What Do You Call a Steeler Fan?

Commenting on the title to my last post, Jonathan Barnes pointed out that many Pittsburghers cringe -- and worse -- at the "Yinzer" label. So in the title, I crossed it out.

Should I have done that? The question isn't respect for Jonathan's opinion; the question is whether some meaningful number of Pittsburghers cringe -- and whether that number overlaps in some relevant way with the 250,000 or so Steeler fans and others who crowded into Downtown on Tuesday for the Super Bowl parade and celebration. The title of the post and the Yinzer label, as I was using it, clearly referred to that crowd. If I was referring to 250,000 Steeler fans as Yinzers, was I being, as Jonathan suggests, "classist"? Or is it -- and I'll be provocative here for a moment -- "classist" to distance ourselves from the "Yinzer" label?

Commenters should tell me otherwise, but my non-native learning over the last several years tells me that a large, large number of people in this region are proud to refer to themselves -- and to be referred to -- as Yinzers. I'm using the term in a more general sense; I know that much of the time it has a narrower connotation -- particularly as it applies to people with a strong "Pittsburgh" accent. Borrowing a broader "people with strong emotional ties to the Pittsburgh area" meaning, I think, is fair. Pittsburgh wore its blue-collar, working class identity with pride during Super Bowl week, and to me "Yinzer" reads on that identity pretty closely, as does the exuberant and exhilarating passion that attaches to Steeler fan-dom. That passion is objectively irrational -- I like the Steelers and watch the games and get excited when they win, but it's a football team, everyone; nothing world-changing is at stake -- but you have to admire it. I'm willing to hypothesize that among any particular community, the passion is positively correlated with the strength of Pittsburgh's get-down-and-dirty self-image. We didn't have 250,000 investment bankers and neuroscientists downtown on Tuesday.

OK. Go ahead and tell me I'm wrong. Or not.


24 Responses to "What Do You Call a Steeler Fan?"

Anonymous said... 2/09/2006 11:44 AM

Let's face it - domestic accents are not perceived well. It implies lack of education. People in the south have fought this perception forever. Not a good thing in a knowledge-based economy.

There clearly is a class divide in Pittsburgh as there is in other cities. I'd guess a lot of people don't have "yinzer" pride, and think there is an overreliance on "Steel Heritage". And I'd venture to say this group of people tends to be upper-income, white collar.

Side note - I once met someone who was from Mt. Lebo, who upon hearing where I was from, said, "Oh you really are a yinzer". For what it's worth, I didn't take it as a compliment.

Anonymous said... 2/09/2006 12:31 PM

What I find more irritating than possible mockery of regional accents is people implying that the only "authentic" Pittsburgh values and lifeways have their roots in the now-40+-years-gone industrial economy of the region. How long are we going to cling to this past? People, it's over. It isn't coming back. It served Pittsbrugh well for a long time, but we need to move. on.

I'm a tried and true Pittsburgher, not born here but rasied almost my entire life here (I'm a so-called Boomarang to boot). My family is here because of the colleges, not the mills. I love my Stillers and I love my town (or tahn as the case may be), but I can't help but feel a little reverse-classism in the air much of the time. I'm not a real Pittsburgher because I don't have blue-collar roots(no one would call me a yinzer, I'm pretty sure, though I do carry a bit of the accent), and I have to sort of wonder how much of our self-image problem lies in our refusal to acknowledge our new economy and the folks that it has brought to our fair city.

For what it's worth, I've never heard anyone use the term "yinzer" in a complementary way.

Anonymous said... 2/09/2006 12:37 PM

I'd equate Yinzer with Hick, just with different colloquial attributes. Neither's nice, so I prefer 'Burgher.

Anonymous said... 2/09/2006 12:40 PM

By the way, I took a closer look at those pictures, and they're a lot of Yinzers among the crowd.

Amos_thePokerCat said... 2/09/2006 12:48 PM

As criticial of things as I am, I never use the term "Yinzer". Never heard of it until I started commenting on PIT area blogs. It probably is only about 5 to 10 years old, when the exodus of the 70's and 80's tappered off, and people from outside the area finally tricked in.

Anonymous said... 2/09/2006 1:02 PM

From experience, the outside world generally thinks of Pittsburghers as being unsophisticated but very tough and hard working. The "tough and hardworking" part, whether true or not, is to our advantage and needs to be cultivated. I'm not sure how you separate the dumb from the strong though.

