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How to Speak Wisconsin—Phrases for Beginners

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A water fountain or drinking fountain everywhere else in the world.

A water fountain or drinking fountain everywhere else in the world.

What Is This a Picture Of? In Wisconsin, It Is a "Bubbler"

If your answer to this question is "water fountain" or "drinking fountain," (which is what it IS called in most of the world), pay close attention to this "tutorial" on how to speak "Wis-can-sin!"

Living in Wisconsin for as long as we did, I found out that I really didn't know the colloquial language, and had much to learn. I once went into a "Wisconsin shop" in a mall there, and found a very humorous "Wisconsin passport." I thought, "this must be a joke, right?" Well, maybe there really IS a need for a passport to visit there!

Much of the population in Wisconsin is of German and English ancestry, as well as Scandinavian. This makes for a very interesting way of saying and pronouncing some common phrases!

Even to say the word "Wisconsin," the pronunciation is more like Wis-can-sin, the "ah" sound being pronounced like "hat" or "bat." And heaven forbid if you were to call the largest city Milwaukee, it is "Mwaukee"... no "il" in it!

When I started working in retail, I had a co-worker ask me one time where the "bubbler" was. I was thinking "you got me! I don't know!" But I attempted to answer her with "in the toy department?" See, I was thinking of the toy children play with, known as the "bubble mower." Our boys loved that toy when they were small. This is NOT what she meant, she looked at me like I had just fallen off of the turnip truck, or landed from outer space!

"No," she continued "I mean, I'm thirsty, where is the "bubbler"?" Ok girlie, now who just landed in Wis-can-sin from outer space? I had to laugh and told her "up by the front doors, near the restroom."

After feeling like I could use a translator to continue living there, I found that there are a lot of words and phrases unique to Wis-can-sin and the Midwest. Even going out to lunch with friends from work was an interesting experience! We would have to stop at the intersection at the traffic lights there (otherwise known as signal lights everywhere else) - I soon found out that we had to stop at the "stop n go lights." Huh?

Now pay close attention, this is not a "traffic light" or a traffic signal, it is a "Stop n go" light!

Now pay close attention, this is not a "traffic light" or a traffic signal, it is a "Stop n go" light!

Other Strange... (Oh Wait, That's Not Nice) Other..." Unique" Colloquialisms

Here are some of the other common unique phrases and pronunciations from Wisconsin.

  • "Go by" or "Come by" - meaning "go to" or "come to." As in "after you go by the Post Office, come by my house."
  • "Upside right" - meaning the opposite of "upside down"... heaven help me, some of these are actually starting to make sense.
  • "Borrow me" - instead of "lend to me" it's "borrow me." As in, "can you borrow me a couple dollars?"
  • Even cuss words have been "Wisconsin-ized," take for example "Cripes" or "Cripes Sakes" - or even "Gol-darn." So, you can cuss in a much cleaner more civilized way.
  • "You Betcha" - meaning "you bet!"
  • "Fair to Midlin" - a way to answer someone when they ask you "how you doin' today? Or even better—
  • "How's By You?" - if someone asks, you can now answer "Fair to middlin."
  • "Where-a-bouts" - when asking someone for directions—
  • They may answer you with "Pert neer" meaning "pretty near."
  • Are you still following all of this? Good! Now "Come with" (meaning, come with me) and we'll continue to learn these colloquialisms!
  • Another thing people may not realize is that the Mosquito in Wis-can-sin is also known as a "Skeeto" and you don't scratch your "Skeeto" bites or they'll get infected, you "Itch" them! As in "don't itch those skeeto bites, you'll get scabs"! The mosquito is often affectionately (and sometimes not so affectionately for cripes sakes) referred to as the Wisconsin state bird!

The "Skeeto's" Get Huge in Wisconsin!

This thing is going to give me NIGHTMARES!!

This thing is going to give me NIGHTMARES!!

Now the mosquito's in Wisconsin are HUGE, "Believe you me!"—used by school teachers from German ancestry in old Wisconsin schoolhouses, means "believe what I say" or "believe me." And don't panic if someone asks you: "Were you born in a barn?"—this is simply their way of asking "Why did you leave the door open?"

And if you do decide to go on a vacation, the proper place to go is "Up Nort" rather than down South, although we violated this rule quite a bit. I couldn't see the point in complaining nine months out of the year about the cold, and then going someplace colder than where we lived for a vacation? Call me silly, but we always went South. Sorry, but I'm just not into risking hypothermia just by going swimming! Purple fingernails are just not a good "fashion statement" for anyone!

You need to be a pretty hearty person to survive living in Wisconsin for any length of time, but for the most part, it's not a bad place to live or even to long as you pick up your Wisconsin passport and bring your translator along, you should be just fine, "Believe you me!"

