When I was growing up in Chicago, dibs meant "half". For example, if there was one slice of pizza left and you yelled "dibs", you got at least half of that piece. If somebody else called dibs, he or she got the other half. If nobody else called dibs before you were able to grab it, you got the whole thing.
Posted by: Joseph Wiencek | Dec 15, 2005 10:16:07 AM
The desire to claim extended rights to a parking space you've shoveled out is understandable; actually doing it is anti-community and a blight on our cityscape. Why anyone would want to treat their home like a garbage dump just because they spent 20 minutes clearing some snow is beyond me, but it's an embarassment to the city of Chicago when they do.
However, people who do it are generally unwilling to listen to such concerns; it's a childish "me first" attitude that reason cannot penetrate. None of their arguments hold water; but that doesn't matter. They don't care, they never will, and they have a spineless mayor who backs them up because he needs the support of the lowest common denominator element of society.
Clear a space and keep it as long as you like; move your car, and you give it up.
Posted by: Rocco | Dec 15, 2005 10:43:35 AM
In our early 1930s Ohio household that included four very competitive brothers, the word was "finnies." As in "I've got finnies on the funnies," or "on that last piece of pie." I don't see "finnies" in our dictionaries at home, but perhaps the origin was "fingers"? I don't recall hearing "dibs" until the 1940s when I went into the service in WWII.
Incidentally, we would never have used "bags," or "bagsy." We always said "sacks." (And I still do, to the amusement of checkout persons.)
Russ Hurst, Wheaton
Posted by: Russ Hurst | Dec 15, 2005 10:49:05 AM
"Dibs on the Metro section?" C'mon EZ. I challenge you to find 5 kids (who dont have the last name "Zorn") who have ever claimed dibs on the Metro section! Dibs on the comics, Dibs on the Toys R Us ad, Dibs on sports, thats one thing. But I dont think kids call dibs on the Metro section in order to be the first to read about the Ryan trial news!
ZORN REPLY -- Hey, even MY kids....True story: Last year, my son, then 14, was going through high school orientation and was doing some Q&A;, get to know you games. Came home and asked me, "Hey, Dad, what section does your column run in?" "Metro," I said. "I thought so," he said. So there you go. You called me out on my little joke. I am so busted.
Posted by: Michael A | Dec 15, 2005 11:08:23 AM
I'll admit it, I'm not a Chicago native, so perhaps the reason I don't see the beauty of putting garbage out in the street after a tiny bit of work shoveling snow. I love this city and have made it my home, but this is one of the dumbest traditions I've ever seen. It is childish and, I think, illegal--one cannot claim part of a public street, right? Am I wrong about this? I don't drive much (and I've never claimed dibs, as I'm an adult and I don't litter), but this year I have a strategy: When feasible, I will take the dibs litter off the street and transport it to the nearest dumpster. I hope to do this at least once or twice a week.
Posted by: Thad | Dec 15, 2005 11:39:13 AM
The term "shoddy" has been popular for the past year among my 3 adolescent sons when claiming dibs on something. "I shoddy the front seat" or "I shoddy the blue couch." They are not sure of its origin but they think it is an outgrowth of calling "shotgun" for the front seat (typically used when a group of kids are entering a minican.) I wonder if your boys ever use that term.
ZORN REPLY-- "Shotgun" has been around forever. Sounds like a variant.
Posted by: Paul | Dec 15, 2005 12:53:09 PM
I don't care if you hand-painted a replica of the Sistine Chapel ceiling on the pavement, it's a public street. Period. End of story. If you want a reserved parking space, pay for one.
The "dibs" tradition, with its implied threat of vandalism to the cars of "intruders," is the most obnoxious territoriality.
Posted by: Pan | Dec 15, 2005 1:05:22 PM
Please come to my street (Berwyn and Francisco)and take away the dibs crap there, because I am too chicken to do it myself. (There's actually a pretty nice child's wagon holding one spot)
Instead, I glare and grumble about the stupid piles of junk and give myself heartburn.
There wasn't even THAT much snow, people! Give me a break!
You move it, you lose it.
Posted by: Me | Dec 15, 2005 1:29:27 PM
You know, if John Kass still lived in Chicago I'd find his columns on saving spots easier to take, but come on, the guy's gone soft.
I grew up in Chicago and found that the practice varied widely. No matter how you feel about it as a practice, I bet most would agree that today's practitioners are really lazy and uncreative compared to their couterparts in years past. When I was a kid, people hauled out sofas, stoves, I mean, serious stuff.
This year, I see a guy on my block who put a bucket of snow on a crate. What's up with that? Last year a guy put a giant Tide detergent bottle - oooh, scary - what does that even mean, "Take my space and I'll clean your car?"
My biggest gripe is with the people who don't even shovel, but claim a space when they pull out of it.
A few years ago I grudgingly started saving a spot after realizing that people were taking my shoveled opne instead of shoveling out *available* spots on the street. That to me is the kicker - if there is a free spot with snow in it, someone should shovel that out before claiming a spot that has been cleared.