Anecdote: On an inbound bus at CMU recently a young Asian woman boarded and asked to be taken to Duquesne High School. The driver asked her if she really meant "high school" and in halting English she said yes. He told her she had to go the other direction and sent her to a bus going to Duquesne. I wish I could have seen her reaction when she was dumped out on Rt. 837. But really, the driver should have realized she probably meant Duquesne University, and the rest of us should have thought of it too, although it was pretty early in the morning.

Jonathan Barnes said... 2/09/2006 1:40 PM

The term yinzer is decades old. I heard it regularly in college at CMU, 20 years ago, from my Boston-Philly-NYC/Jersey buddies.
I think I first heard it when I was at Kiski School, from my friends who hailed from Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair.

C. Briem said... 2/09/2006 2:21 PM

more than you want to know on Pittsburghese:


C. Briem said... 2/09/2006 2:47 PM

too funny:

I use more of these than I realized.

Anonymous said... 2/09/2006 2:50 PM

The old, industrial image will never really go away until people replace it with something else.

You could wait until every person in America comes to Pittsburgh for some reason and sees that it's a nice city, but even that is dicey. Let's face it - there is a lot of areas that still need to be cleaned up.

Or you can force a new image. The reason people associate Pittsburgh with industrial is there is no new companies that have come to dominate or represent an industry the way Steel did.

Put another way,
Seattle = Microsoft, Starbucks
Pittsburgh = Steel, Ketchup

Getting off topic, but all those ridiculous image campaigns are a waste of money. The image will change if the underlying product it portrays changes. Until new companies grow to be leaders of new, large industries, the image that will stick is that of Steel.

Amos_thePokerCat said... 2/09/2006 3:41 PM

I graduated from CMU in the start of the 80's. Never heard it.

Amos_thePokerCat said... 2/09/2006 4:01 PM

The Urban Dictionary has an entry for Yinz dated Nov, 2002. They have an entry for yinzer dated Sept, 2003 by an obvious Ohio resident.

Ha, yinzonics.

If you google "yinzer", you will find the site of a very very bitter Browns fan living here.

Anonymous said... 2/09/2006 7:59 PM

MIKE, This is a new term that old-time Pittsburghers never, ever heard. It has no meaning for me at all. Blue collar? Yes, for those people who had blue collar jobs. Listen up: Pittsburgh was, during the entire time I was growing up, the city with the THIRD most Fortune 500 companies in America, a haven for lawyers. The Steelers were insignificant here when the mills were humming and the best game in town was the Pirates (also THE best team in baseball, overall, during the entire 60's and 70's).

Anonymous said... 2/09/2006 8:10 PM


How does it make you feel that your most commented on post is regarding a regional term for rednecks?

If 250,000 people showing up for a Steelers party didn't make you want to move, this should.

Anonymous said... 2/09/2006 8:57 PM

To be sure, this is the first post that has directly requested a comment (at least in quite some time).

Furthermore, having more than a quarter million people express their civic pride in such a demonstrable manner is a great thing anywhere it happens.

Tim Murray said... 2/10/2006 11:56 AM

RE: NYC comment:

"If 250,000 people showing up for a Steelers party didn't make you want to move, this should."

How about more than a million people showing up on a day off to cheer on Bullwinkle and all manner of other peculiar balloons and high school marching bands? Then again New York people would show up in droves for a shadow puppet concert.

Anonymous said... 2/11/2006 3:54 PM

Now, now...let's not disparage NYC to make ourselves feel better.

I lived in Pgh for 28 years, I know the plight.

Vanessa said... 2/11/2006 9:02 PM

I think that you can say Yinzer and mean it affectionately, or you can say it and mean it condescendingly. On the internets it's hard to get tone, and so while my first instinct was to think you meant it condescendingly, I am wanting to believe that you were in fact saying it with good humor.

*shrug* I know plenty of middle and upper-middle class people who were pretty excited to go to the parade - my pretty well-educated husband amoung them. If you were assuming (as your next-to-last paragraph indicates) that it was only the people who say "yinz" who were parade-watchers then yes, I think you're being classist.

Gene said... 2/12/2006 12:41 PM

I have a liberal arts degree and an MBA, and I was at the parade Tuesday. My buddy who is a medical doctor bought Super Bowl tickets and called me as he entered Ford Field because he was in a frenzy. Another friend, who is a CPA, drove up from Baltimore for the parade. I'd wager that a sizeable percentage of the people standing and cheering on Tuesday were well-educated, intelligent people whose diction would make Henry Higgins cheer.

