'Please? Yes, I'm from Cincinnata'
BY JIM KNIPPENBERG
The Cincinnati Enquirer
So we're a little strange here, OK?
We say please when we mean "huh?" We divide the city down the
middle and never let East meet West. We have flying pigs atop smokestacks and a
bizarre concoction called goetta that people actually eat. What gives here?
It's a Cincinnati thang, don't you know. It's confusing as all getout for
newcomers, and a goodly number of natives don't quite get it, either.
Whatever can it all mean? We'll begin with -- what else -- the name of the
Welcome to Cincinnata
A lot of Cincinnatians still call it Cincinnata. There's a reason, says
Cincinnati author Al Pyle. In frontier days, people thought it more refined to
say Cincinnata - just a hint of a proper east coast accent. In linguistics, they
call it a "back formation." It still shows up today in the way many
locals refer to Miami as Miama.
Sorry, we meant Please? Blame our German heritage for that one. In Germany, it's
customary to say bitte when you miss what a speaker says. The direct translation
of bitte is, you guessed it, please.
It's a sculpture, see, saluting the city's one-time status as a hog market so
large and so profitable people referred to the city as Porkopolis. Dedicated in
the summer of 1988, the flying pigs stand atop smokestacks guarding the entrance
to Bicentennial Commons at Sawyer Point. Nobody worries much about them today,
but when sculptor Andrew Leicester introduced them, there was a pro-pig/anti-pig
controversy so heated that City Council actually summoned the Bicentennial
committee to discuss this pig business. The pro-pig people won out and the pigs
remain today as a winged symbol of the city's past.
Don't know if you noticed, but there's no Rhine River here. So what's
Over-the-Rhine doing in Cincinnati? Well, says historian Dan Hurley, it has
nothing to do with that old story about the Ohio River reminding early settlers
of their beloved Rhine. What really happened is in the 1830s and '40s, huge
crowds of German immigrants moved here.
Being newcomers, they took what land they could get. That was the
neighborhood we call Over-the-Rhine. Back then it was the northern extreme of
the city. As the immigrants moved in, the area took on more and more of a German
The area was separated from the city by the Miami Erie Canal (Central
Parkway). To get to the neighborhood you had to cross the canal, which many
referred to as the Rhine. So going into the neighborhood came to be known as
going Over-the-Rhine. OK?
You've heard it before - East is East and West is West and never the twain shall
meet. In Cincinnati, the old cliche is chiseled in stone. Vine Street, running
through the heart of downtown, is generally considered the east-west dividing
Somebody once observed, "The reason I-71 and most of I-75 are on the
East Side is because they don't need them on the West Side. Nobody leaves."
There's a grain of truth there. The rule of thumb is once a West Sider, always a
East Siders make fun of West Siders, claiming they don't spend money, they go
to Kung-Fu movies but not operas, they get lost when they cross Vine, they
consider burgers 'n' bowling a big night out and many of them, it is rumored,
still have leisure suits in their closets.
West Siders take shots at East Siders, too, claiming they spend money they
don't have, they pay double for a home just to get a fashionable zipcode, they
bathe in Perrier because tap water is oh so gauche, and they don't move their
lower jaws when they talk (also known as Indian Hill Lockjaw).
Like Mark Twain said, everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything
about it. In Cincinnati, we're especially fond of whining about tornadoes and
But we don't have an unusual number of tornadoes, says weatherman Pat Barry.
Texas, Florida, the Central Plains and Eastern Colorado have more. When we do
get nailed, it's because dry and cool air from the Central Plains mixes with
warm and moist air from the Gulf of Mexico.
We really like to complain about humidity. All summer. But it's no worse here
then in Lexington, Louisville and Indianapolis. Our humidity comes from the Gulf
of Mexico, where the huge body of water infuses moisture into the air.
Supposedly, the farther you get from a large body of water, the less humidity
you get. Which is to say if you think it's nasty here, try New Orleans in
Did you know?
- Cincinnatians love their beer. When beer-drinking reached its peak here in
the early 1900s - when there were breweries all over town - the national
average annual beer consumption was 16 gallons per capita. In Cincinnati, it
was 58 gallons per capita.
- Everyone knows about the Bermuda Triangle, but how many know about the
German Triangle? Cincinnati has been referred to as one corner of the
Midwest's "German triangle," along with Milwaukee and St. Louis.
- Goetta: Natives love it. Newcomers stare at it and wonder. Goetta, a
breakfast food resembling fried mush, was originally made from
slaughterhouse scraps which were boiled to a paste, mixed with pinhead oats
and, gulp, eaten. Today, it's a higher grade pork, pinhead oats and spices.
- Cincinnati is home of the world's largest: soap manufacturer (the sainted
Procter & Gamble); permanent half-dome (Union Terminal); collection of
non-religious murals (Union Terminal); swinging bell (St. Francis De Sales
Church); pediatric training program (Children's Hospital Medical Center);
hand-made stained glass window (Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in
Covington, Ky.); church bell manufacturer (I.T. Verdin Co.); number of chili
parlors per capita; collection of ventriloquist dolls (Vent Haven in