong with my paperwork? Did they decide to kill the piece? Nervous, I placed the call. “I have one question,” the editor said. “What’s ‘pissa’?”

Which, of course, is a good question. What is pissa/pissah? To begin with, there’s some debate about the correct spelling, since, of course, it isn’t in the dictionary. I go with the more traditional “pissa” but some choose to add an “h,” presumably to clarify the pronunciation. (I take umbrage at that – if you know the word pissa, you know to drag out that “ah” sound at the end. And you know that the more pissa something is, the longer you hold the second syllable) But what exactly is pissa? Is wicked pissa the same as supah? Personally, I think things start out pissa, progress to supah, and then finally arrive at the pinnacle: wicked pissa, reserved for the truly amazing, like a sale at the Basement, or a World Series win.

In any case, I think it’s wicked pissa, as well as supah, that Theo might get to see my letter to him. Of course, with space limitations in the Trib, I didn’t get to include everything he needs to know. For example, I forgot to mention how, when first arriving here, he might actually miss the WBZ traffic report. As a newcomer, listening the traffic report here was disorienting. Where is the Jane Adams? And who the heck was Jane? I’d hear that traffic on the Edens was backed up to 2E and wonder “Route 2 East? Exit 2E? Where are those?” (And if you’re not from Chicago, you may not recognize that they were really saying “Touhy.” Who knew?)

As a transplant, I longed to hear Gary LaPierre’s mellifluous voice telling me about the roads around Boston.  Sometimes, when I was particularly homesick, I would just recite the Traffic on the Threes in my head: “Pike inbound heavy at Newton Corner and again at the Pru tunnel. The Expressway slows by the gas tank….” Sometimes I’d even add that 128 was backed up by 4 and 225. Ah, I remember those days.

Now, given the fact that Theo grew up in Brookline, I have a feeling he does not have the classic Boston accent, or if he does, it’s somewhat suppressed. And since he went to Yale, I know he can step up his linguistic game when he has to. So I didn’t get too much into what aspects of Boston lingo he should ditch, other than, of course, telling him to avoid wicked pissa.

But, just in case, as my aunt (NEVER pronounced “ant”) pointed out, I should probably tell him that in Chicago, stores that sell alcohol are not referred to as “the packy.” So, no saying “I’m hitting the packy to get some be-ah.” People might think he’s a racist jerk, denigrating the nice Pakistani gentleman who works at the liquor store. Besides, here you can buy be-ah at the grocery store. But there’s no Stah Mahket. You have to hit The Jewel (yes, always use “The”).

Well, I’m sure there are a million things I’ve forgotten, but I have to head out to The Jewel now. Feel free to add more tips for Theo in the comments, and you can check out my letter to Theo here.

Have a wicked pissa day!


  1. I love this! Thanks for sharing your letter. I am sure Theo will be your new best friend in no time.

  2. Sue -Great letter, but how to begin to explain wicked pissah really? Me thinks Theo should be careful about ordering a “grindah” (but maybe that’s cuz I’m a mother of teens) and should know here we have lots of “regulah” guys but no coffee of the same ilk. And the opposing team, not matter how rivalrous, ever sucks in this kinda town.

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