And I'd also wager that the vast, vast majority of those allegedly gentrified people didn't give a damn that they were packed shoulder-to-shoulder with people of an allegedly lower "class". Who was even thinking about it? Who would care? One of the biggest reasons why sports fans cheer so fervently for their team (especially in Pittsburgh) is because it allows you to feel like you're part of a much, much larger community. The divisions between rich and poor, left and right, black and white, fade away when you're cheering on your team. Maybe that's just a temporary state, but sharing a passion with people from so many different backgrounds is, perhaps, a path toward enlightenment.

So I have no problem being called a "Yinzer" (a word that I have to admit I've rarely heard before). Actually, practically no one outside of Pittsburgh would know what "yinz" or "yinzer" means, and a Pittsburgher referring to another denzien as a "yinzer" would almost by definition mean it as a compliment. Otherwise you'd be looked upon as a snobby betrayer of your city, which would reveal more about your character than the person you're ripping on.

Why, exactly, is Pittsburgh's industrial, blue-collar history a point of shame now? Many of the white-collars down at the parade probably learned about toughness and hard-work and loyalty from their blue-collar parents, and those attitudes are going to remain part of Pittsburgh's culture even as our economy transitions toward other industries.

Anonymous said... 2/13/2006 6:01 PM

I'm not from here, but I think the use of "yinz/youns" is one of the best things about Pittsburgh. I think that using "yinzer" to describe an individual shouldn't be an insult, and it's a shame some people use it as an insult.

And yet, even if the snobs refrained from using the word, their condescending attitude would be clear enough; affectionate use is usually evident, too. Maybe in print, for the time being, it's important to make sure one's context and intent is clear.

I've observed young people -- both educated and working-class, it seems -- beginning to reclaim it, as "queer" has been reclaimed. In the future, it should be a neutral-to-positive thing, like "hoosier" for Indianan.

I read some stuff by a linguist who studied Pgh English, and the article said it's more likely that "yinz" came from Scotch-Irish immigrants, not from the later so-called hunkie (also another word that should be reclaimed!) immigrants. And those Scotch-Irish Presbyterians became Pittsburgh's Establishment -- so historically it's not so low-brow, after all.

Given that so much of our country is afflicted with sameness, mediocrity, vacous flat-screen-tv lust and shopping malls, Pittsburgh is very, very fortunate to have these tics of local personality. Trying to throw them out, not celebrate them, is myopic, I believe.

Sherry Pasquarello said... 2/19/2006 12:08 PM

i never heard the term til recently. i was 17 in 1969, been through the mills dying etc. i remember when baseball was bigger than football here. me, i know it's supposed to be an insulting term, but only if one lets it become one. i'm happy with my accent. it is from where i live, the place that i love,an 'nat!
and, since i have no desire to become a cable news anchor or a game show host, it really doesn't much matter. i don't use an accent to write, unless i choose to.

Anonymous said... 2/19/2006 1:27 PM

Been here four years now. First first heard the term "yinzer" in the mid-90s.

My perception is that it's used mainly as a perjorative. It does not refer to an accent or even to blue-collar roots, but rather, to a regional small-mindedness and insularity - and everything that you'd assume goes along with that, like intolerance.

So if someone were to call me that, I wouldn't take as a compliment.

And for the record, using that definition, you will find there are plenty of "yinzers" in Mt. Lebo and Upper St. Clair. Sewickley, too.

Anonymous said... 1/23/2007 11:24 AM

I am a displaced "yinzer" and do not take offense at all in the term... Pittsburgh has a history of blue collar work ethics and even though the mill days are gone I hope it always will be a part of the cities history. I think we have to look back to be able to move ahead and should be able to laugh at ourselves and not get so wrapped up in appearances. I am not in Pittsburgh now but will always miss my roots. So why don't yinz all go dawhntawn and get a hoagie and a pierogie..

Anonymous said... 9/25/2008 3:18 PM

I am a white 25 year-old, middle class, college educated (and graduated) woman from Pittsburgh, who three years ago relocated to Washington D.C...

I LOVE to hear people say Yinz and I would be just as proud to identify myself as or be identified as a Yinzer. I suppose it's all about pride.

I'm also one of those that very enthusiastically points out anything STEELERS I see in passing to whoever happens to be in my company at the time so...I guess I'm saying I'm very proud to be from Pittsburgh and associate myself with the regional culture any way I can.

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Updated September 2020:

Pittsblog 2.0 was written by Mike Madison, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, from January 2004 through December 2011.

Since then, Pittsburgh-themed essays have appeared from time to time at madisonian.net, on law and technology, and in some of Pittsburgh's classier professional media venues.

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