But today's space savers are ridiculous - shoveling for 30 minutes doesn't give you the spot all winter!
I wrote a piece on this a few years back, all I'd ask is people quit parrotting Kass and his ridiculous "dibs" musings, he made all this up himself because he needs something to do, apparently - no native Chicagoan talks about "dibs", puh-leeze.
Posted by: Carter | Dec 15, 2005 1:30:14 PM
Pan - spoken like someone who has never shoveled the mountain left by the snowplow only to not have a space later on. If folks weren't willing to mooch off their neighbor's labor, the 'dibs' problem would be non-existant.
Not that I've ever used an ironing board to reserve my spot...
Posted by: JimW | Dec 15, 2005 1:35:37 PM
About 15 years ago some co-workers and I were dividing up the spoils of a company going out of business (office furniture and stuff). I called dibs on the leather chair and a co-worker from Latvia looked at me and said "Vos is dis dibs?" I happily explained the American custom of claiming what you want and watched him go around the office stating "I vould like to have dibs on dis desk." It evidentally crosses all international borders.
Posted by: Karen | Dec 15, 2005 1:36:20 PM
Those who wish to rebel against the ridiculous, childish practice of "dibs" can do what a good friend of mine does on his NW side neighborhood. He removes the chairs/brooms/other junk used to mark parking spaces and collects it at the corner or near the entrance to the closest alley.
This seems to prevent any of the threatened vandalism, because the lazy folks who practice dibs almost always realize that those who parked in "their" spots may very well not have known that it was even "claimed." Even those willing to embrace criminality to enforce "dibs" (like the two thugs quoted approvingly by Kass at the end of his column the other day... hey, guys, you can rationalize and call it what you want, but under the law it's still "criminal damage to property," punishable by jail time...) generally are unwilling to vandalize what may be some innocent person's car, or a whole block of them, for that matter.
I still think the best solution is the community-building "neighborhood shovel" that EZ has described in previous columns, but not all blocks can reach that level of consensus, and there is a way for residents in these areas to protest dibs, while not giving the false impression that someone who comes to park in the previously-claimed spot is to blame.
Posted by: Big Aaron | Dec 15, 2005 1:44:19 PM
Dibs are Dibs are Dibs! I dig it, it's mine.
Posted by: | Dec 15, 2005 1:51:20 PM
There is no reason why AFTER I clear out a space that my car was in to BEGIN with, that someone else should be able to come along and use it for their advantage. They ALSO have the option of digging their own space, but do they?? NO! They would rather let someone else do the work for them. That is what this is about. If I make it, it's mine til I give it away..
I admit, I've been tempted to put junk out on the street after shoveling out my parking spot, but I've resisted the urge. It's a public street. Shoveling out a spot does not mean you own it and does not mean you are entitled to it when you leave it. And, as another poster said, the implied threat of vandalism of taking a spot that someone has called dibs on is obnoxious. People who engage in such behavior should be ashamed of themselves.
Posted by: Liz | Dec 15, 2005 1:58:10 PM
Interesting. I'm a TV producer/director and have for years used the term 'dub' to mean a copy of a tape. Now it makes sense as to its origin and usage! Thanks for the illuminating (and fun) column on this subject (and it demonstrates that I never played with marbles when I was a kid)!
But, as far as the main subject as to 'dibs', really it demonstrates that the City should do a better job on clearing side streets. When I was in college in Upstate New York, the way Syracuse handled this was to make one side of the street no parking on even numbered days (with snow in the lane) and the opposite side on odd numbered days. Of course, it means that there is even less parking on those two or three snow days, but it got the streets cleared in record time and then everyone had a place to park!
Posted by: Fritz Golman | Dec 15, 2005 3:13:56 PM
A few years ago, Mayor Daley said that it was ok to claim dibs on a shoveled out parking spot. So, there's the answer to the nay-sayers.
Posted by: | Dec 15, 2005 3:56:21 PM
My personal, pet theory on the origin of the word "dibs" is that its singular - if indeed it does have a singular - is "bid" spelled backwards. Whereas a bid could be described as an earnest, honest, and open attempt to lay claim to something, an attempt backed up by money or some kind of fair value, and thus open to competition to do the same from other bidders, a "dib" is such a claim which fits none of the above adjectives, and backed up by nothing. Add to this the American propensity to corrupt just about any English word, and you have the backward of bids: dibs!
Just a thought.
Posted by: Tom K. | Dec 15, 2005 4:10:01 PM
If there is always ample parking on a street for everyone who lives there and visitors, I have no problem with dibs. But dibs should be outlawed on streets where you have to sell your left arm to get a spot in normal weather.
Posted by: Carrie | Dec 15, 2005 4:16:46 PM
It has been about 4 years since we've had a snow that required heavy shoveling. IMHO, you can judge the character of a neighborhood by the amount of junk out after a measely few inches of snow like we had a couple of days ago and I thank god I don't live around those people. If we get 8 or more inches I can understand someone putting out a lawn chair or something after shoveling out their car to save a spot -- but only for a few hours to perhaps run an errand. In no way does anyone have the right to save a spot all winter just because there is snow on the ground.
