I love the Yooper accent and Yooper slang — and I’m not alone. The Yooper accent was even voted as one of the sexiest accents in the U.S.
Full discloure: I’m a “troll” and not a Yooper. But we spent seven weeks this summer in the U.P, with six of those weeks in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Much of that time was spent with my Yooper (U.P. born and bred) cousins, and we learned a few new things from them — including the “proper” way to say words, and new phrases.
Yooper Accent and Dialect
The Yooper accent and dialect, especially the Keweenaw accent and dialect, is influenced by the early settlers of the region. Many early settlers were Finnish (like my ancestors), while others were Cornish English or French Canadian (among other backgrounds).
Like in the Finnish language, I found that many Yooper words have an emphasis on the first syllable (even more than the Detroit/lake accent). For example, a word I notice a lot was flowers, pronounced flo-wers. Where the “flo” is stressed and the -wers almost drops, and the w is soft. (I wish I know more about linguistics so I could describe this properly.)
The th sound is often replaced with a d sound. This, then, the are often pronounced dis, den, da. Long before the successful Pure Michigan campaign, the state’s tourism campaign in the 80’s was, “Say Yes to Michigan! The feeling’s forever.” (I can still hear the song in my head.) In response, a jokey U.P. phrase came about… “Say ya to da U.P., eh?”
Yes, eh? Much like our Canadian friends to the north, “Eh?” is a common word used to ask a question or make a statement – whether rhetorical or not. “You going to sauna, eh?” In fact, sometimes I feel like it’s a passive invitation to agree or disagree. “We should take the boat out today, eh?”
Next we have -een vs. -ing. In the U.P. and especially the Keweenaw, I noticed that going was go-een, doing was do-een. But again, the emphasis is on the first syllable.
And now for the short a. The Michigan accent, lower and upper peninsulas, both have the tenancy to over enunciate the short a — or straight up replace a short o with it. I am so guilty of this, especially after spending a summer with my cousins. For example, box is bahx. A lot is A laht. Pants is paaahnts. It’s an intense short a that I thought I had dropped since leaving Michigan over 16 years ago, but it’s like riding a bike, and it comes back to you real quick.
So, with that, here are some key phrases we heard often in the Keweenaw Peninsula. I’ve also given examples of the phrases used in sentences, most of which were said to us or we overheard.
Yooper Phrases & Definitions
Definition: A person or persons that are members of the Apostolic Lutheran Church. Many members are of Finnish or Norwegian descent. Most members do not drink alcohol.
Used in a sentence: The Apostolic’s don’t drink Busch Latte.
Definition: A derogatory name for members of the Apostolic Lutheran Church, named for the hairstyle many women used to wear in the Old Apostolic Church. Is commonly used and we heard it A LOT. Younger generations of Apostolic Lutherans are now owning the term and using it among themselves.
Used in a sentence: “Get the bunner boys and girls together and let’s hang out.”
Definition: Busch Lite beer. One of the few beers that is acceptable to bring to a party, on the boat, or throw in the cooler that’s in the back of your deer pick up truck. Busch even embraces the slang term, releasing limited edition cans with the proper Yooper name.
Used in a sentence: “Who wants another Busch Latte?”
Definition: A piece of property for camping. Often has an outhouse, a sauna, and a stationary camper. Sometimes located just a few miles from your house. Could be on a body of water, or used for deer hunting.
Used in a sentence: “Grab a 30 pack of Bush Lattes and meet us at the camp tonight.”
Definition: A person you’re loosely related to, in the same extended family.
Used in a sentence: “Oh yeah, he’s my cousin; my dad is his dad’s, brother’s, nephew’s, cousin’s kid.”
Definition: Regional variant for the work creek: a stream, brook, or smaller tributary of a river.
Used in a sentence: “Make a left on the road right after the crick.”
Definition: An older car, most likely with rust or other damage, that could take a deer hit and the owner would not be out too much money and is unlikely to get hurt.
