My Fraternity: The Endearing Debate Over YITBOS & Other Cultural Stuff

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“In 1899 at the City College of New York,” is how I started about half of the gazillion public speeches I gave as a staff member for Delta Sigma Phi. Our story is heartwarming. 

 

Fraternities can be obsessive with their branding.

“Use this name, not that name” or “That’s not an official hand signal” are little things you hear at all conferences for all fraternities and sororities. But if there is one thing that has remained consistent about fraternity men and women it’s that they are stubbornly rebellious.

Delta Sigma Phi. 

My fraternity has a problem. A business fraternity, Delta Sigma Pi shares a nickname at many institutions, forcing local members of either organization to alter their nickname so as not to be confused with the other. I’ve set up chapters of my fraternity at several schools where the students asked why I was trying to create a 2nd chapter of one fraternity.

Not too long ago, the two fraternities agreed on official nicknames they’d teach their members and use in publications and marketing. Brand consistency is good.

On the other hand, there is a sense of amusement associated with the regional differences associated with my fraternity. I assume the same can be said for other fraternities and sororities.

I took it upon myself to create a brief survey to determine how men from chapters across the United States identify with Delta Sig. I organized the results into “heat” maps, which indicate where you can most likely expect to hear any one term.

Understanding a fraternity’s history and its trivia are considered important by man, but this felt like a different approach – something cultural. How members pronounce “YITBOS,” a word with a secret meaning, and the nickname they choose for their chapter, “Delta Sig” being the official nickname, give insight into deeper regional differences between members of the Fraternity while providing some context around our 119+ year history.

BACKGROUND

My fraternity was founded in 1899 at the City College of New York – now the City University of New York. A group of men were barred from joining other fraternities as a group because they were a mix of Christian and Jewish faiths, and so they established Delta Sigma Phi.

Over the next ten years, the students expanded the Fraternity from C.C.N.Y. to roughly a dozen schools in the Northeast and eventually out west to Chicago and Texas, and south to South Carolina and Alabama.

This was accomplished primarily by absorbing local fraternities, and there were many challenges in these early years, one being that most of the absorbed organizations were either entirely Christian or Jewish, and found it hard to reconcile their personal beliefs with the diversity of Delta Sigma Phi. Resulting in a split within the organization and several decades of membership only for Christian men.

The Fraternity’s headquarters remained in the Northeast for much of our existence, moving later to Ohio, Colorado and finally Indianapolis where it remains today.

One could come to believe that because students were often establishing chapters in their region, or because they would help local groups affiliate with the Fraternity, that regional distinctions would develop over time.

It is also important to note that Delta Sigma Pi, the fraternity that is often confused for our own, sprouted from Ohio, and it is in the northern reaches of Ohio, Northeastern Illinois and the state of Michigan where one of the most resilient nicknames took hold, perhaps as a way to distinguish one fraternity from another.

YITBOS

I’m not going to tell you what YITBOS means, but it’s something every initiate is taught. Enjoy the mystery of something for once.

Chapters tend to pronounce it with a strong or weak “o” sound. The proper pronunciation has the “o” making the same sound as it does in “row” or “bow.” This is the dominant form, but many members pronounce the “o” to sound as it does in the words “boss” or “toss.”

I don’t really care which is right, and I think that people miss the point of “YITBOS” when they focus too intently on whether a person is pronouncing it properly. It means the same thing to everyone, and that’s what matters right?

Here is a map for those who pronounce it with the “o” sounding as it does in “row.”

The darker areas simply represent chapters that participated in the survey, and logic leads me to assume that the men from those chapters typically remain within the same state and region and that they influence the dialect of other chapters within the same region.

So you could imagine that if you meet a Delta Sig from a chapter within any of those green regions, there’s a good chance that he’ll pronounce YITBOS with a strong “o.”

It’s important to note, however, that Georgia, North Carolina, and Michigan are three states with many active and dormant chapters of Delta Sigma Phi. They trend toward the other option: YITBOS with the “o” sounding as it does in “toss” or “boss.”

It’s clear that this pronunciation is quite popular in the deep south. It is the preferred term from surveyed chapters in Georgia, Alabama, northern Florida (FSU is a closed chapter but a member completed the survey – Thank You!) and North Carolina.

A few chapters in other, mostly southern/central states use it, and then most of central and northern Michigan also prefer the weaker “o” sound.

It’s very likely that South Carolina would be entirely in red if its two oldest chapters at Furman and Wofford were still operating, but they both closed a few decades ago, which leads us to the splotches of green seen in the first map in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina (as well as eastern Michigan).

Those are areas where chapters were recently established and taught by national, professional recruiters to say YITBOS with a strong “o” sound. This is a key distinction between how we establish chapters today and how chapters were established in the early 1900’s. Most new chapters stick to the national guidelines, though some grow into the regional preferences over time.

Here’s a map of the two combined. If you were to remove the black state lines, you’d have an almost perfect outline of the United States. (We were never too strong in New England to begin with).

“Yitties” is millenneal slang for “yitbos,” but it’s not it’s own term with its own meaning – It would never “replace” a chapter using or saying YITBOS, but perhaps we’ll incorporate it into the next iteration of the survey.

 

NICKNAMES

The nickname of the Fraternity is focused on an external audience. It is meant to serve as a means of recognition to the outside world, and so it should make sense that the Fraternity has put more effort into ensuring that there is, at least, a common nickname: “Delta Sig.”

For this portion of the survey, I asked chapters which nickname they heard “most often” in their chapter, but included a follow up question asking the members to choose from a list of nicknames they occasionally used. Delta Sig was selected as a primary or secondary option by almost every chapter.

The next most-used nicknames are DSP and D-Sig respectively. The former is also commonly associated with Delta Sigma Pi, and is an official nickname of that fraternity per the aforementioned agreement between the two organizations.

“DSP” is still a preferred term among many western chapters and is a secondary nickname throughout most regions of the country. “D-Sig” is a natural shortening of Delta Sig, and so it’s popularity makes sense as well.

Delt Sig is the preferred term throughout much of Michigan, and it has a diminished presence in the areas surrounding the Great Lakes.

Through my experience on staff, it became clear that many chapters along the lakes used “Delt Sig” in years past, but many of these chapters have been recently re-established, and students were the primary respondents to the survey. It’s likely that it’s limited presence in the area is mostly due to modern founding fathers of the re-established groups knowing “Delta Sig” while hearing “Delt Sig” among some alumni members.

Rounding out the nicknames are “Delta,” which is certainly more popular in the Northeast than we would be led to believe from this map, “Sig,” “Sigma,” or some other variation of Sigma are used in some central parts of the nation, and “Dig” is a term very popular with one chapter in Florida.

LINGERING QUESTIONS

Prior to the 2019 Convention, I’ll attempt to redistribute this survey to a wider audience, and perhaps expand upon some of the questions offered and the reach of the survey to hit more Northeastern chapters.

Generational divides (such as different nicknames preferred at the same chapters or the use of “yitties”) would also be an interesting view into the Fraternity’s culture and membership.

Meme culture and greater connectivity through the internet may result in a blending of terms, or a breaking of regional boundaries for some terms.

Update 2/2018: I eliminated about 500 words. NICE!