Luckily for me this is a prime opportunity to pick up some items I need. I use a lot of 5 gallon buckets for my container rooftop gardens and this year I'm looking for a nice end table -- but none of that veneer crap, I want something made of real wood that can be sanded down and stained. I consider anything left out on the street equivalent to being left in the alley for anyone to take.
Posted by: Mark | Dec 15, 2005 4:32:08 PM
The use of "dibs" can be seen as another reason that Communism will never work. Humans just aren't wired that way.
Posted by: abjdmba | Dec 15, 2005 5:01:21 PM
The thing that bothers me is people who use the snowfall to justify parking right in front of the building ALL WINTER LONG!
There wasn't even any need to shovel this time.
I can MAYBE forgive holding a space for a day or two after a big snow when other spaces are obscured.
I have one neighbor - YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE - who picks the space closest to his door (even if he didn't shovel it in the first place!) and claims it for the whole season.
This is just ridiculous. I long to throw his stuff into the parkway and park there myself, but I am too afraid of retaliation - and the fact is that these are my neighbors and I feel the need to at least TRY to get along.
But I find it patently inconsiderate.
Posted by: Just Me | Dec 15, 2005 5:12:31 PM
I think Mayor Daley's comment on the lawn-furniture-on-the-street-in-the-middle-of-January tradition in some areas of the city was along the lines of, "Ya gotta respect the chair." It was a Chicago-ism worthy of his dad, Richard the first.
My husband and I both grew up on the northside of the city. We resisted the temptation to turn the parking spaces on our street into an outdoor living center for the better part of 30 years, until a few years ago, when the condos went up, and the yuppies moved in.
Our alderman, when he was agressively pushing hi-density buildings in an area made up primarily of single family homes and two-flats (I'm sure it had nothing to do with his having a real estate license ;) promised there wouldn't be a negative impact on street parking, as each condo unit would have it's own parking space in the building's lot. What he neglected to tell us was that those spaces cost an additional $25K each, and that apparently none of the condo buyers chose to purchase them.
After the first big snow, we spent almost 3 hours digging out our car. The next evening, when we returned from work, that space was taken, so we got the snow shovel, the pole with the ice chopping blade, and the broom out of our car, and spent over an hour digging out another spot.
We had a lot of company both evenings; neighbors up and down the street were doing the same--except for the condo dwellers, who were nowhere to be seen.
The following evening, we found the space we'd cleared occupied by someone else's car, and spent another hour plus digging out a third spot. The same neighbors who'd been digging the previous two nights were once again doing the same, this time expressing disappointment and some degree of hostility over the non-shovelers who apparently left work early so they could snag the spaces other people had dug out.
When we got home the next night, and found (no surprise) another yup-mobile occupying the space we'd dug out, we cleared a 4th parking space. And when we left for work the following morning, we filled that space with chairs, large boxes of snow, a couple bags of garbage, a snow shovel and a broom. We knew, without a doubt, that our new neighbors weren't likely to steal those last items, as they apparently had no idea of how to use them.
My husband and I are in our 50's; most of the neighbors who'd been digging out parking spaces for the previous week are in their 40's, 50's and 60's. Most of the condo dwellers are 20 somethings, apparently with a sense of entitlement as big as all outdoors (and as deep as a Chicago blizzard ;) and no inclination to do anything that smacks of manual labor.
I've never liked the idea of claiming squatters' rights over a parking space. I like to think that clearing the block is a responsiblity that people who live there share. Heck, up until 5 or 6 years ago, that's pretty much how things operated. That's not the case any longer, unfortunately, so our street looks like the shabby chic equivalent of a sidewalk cafe every time the snow is over 7 inches deep.
One helpful tip for other Chicagoans who find themselves in the same or similar situation: towards the end of the snow removal process, the mayor usually issues a edict along the lines of, "Ya's need to get yer junk off the street by tomorra morning, cuz the crews from Streets and Sanitation got orders and they're gonna pick up everthing that's layin' out there." This is the time to gather up all the junk (old furniture, construction debris, etc.) that the Streets and Sanitation crews have failed to pick up on trash day(s), and set it in the parking area of your street. It will disappear like magic by day's end.
Chicago is still the city that works--it just works differently than it used to ;)
Posted by: cafeameric | Dec 15, 2005 7:58:18 PM
To the contributor who wondered about the legality of "dibs"...well, in Chicago it seems to occupy the same twilight zone of "legality" as wrapping a Benjamin around your driver's license, if you know what I mean...By the way, when I was growing up in Joliet some kids called dibs "cobs."
Posted by: Nina | Dec 19, 2005 2:16:17 PM
I agree with Tom K on the word's origin, bid spelled backwards. As far as parking spaces, it is a longstanding Chicago tradition. It nay not be part of the City Municipal Code, but violate it at your own risk.
Posted by: pETER | Dec 21, 2005 12:43:51 PM