Peculiar Pittsburgh

Why Pittsburghers add an ‘S’ to the end of words

Do you — or your parents — call it Aldi’s or Giant Eagle’s?

There's no "s" on the end of these words, but that doesn't stop Pittsburghers from adding one.

There's no "s" on the end of these words, but that doesn't stop Pittsburghers from adding one.

Mike Mozart / Flickr; Random Retail / Flickr; Mike Mozart / Flickr
Rossilynne Culgan

In Pittsburgh, a trip to the grocery store means a visit to Giant Eagle’s or Aldi’s … despite the fact that the signs at those stores call them Giant Eagle and Aldi.

You’ve probably heard somebody around here say Panera’s instead of Panera or Penney’s instead of J.C. Penney.

There’s a peculiar Pittsburgh penchant for adding a possessive “s” (or sometimes just a plural “s”) to words when it’s not actually a part of the name.

So what’s up?

“Like many of the things that people associate to Pittsburgh, it’s something that harks back to the past,” said Barbara Johnstone, professor of English and linguistics at Carnegie Mellon University who researches Pittsburghese.

“I think that this habit comes from the days when shops were named after their owner, so the name of a shop would be the name of an owner, with a possessive after the name.”

Think of Little’s Shoes, Orr’s Jewelers, Kaufmann’s, Mineo’s, Macy’s — all family names.

The concept of adding a possessive generalizes to other shop names even when they aren’t family names, she said. It’s especially true when the city’s most beloved brands are family names.

“There are a lot of local names — we’ve had a history with things like Isaly’s and they’re really institutions, Primanti’s (too),” said Scott Kiesling, a University of Pittsburgh linguistics professor. “And those are possessive-named stores, and they’re really important in Pittsburgh.”

Curt Wootton — a.k.a. Pittsburgh Dad, the expert on Pittsburgh vernacular — told The Incline he has noticed the add-an-s-to-it trend since his teenage years.

He remembers as a teenager hearing a friend try to teach his mother that it’s Trax Farms, not Trax’s Farms.

Even Wootton’s own mother is known for adding an “s” to words — including words that already have one, like calling the now-defunct (but still treasured) department store Hills’s.

“She’ll add an “s” to anything,” Wootton said.

In the show, “Pittsburgh Dad” is often heard referring to “Giant Eagle’s.”

Hear a “Giant Eagle’s” reference in the first 3 seconds of this “Pittsburgh Dad” clip: