Weather Updates

Kevin Boehm on Chicago’s curious vocabulary


Kevin Boehm

storyidforme: 42227726
tmspicid: 15616293
fileheaderid: 7047632

Updated: January 8, 2013 1:04PM

‘The Mother------ With a Hat” recently began previews at Steppenwolf, and because of its proximity to two of my restaurants (and the fact that the show, which stars Jimmy Smits, runs through March 3), I will be using that word a lot. It’s never been my curse word of choice, as it always seemed so harsh, so the chance to get to say it without guilt or the scorn and contempt of friends and customers has made it quite fun.

As a diehard Cubs fan, there are many words, names and phrases that I use way too much: “heartbreak,” “misery,” “disappointment,” “next year,” “arm trouble,” “Bartman” (sorry, Steve, I don’t blame you), “wait until [fill in the blank] matures,” “stupid Cardinals” … you get the idea.

Just living in Chicago shapes all of our vocabularies. People who live in Arizona don’t say “shovel,” “cold,” “frozen” or “turn up the heat” nearly as much as we do. We have also cornered the market on “governor indicted.”

I used to live in Nashville. They would say “Bless their heart” quite a bit. Sometimes it meant exactly what it sounds like, but most of the time, it was the world’s most polite insult: “Did you see Marjorie’s dress? Bless her heart.”

There is a lot language specific to my industry. One of my partners at Balena, Phillip Walters, loves to say “Dumpster fire,” in reference to something that’s a big problem. He uses it a great deal. Restaurant openings have lots of “Dumpster fires.”

Servers who are overwhelmed get “in the weeds.” We do our best not to “double seat” them, because this contributes to the weeds. When you dine with just one other person, to us you are simply a “two-top.” We love “walk-ins,” hate “no-shows” and occasionally “86” pig face when it sells out. It’s our most popular dish at Girl & the Goat, so no one likes it when we “86” the pig face.

My office has a language all its own. When you do something stupid, you take a trip to “moronville.” Our VP Ian and executive director Abby are keeping track of how many times they go there. Abby is winning 5 to 4. Glad they are not keeping track of my trips there. I go there quite a bit.

My youngest daughter, Lola, says “Doc McStuffins” several times a day. For those of you who don’t watch Disney Jr., Doc McStuffins is a stuffed animal doctor. I have seen more episodes than I care to admit. My oldest daughter, Sofia, says “Poptropica” a lot. It’s a computer game about a strange imaginary world. I occasionally escape there with her.

My business partner Rob says the word “Canada” all the time. He’s a proud Canadian and loves to point out who else is from up north at every turn. Example: “Hey, there’s Mike Myers. Did you know he’s from Canada?” Yes, Rob, I did.

The language of my life evolves as I get older, and changes at work as we innovate. I look forward to the new words and phrases that will enter my lexicon in 2013. I hope they include “mildest winter on record,” “hockey strike is over” and “Derrick Rose makes triumphant return.”

Kevin Boehm donated his fee for writing this column to The Hope Institute.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.