Essential Vocabulary for the Buffalo Visitor

When my wife and I relocated to Buffalo, we were ready to take on the challenges of living in a new city. I assumed – maybe a little too confidently – that many of these would be easy to overcome. After all, we had strong family and friend networks, and we knew how to get around town.

But one thing I didn’t expect was shift in regional dialect. Like most cities with a strong identity, Buffalo has its own way to discuss everyday topics. As a native New Englander, I thought this post would be a good opportunity to highlight a few.

1. Scajaquada
A couple of interesting things about this one. First, nobody nails the pronunciation (ska-JACK-qua-dah) on their first try; it takes repetition before it sticks. Since this is one of Buffalo’s highly trafficked roads, I knew that it was an important name to learn if I wanted to have any credibility as a local commuter. And to impress people, I could also mention that it shares a name with an Erie County creek.

It also reminded me about a tactic used by Bostonians – when in doubt, give it a nickname and then shorten it. For example, the Massachusetts Turnpike became “The Mass Pike,” which later became “The Pike.” Thinking this way, maybe I’ll take the safe option by calling the Scajaquada, simply, “The 198.”

The classic Beef on Weck sandwich

2. Weck
Seriously, what the heck is weck? Arguably, it’s one of Buffalo’s best food inventions outside of the wing. The easiest description focuses on the Kimmelweck roll, which has the consistency of a Kaiser roll sprinkled with caraway seeds and kosher salt. Delicious.

Taking this a step further, it’s almost impossible not to mention “beef on weck,” a roast beef sandwich to end all roast beef sandwiches. One caution – if you mention beef on weck, you probably need to mention Schwabl’s. These terms can quickly take you down the rabbit hole of local terminology. But they’re also a recipe for an exceptional lunch option.

3. Southtowns
As I understand it, if you’re in the Southtowns it could mean a lot of things. On autumn Sundays, you could be headed to the Bills game in Orchard Park. During winter, you’re in the snow belt or ski country (depending on who you ask). And in the spring or summer, you’re seeing an idyllic picture of suburban life. The Southtowns are the home of former U.S. president Millard Fillmore, and a lakeside Frank Lloyd Wright estate.

After living in Buffalo for a while, I’ve gotten to know regional names like East Aurora, Orchard Park, Hamburg, and Elma. Now I know they’re all in the same region.

4. Winter
For me, “winter” is a time – usually between December and March – where white stuff falls from the sky, people bundle up, and cities grind to a plodding, maddeningly slow pace.

As I understand it, winter in Buffalo will involve a few more weeks, a few more incidents of falling white stuff, and a far more efficient system for removing snow.

Photo courtesy of Buffalo in a Box

5. Loganberry
When I first tried loganberry, I thought I would be drinking a regional variation of cranberry juice. It’s not. I also thought that, maybe, the name “logan” referenced a regional celebrity in Buffalo. It doesn’t. But if you can get beyond these initial assumptions, it’s a tasty berry beverage – found in most supermarkets and at your friendly neighborhood Jim’s Steakout. (Author’s note: It also tastes great combined with Sierra Mist.)

6. Pop
Buffalo’s not alone in this one. The Pacific Northwest and a couple of other regions also refer to soda as “pop” – probably as a conspiracy invented by carbonated beverage companies to stir up conversation. I’ve heard others refer it as tonic (my grandparents). And I’ve even read that other parts of the U.S. refer to it as “cola.” Not just Coca-Cola either.

So, as I continue setting up roots in this great city, I’ll continue to adopt a number of terms into my day-to-day vocabulary. But since I don’t drink soda often, I probably won’t be saying “pop” anytime soon.

7. Wings. Not Buffalo Wings.
This is important, as it might help save embarrassment. When ordering wings anywhere in the region – from Gabriel’s Gate, Duff’s, Bar Bill, Anchor Bar, or anywhere in between – you don’t need the “Buffalo” qualifier. Much like “french fries” or “milk shake,” you’ll get the point across with the second word. Just be prepared to know ahead of time whether you want them mild, medium or hot.

Wings, just wings. Oh, and never ranch.

8. “S Curves”
Out of all terms, this might be the easiest to understand. This is a commonly used phrase to describe a serpentine-shaped section of Delaware Avenue that connects parts of North Buffalo and the West Side. It’s a good landmark to describe when giving directions. And almost certainly easier than describing it as “that section of Delaware Avenue between the Hoyt Lake section of Delaware Park and Forest Lawn Cemetery.”

9. Wait, which Tonawanda?
When someone says they are from Tonawanda, very few people will ask for additional clarifiers. But perhaps they should. There are, in fact, three different suburbs north of the City of Buffalo with “Tonawanda” in their name. The first, Tonawanda Township, is more commonly referred to as just “Tonawanda.” Second, there is the City of Tonawanda – a smaller incorporated city north of the township. And third is North Tonawanda – an older city in Niagara County situated north of the other two Tonawandas. With a couple of read-throughs, it begins to make sense.

10. Texas Hots – A Greek Specialty
One of the region’s quirky food staples is something known as Texas Hots. These (delicious) takes on a chili dog can be found in different variations throughout the area, perhaps most notably through Louie’s Texas Red Hots. A commonly added kicker and notable ingredient is the addition of Greek Sauce. Curious? You should be.

Texas Red Hots! Photo courtesy of Tom Varco / Wikimedia Commons

11. Which Side Are You On?
For the northern and southern parts of the city, the direction precedes the city name – North Buffalo and South Buffalo. But for eastern and western parts, it’s more to do with sides (e.g., East Side or West Side). It’s far less common to hear “East Buffalo.” Fortunately, for dedicated city adventurers, there’s plenty to discover anywhere you go.