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Is the Cincinnati "Please" Dead?

March 29, 2007 10:56 PM

I'm still working my way through the history of Cincinnati that I have been reading.  It's The Serene Cincinnatians, by Alvin F. Harlow.  It's from the '50's and is part of the "Society in America" series.  It's hysterical. 

Anyway, in one of the many passages about the German wave of immigration in the Nineteenth Century, the author talks about the Cincinnati "Please":

But to this day, if someone is Cincinnati does not catch your last remark, he or she is apt to say, "Please?"  -- the "Bitte?" which a German would say, politely requesting repetition.

Well for one thing, I never knew that the Cincinnati "Please" was tied to the German "Bitte," but it is not very surprising.  I had one German grandparent (German Swiss) who died before I was born.  Everyone else was of English stock.  So I didn't hear the Cincinnati Please growing up, but I did hear it outside the house. 

And my reading got me thinking... when WAS the last time I had heard the Cincinnati "Please?"  I have memories of hearing it as a child.  And I can remember it being part of various conversations about regionalisms growing up.  People from outside the Cincinnati area always thought it was a very unique thing to say, and it was unique enough to be remarkable.  No one could believe that "please," in and of itself, could be a question.  But it was.  And it was so much better than "whuh?" or "huhhh?" which is what one hears now.

I haven't heard the Cincinnati Please in years, though.  I am sure it still persists, especially with some of the oldsters of German immigrant stock.  But among younger people, the Cincinnati "Please" is dying out, and in a few years, I'm sure it will be gone altogether.  It's a pity.  Regionalisms are charming, fascinating, and so grounded.

Resolved: The next time someone says something I can't hear, I'm going to say "Please?"


I always use "please". I even catch myself saying it out of town and have had people say "you're from Cincinnati aren't you?"

I also think it sounds much better than the current trend... WTF???

nativette   ·  March 30, 2007 06:57 AM

GERMAN SWISS?? Are you in any way related to the Kaelins in Cincinnati?

David Bailey   ·  March 30, 2007 10:23 AM

David, the true NBS identity is supposed to be a big secret! A big secret that lots of people know about and which it would take about 2 seconds to actually figure out, for those who don't. But it's a big secret, nonetheless!

Anyway, no, I am not related in anyway to the Kaelins.

NBS   ·  March 30, 2007 10:35 AM

Resolved: The next time someone says something I can't hear, I'm going to say "Please?"


The Bovina Bloviator   ·  March 30, 2007 11:10 AM

I didn't grow up saying it, but somehow picked it up as an adult. And now that I'm a real west-sider, I'll be sure to uphold the tradition!

Cheryl   ·  March 30, 2007 06:28 PM

It's not just a Cincinnati thing though. They say it up in the other end of the state where I grew up. Of course, that was in the heart of Amish country, so the German influence was especially strong.

Jordana   ·  March 31, 2007 01:41 PM

NBS, I asked because my maternal maternal greatgrandfather was Louis J. Kaelin, from a Swiss family who spoke German. There were a MESS of Kaelins in Cincinnati 100 years ago, and I wondered if we might be related.

After all we are both:

1) Smart
2) Anglican
3) Conservative
4) Good Looking


David Bailey   ·  March 31, 2007 02:17 PM

The other German Cincinnati-ism that I haven't heard in years is Guten Morgen (sp?) instead of Good Morning. Way back in college doing the traveling Europe thing the Cincinnati "Guten Morgen" impressed the heck out of some German majoring college friends. It was very early morning after a rather late night when the polite conductor wished us a Guten morgen and asked for our tickets. Responding with Guten morgen was completely naturally to the only Cincinnatian in the group.

AKL   ·  April 2, 2007 07:41 PM

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