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October 13, 2006

Slang of the Week: Yooper (noun)
a person from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan

In July, spring finally arrived in Calumet and the Yooper took off his parka to enjoy the nice weather.

Celebrity quote:
“Most Yoopers are embarrassed by the film, and the ones I have asked claim not to know people who talk that way. And, in fact, there aren't many of them who do.”
University of Michigan
Professor Richard W. Bailey on the film Escanaba in Da Moonlight

This week I got mail from a reader who said she was from Upper Michigan. That threw me off for a moment, since in my neck of the woods (Jackson, MI) we always just said “the UP.” (Yooper comes from the pronunciation of that abbreviation, by the way.)

She mentioned the movie Escanaba in Da Moonlight, which was made in the UP. I’d never seen it, but a little investigation showed it to be an independent film by Jeff Daniels, who grew up in southern
Michigan and unlike me, still lives there. In the movie, Daniels plays a hunter ashamed of his inability to kill a buck (which is an important skill in Michigan. Just ask my fellow Jacksonian Ted Nugent, a successful hunter and the author of Kill It and Grill It).

Although I lived in
Michigan until I went to college, I rarely ventured north of Traverse City and thought of the Upper Peninsula (where only 3% of Michiganders live) as an exotic place. There, at least according to the Detroit news stations, residents had to shovel snow off their roofs in the winter to keep them from collapsing and kids had to take small planes to school because the people lived so far apart from one another. (Lest you think I exaggerate the weather, it is snowing there as I write this on October 13th.)

Right or wrong, others share my (possibly skewed) impression of the UP. I found several online pages of Yooper jokes, including this one: “You might be a Yooper if your ice fishing shanty is better furnished than your house.”

According to Bailey, Yooper is not an old, traditional name for those in the frozen north. It came out of a 1979 contest in the Escanaba Daily Press. However, the Finnish-influenced Yooper dialect has been around for a long time. While the local vocabulary is extensive, I’ll leave you with the words they use to describe those of us from the
Lower Peninsula: troll and flatlander. Flatlander will be obvious to anyone who’s driven through the southern part of the state, but why troll? Like the trolls in the fairy tale The Three Billy Goats Gruff, we live “under the bridge”—south of the Mackinac Bridge that connects the two parts of the state, that is.

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Translated quotes from another Jeff Daniels classic, Dumb & Dumber.