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?"