Used in a sentence: “We’ll be coming back late tonight, so we better take the deer car.”
Girl Scout Water
Definition: Lighter fluid. Most likely used to start your fire at the camp, or fire in a barrel.
Used in a sentence: “Let’s get this fire going; use some girl scout water.”
Definition: A 10-15 minute sauna, followed by a cool off (jumping in the river, rolling in the snow, a cold shower).
Used in a sentence: “The water on the rocks dried, time to jump in the river then meet back here for another inning.”
Definition: The ladle, usually wooden, used to add water to the hot rocks in the sauna to make the water steam.
Used in a sentence: “Hand me the kippo so I can make this sauna rip-roaring hot.”
Definition: The Native American name for Lake Superior, meaning great sea.
Used in a sentence: “I caught a 9.1 pound lake trout today on Gichi-gami.”
Definition: Intense, fueled. Often used when describing the type fire needed for a proper sauna.
Used in a sentence: “Add more wood to the stove, we want a rip-roaring fire.”
Definition: A “pop” for drinking “on the road” (in a vehicle) while driving to your next destination. And always in a coozie.
Used in a sentence: “Grab a couple roadies and meet me in the deer car.”
Definition: A delicious folded pastry filled generally filled with ground beef, potato, onion, rutabaga, carrot. Sometimes only served on certain days of the week. Also, the pronunciation is important – it’s pahst-e not paste-e.
Used in a sentence: “Who makes the best pasty? Mohawk, Kangas, or Connie’s?”
Noun or verb
Definition: A small room in a heatable building for sweat bathing (often with a wood bench) that is warm and moist, heated by a wood burning stove, that vents outside, with rocks on top. Water is poured over the rocks to create steam and moisture. Newer saunas could be electric.
The act of using the sauna.
*It is pronounced soun-ah instead of saw-na.
Used in a sentence: “The sauna is rip-roaring hot.” Or, “I’m going to sauna and shower before bed.”
Definition: The Finnish spirit. A uniquely Finnish inner quality that roughly means extraordinary determination, tenacity, endurance, resilience – but it’s beyond that. There’s no literal equivalent in English.
Used in a sentence: “I know it’s hard, but you can do this. You’ve got sisu!”
Definition: Doing a doughnut (rotating the read of the car/truck around the front wheels, making circles) in your car, especially in the snow.
Used in a sentence: “Let’s whip some shitties in the parking lot, eh?”
Definition: A snowmobile/snow machine.
Used in a sentence: “Hafta fix up my sled this weekend for the watercross competiton.”
Definition: A person who rides snowmobiles, be it in the snow or on the water and most likely lives in a smaller town or in the country.
Used in a sentence: “Didjya see that sledneck ripping on the snow?”
Definition: A person who lives in the lower peninsula of Michigan, under the Mackinac Bridge.
Used in a sentence: “Yous trolls can’t handle a little snow, eh?”
Definition: A person who is native or lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
Used in a sentence: “My Yooper cousins are meeting us at the camp with a 30-pack of Busch Latte.”
Definition: Bug spray, often times used for killer U.P. mosquitos.
Used in a sentence: “The skeeters getting ya? Here’s some Yooper Cologne.”
Definition: Rocks found in the U.P. on Lake Superior that glow red/orange when placed under a black light.
Used in a sentence: “It stormed last night, tonight let’s look for Yooperlites.”
Definition: The ultimate snow shovel. Has a bar to push (similar to a push mower), and scoops snow vs. pushing it.
Used in a sentence: “My Yooper Scooper scooped 300 inches of snow in Calumet last winter.”
Definition: Variation of you-all or y’all. Usually used when addressing more than one persons.
Used in a sentence: “How yous liking the watercross?”
Are you from the U.P. and know of a few words or phrases that I’ve missed? Or words from your native vernacular that are interesting? We’d love to know about them! Leave us a comment below or on Twitter or Instagram.
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