Author Biography

I have been a freelance writer since 2010 for websites like HubPages, Textbroker, BlogMutt and Constant Content. I was also a newspaper writer for a high school newspaper. I especially enjoyed writing magazine articles for a country music magazine called Neon Rainbow from September 2001 through June of 2003.

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Questions & Answers

Question: How do you ask, "where are you from?" in Wisconsin?

Answer: I usually just ask “ where are you from?”

Question: Where are you from?

Answer: Wisconsin originally, although we’ve lived in five other states as well.


KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on January 10, 2020:

I don’t say all of these things, even though I’ve spent a good part of my life in Wisconsin! I have heard many of the sayings from other people, though!

Savanna Kullmann on January 10, 2020:

Am I the only one who barely says any of these?

Susu on November 14, 2019:

Good artical aint it hey

John on August 22, 2018:

Good advice. Is this all true?

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on July 11, 2018:

Hi Miranda!

I didn't take any offense. I know not all people from Wisconsin speak this way, I was trying to give some examples of the differences in phrasing and speech and some are more common than others. Thanks so much for commenting!

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on July 11, 2018:

Hi Trinity!

Thanks for your comment! Your experience is a great example of what I meant when I wrote this. Hope you enjoyed your time living in Wisconsin! Best of luck to you in the future.

Miranda on July 11, 2018:

Hi, I've lived in Wisconsin my whole life and we do NOT talk like this. I've been all around the state and I've never heard anything about this other than bubbler, which most people I know call it a water fountain. Wisconsin is pronounced exactly how it is. Not your weird "WiscAnson."

Milwaukee has an L in it, it's just softer. And I've never heard any of the phrases you said. I say mosquito and pretty near like a normal person. I don't mean to offend you, but we are not all country bumpkins like people may think :)

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on December 07, 2017:

Thanks, tj! I just moved back to Wisconsin, so I have to brush up on the language again!

tj on December 07, 2017:

we say skeeters not skeeto lol

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on August 05, 2014:

I love this, Eric!! Thanks so much for sharing! :)

Eric Schmidt on August 04, 2014:

Ladies and Gentlemen, I grew up in Shawano County for 10 years, and went to school with kids from the Menoninee and Stockbridge Indian Reservations, as well as Gresham Township and surround farming community. My high school grad class was nine (9), K-12 was ~100 kids. So when newcomers to the area arrived they were welcomed with instructions to the school, "Ya der hey! Scoop on ya Horse (what's going on)? Da school is thru Long Swamp, across the train tracks, past Zimmerman's Farm, left da stop n go, n behind the Hoffman Co-Op ya know? Dey sed it's gunna snow in da morn, so make sure yer ski-doo (snow mobile) is ready to take ya to school; buses ain't running routes and roads ain't plowed eh. Catch ya in moose-yards (see you later)"

Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on July 25, 2014:


Thanks for the support in how I say Wisconsin.

People in various places always mispronounce Alabama.

It is pronounced, AlabaAH . . .not AlabamUH . . .Forrest Gump made this error talking to Jenny when they met at the anti-war rally in Washington.

Oh well. Another windmill toppled.

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on July 25, 2014:

Great comment, Michael H! :) I still remember friends going to the store and asking me if I wanted to "come with!" Parts of the state really are gorgeous, too! Thanks so much for your great comment! :)

Michael H. on July 25, 2014:

Hey Kathy,

I stumbled across your post. I'm from west central Wisconsin (Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire area) and have to plead guilty to most of your "isms".

Interestingly, it's pretty easy to tell where in the state someone is from by their pronunciations and word choices. Water fountains and stop lights rule here. However, ending a sentence in "with" or "too" is appallingly acceptable.

Point being, some of the normal speaking practices from my area will be scoffed at in other parts of Wisconsin (it's wuhs-CON-sin, lean on the O)

For everyone else: If you haven't been to Wisconsin it's stunningly beautiful, so come by and bring your family with... and maybe your dog too.

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on June 17, 2014:

Of course you can, Kenneth! :) Thanks so much for stopping by!! I've heard it pronounced different ways, too. :) In a book I've been reading, there is a character who has an accent and the author surprised me when she was talking about the accent and she wrote "Midwestern accent, maybe Wisconsin!" The plot of the book is based in California. That caught my eye for sure! Lol!

Kenneth Avery on June 16, 2014:

May I jump in ladies?

I have relatives in Kenosha, and the saying of the word, Wisconsin, is varied among these siblings.

I have heard a sharp tone on the ending: "Wis--Con--SEEEEEN,"

to an emphasized middle: "Wis--KONN--sin," and there is the: "Wis--CEAUN--Seean,"

I just say, "Wes--con--sin . . ." very quickly and hope no one from Wisconsin catch my error.

Thanks for the moment.

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on June 16, 2014:

Cute story, Leslie! :) Thanks so much for sharing!

