“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.
Hand signals, nicknames, and symbols are all curated and protected by fraternity leaders and staff. The community as a whole has opinions about words like “pledge” and “frat.” Our members; however, are stubbornly rebellious. That’s an interesting aspect of fraternity: the promise of discipline blended with youthful chaos.
My Fraternity: Delta Sigma Phi.
My fraternity had 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. Students would occasionally ask why I was setting up a second chapter of the business fraternity when I worked in expansion.
The two fraternities eventually agreed on official nicknames they’d teach their members and use in publications and marketing. Still, the students of Delta Sig prefer the nicknames they and their predecessors established over the years. Some have local reputations and brands developed over many decades. Those are difficult to let go.
These simple differences drive some brand-guardians to the brink of insanity. I have learned and assume that most inter/national fraternities and sororities deal with the same, amusing lack of brand discipline.
So, I took it upon myself to create a brief survey to determine how members 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. Maps are interesting tools, but are rarely used to tell the stories of fraternities. This is where things get interesting:
Preferred nicknames are mostly regional, and give insight into how the fraternity grew over time. Learning about these cultural differences opens up new, creative ways to tell our story. So many fraternity members focus only on the founding of their organization. Rarely do we talk about how our expansion or changes to our nation affected our organization’s present-day composition.
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.
The students expanded the Fraternity to roughly a dozen schools in the Northeast. They made it out west to Chicago and Texas, and south to South Carolina and Alabama, within the Fraternity’s first decade.
Fraternities once grew by absorbing local fraternities. Challenges aside, this process meant that men establishing chapters at nearby schools would transfer their traditions to the new chapters. Our regional distinctions developed alongside our fraternity, from the nicknames we choose to the way in which members pronounce “YITBOS.”
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. It is also important to note that Delta Sigma Pi, the fraternity that is often confused for our own, sprouted from Ohio. 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.
(Scroll to the bottom of this post to check out some new YITBOS merchandise. Proceeds go toward an accessibility fund. Neat!)
I’m not going to tell you what YITBOS means, but it is taught to every initiate. For non-Delta Sigs reading this post: Relish in the mystery.
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 how people say it, and I think that people miss the point of “YITBOS” when they focus too intently on its pronunciation. 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.
You could imagine that a Delta Sig from a chapter within any of those green regions will pronounce YITBOS with a strong “o.”
Take note 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.”
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. Most of central and northern Michigan also rhyme YITBOS with “toss.”
Modern Expansion Methods Are Changing Things
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. That leads us to the splotches of green in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina (as well as eastern Michigan).
Those are areas where chapters were recently re/established and taught by national 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 today are established by professional recruiters who teach them the official language. Over time, some of these chapters adapt to regional variations.
Here’s a map of the two combined:
“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. Perhaps we’ll incorporate it into the next iteration of the survey.
The Many Nicknames of Delta Sigma Phi
The nickname of the Fraternity is focused on external audiences. 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 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 preferred at many western chapters and is a secondary nickname throughout most of the country. “D-Sig” is a natural shortening of Delta Sig, and so it is understandably popular.
Delt Sig is the preferred term throughout much of Michigan, and it has a diminished presence in the areas surrounding the Great Lakes. I say “diminished” because I learned while on the Fraternity staff that chapters outside of Michigan used the term. Many of the chapters in the area were recently re-established. Most of the respondents were students, so it’s likely that Delt Sig has a presence in Chicago – for example – because students occasionally hear alumni use the term.
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.
Redistributing this survey to a broader audience is the goal. Prior to the 2021 Convention, I will attempt to once again drive this survey.
Generational divides (such as different nicknames preferred at the same chapters or the use of “yitties”) would 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.
New YITBOS-themed merchandise available now on RedBubble! Proceeds go toward the development of a Delta Sig “Accessibility Fund” to cover the cost of captioning videos, hiring interpreters, and more!