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Is Armitage two thousand north or twenty hunnert?
November 5, 2009

Dear Cecil:

Hunnerts or thousands? A little background: I was born in Chicago, as was my mom, her parents, their parents, etc. So, I got into a discussion with some coworkers and said something about Armitage being "twenty hundred north." At this the conversation came to an abrupt halt. They maintained that the streets divisible by 1000 were properly called "thousands" as in "Armitage is two thousand north." I think this is ridiculous because no one calls Division "one thousand two hundred north," so why would you call Oak "one thousand north"?
I realize that there's no real right answer, and that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, but in this case, like others, I think there is a way that is more authentically Chicago. What say you? 

— Dr. Pangloss, via the Straight Dope Chicago Message Board


Cecil replies:

You (meaning the general reader) think this is a stupid question. You think everybody says "twenty hundred," or "two thousand," or "two triple zero," or whatever you think they say. You think if they don't say that they must be some yutz who just got off the bus from Cedar Rapids. Well, I've got news for you, compadre. Half the town does it the opposite way (or anyway differently), and they're looking funny at you.

I know this because, realizing there were questions too sensitive for even me to pronounce on without backup, I consulted the sages. This consists of an e-mail list of grave and learned Chicagoans who have been around the block, so to speak. This revealed the rift in public opinion alluded to above. It also disclosed entirely new dimensions to the question that it's high time I brought to light. But best to tell the story as it unfolded. Some responses:

I vote hunnerts — including east and west, as in Western Avenue is 24
hunnert west. (Rogers Park, originally Indianapolis by way of Ohio)

I have to say that I am completely untroubled by "Armitage is two thousand north." Similarly, I have no problem with "Oak is one thousand north." Indeed, it seems very strange to think of Wellington as "thirty hundred north" or Pulaski as "forty hundred west." So I think I would dispute the claim that Chicagoans never use thousands. But somehow it seems that Taylor should be "ten hunnert south." Maybe it's because I'm the guy who thinks the year is "twenty-oh-nine." (South Loop, originally Texas)

Here’s my three cents. First, thousands simply does not apply to Chicago, except for calculating distances, because 8 hunnerts make one mile. Major streets north-south and east-west tend to be 4 hunnerts apart, or half a mile. Second, we would never say five thousand three hundred for fifty-third street. (A lot more syllables when used this way! Which is why we probably use the latter rather than the former.) Third, if I ever heard someone say that Belmont is five thousand two hundred north, I know I’m talking to a Martian. [The more so because Belmont is actually 3200 north. — C.A.] Finally, thousands is far more difficult than hunnerts to enunciate — and not nearly as colorful! (East Loop, originally Luxembourg)

Put me down as having grown up around "fourteen hundred north" and "two thousand west." (Native and current Evanstonian)

In Chicago, there are a hundred numbers in a block. If I'm at State and Madison (Ground Zero), how many blocks must I walk to reach "twenty hundred" North State Street? Easy — 20. If I insist on saying "two thousand," you would have to do a conversion in your head to arrive at 20. Not so easy. And what about expressing the year as "two thousand nine"? Isn't it time to get over the thrill of a new millennium and start saying "twenty-oh-nine"? (Lifetime Chicagoan, recently moved to St. Paul)

You get the drift. While I detected a slight tilt to hunnerts, there was no consensus on proper usage. You understand we're talking strictly about how to say numbers evenly divisible by 1,000. I'm confident all would agree only crazy people would say (for example) four thousand eight hundred.

It occurred to me, however, that I was hearing from people pretty close to the campfire. What about those on the perimeter, where the wild winds blow? We know little of how these folk live. Here's a good way to win twenty bucks in a bar: find somebody who thinks he really knows Chicago and bet him he can't name the hunnerts (meaning the Chicago streets at half-mile intervals) between Austin and Mannheim Road. Here's what you'll probably get:

Austin, 60 hunnert (I confess, I'd be inclined to say six thousand to save a syllable, but I'm happy to humor the other side)

Narragansett, 64 hunnert. (Some will say Nagle, 6434 west, which Narragansett turns into north of Montrose, and Oak Parkers will say Ridgeland, which of course isn't a Chicago street. Smile as you point out these discrepancies, but let them slide.)

Oak Park, 68 hunnert

Harlem, 72 hunnert.

Then: long pause, puzzled expression. Some will make stabs such as Cumberland and River Road (obviously Blue Line riders). West suburbanites may mention "the avenues" (1st, 9th, 17th, 25th), but these aren't in Chicago. Finally: "I don't know."

Here's the list:

Oriole, 76 hunnert

Pacific, 80 hunnert (some may say Canfield, but it jogs and is only 80 hunnert in Norridge)

Cumberland, 84 hunnert (if anybody says Pueblo, give him the twenty — there used to be a Chicago street of this name at 8400 west, and it still shows up on Google Maps, but Cumberland appears to have supplanted it on the street signs)

East River Road (as distinct from River Road — that's on the other side of the forest preserves), 88 hunnert.

That's it. Trick question, slap my face. The only part of Chicago running between East River Road and Mannheim is a sliver through the forest preserves along the line of Foster Avenue. But there's no road there, and thus no 92 hunnert. The closest to 96 hunnert is Otto, a little street at 9620 west. Mannheim jogs; for most of its length it's at 10400 but on the line of Foster is maybe 101 hunnert. There's no hunnert hunnert.

That raises another obvious question, but let's continue with our story. This came in from the sages:

I've spent a fair amount of time on the sout' side the last few years (my girlfriend bought a house at 91 hundred south) and what I hear down there isn't one thousand one hundred south for 111th Street, I hear "'leven hunnert sout.'" (Rogers Park, native and current)

Alarmed, I wired back:

Are you positive? 111th Street isn't one thousand one hundred south OR eleven hundred south. It's eleven THOUSAND one hundred south. 110th Street, of course, would be an even eleven thousand south, or, if you're a confirmed hunnerts man (or hunnerts being, in this PC age), a hunnert ten hunnert. Please advise.

The reply:

Hm. Most of the time I've heard such talk, I've been in various saloons, so my memory might be off … Perhaps this is more complex than I realize.

Indeed. Hoping to clarify matters, Rogers Park e-mailed a cop he knew who lived south of 99th Street. The cop's reply:

Fullerton would definitely be twenty-four hundred north and that goes up to the 10 thousands. Then we go to something different: One oh three fifty-eight for 10358 … you drop the "hundreds" altogether south of 99th.

Here was a new angle. I had Little Ed call up his in-laws in the south 'burbs and ask the following question: "If you were asked where Sibley Boulevard was, what would you say?"

Sibley is a hundred forty seventh street. (Father-in-law)

It's a hundred forty seven blocks south of Madison. (Mother-in-law)

OK, limited data set, but enough to support this hypothesis: far south siders may not drop hunnerts altogether, but they'll go to some trouble not to say hunnert twice. (Thousand, or perhaps we should say tao-zin, doesn't enter into the picture at all.) Also, we confirmed the cop's take on addresses. You'd never say, "I live at a hundred twenty five thirteen." You'd say, "I live at one twenty five thirteen."

Ed's mother-in-law called back a few minutes later to quote the motto from the local newspaper, the Southtown Star: "People Up North Just Don't Get It."

Ain't saying nothing. We just report the facts.

— Cecil Adams
Photo by Pat O'Neil

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