Leslie on June 15, 2014:

I remember going to Maryland once and asking where the bubbler was. People gave me so many strange looks @_@

Brady Solmanski on February 04, 2014:

NO we do not say wis-can-sin, its wis-con-sin, exactly how its spelled, and NO you do not need a passport so GTFO

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on September 27, 2013:

I'm so glad you enjoyed this, Natalie, and that it gave you some laughs! Thanks so much for your nice comment! :-)

natalie d on September 27, 2013:

I've lived in Wisconsin all my life and i've never heard anyone say "bubbler." We call it a water fountain. I call "stop-n-go lights" stop lights. I ALWAYS say "Mwaukee." haha We do say "go by" and "come by" but not often. and we pronounce it Wis-con-sin. with an "awe" sound. I've never heard "upside right" before. All the sayings after that are said mostly by the old people. And we DO say skeeto, but I prefer to say skeeter. I don't understand why we must say "scratch" instead of "itch"? haha Everyone says that! Didn't know it was weird haha

I enjoyed reading this. :) It made my day.

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on July 12, 2013:

That sounds about right, Kenneth!:-) Thanks so much for reading and for sharing your fantastic sense of humor:-) I appreciate that!

Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on July 10, 2013:

This hub needs to be a MUST-READ for everyone planning on going to WisconsEEEEEAN.

I've heard it pronounced like this.

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on July 10, 2013:

I hadn't heard of that one, Glory B.!:-) Thanks so much for adding some funny, cool information! I'll have to remember that name for skeeter spray!:-) Thanks so much!

Glory B. on July 10, 2013:

@Kim Cantrell and KathyH, I'm from Wisconsin. It's a Wisconsinite :) And about our skeetos, we call bug spray 'skeeter dope'.

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on April 06, 2012:

Nope, I never heard someone in Wisconsin say 'yuns' (Unless they were originally from Tennessee!) ;) I've been to Tennessee many times and LOVE it there! :) Some of the BEST memories I have in my life happened in Tennessee! ;) Thanks so much for visiting and commenting! :)

Blue on April 06, 2012:

I was born and raised in Northeast Tennessee. My husband was born and raised in Minnesota about 40 mins from the Wisconsin line. We go up there at least once a year to visit his family. Most of the things you list as "Wisconsin talk" are things I've been raised on speaking. The only things that we don't say here are bubbler, skeeto, itch, fair to midlin, hows by you, and the stop and go lights. I think a lot of these "our region only" type words actually span far greater than people realize. Now if you guys tell me you say "yuns" then I think I'd pass out, that is for sure a NETN only term that I know of.

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on December 11, 2011:

Thanks robie and Debby for your thoughtful comments, and the up vote as well! ;) So glad you liked this! :)

Debby Bruck on December 11, 2011:

Hi Kathy ~ I felt like I was talking to my neighbor who moved here from Minnesota about 8 years ago. That was a trip like no other. Of course, the famous NPR "Whad'Ya Know?" with Michael Feldman gives us a hootin' laugh each week, That's a good place to learn some more phrases for fun. mmmbye ~~ Blessings, Debby

Roberta Kyle from Central New Jersey on December 11, 2011:

Enjoyed the hub and the comments and must chime in and say that as a military brat I lived all over the place in my childhood and encountered thee word " bubbler" in New England. Like you I had not a clue what they were talking about, especially since the local accent made the pronounciation kind of like " bub- lah". I never heard " were you born in a barn?" but I love it and can't wait to use it. Voted up with pleasure

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on December 11, 2011:

Thanks, Sharyn's Slant! :) Glad you like it, thanks for your sweet comment! :)

Sharon Smith from Northeast Ohio USA on December 11, 2011:

I really enjoyed reading this hub KathyH. I've never been to Wisconsin but the elderly man that I take care of is from there. He talks a lot about all the farms and the freezing cold temps. This was very interesting and fun.


KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on December 10, 2011:

Glad I could help, Laura! :) Thanks for your thoughtful comment! :)

laurathegentleman from Chapel Hill, NC on December 09, 2011:

I think it's wonderful that you have had the opportunity to learn all these different dialects. I have never been to Wisconsin, but I have relatives that live there, and I love the accent! And now I know the proper vocabulary for the next time I see them!

Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on December 07, 2011:

Dear are welcome, my good friend and hubwriter. This hub about how to speak Wisconsin, was hilarious. I have some relatives in Kenosha. Rick, Debbie, Lynda and Dennis Williams. All good kids. Smart as whips. Good hearted people. I know that you don't know them, but therein is OUR connection. Thanks for all of your nice words in the past 7 months Ive been on hubs. I will always cherish YOU and your words.

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on December 07, 2011:

Thank you SO much, Kenneth, that means a lot to me. I will keep you in my prayers. I love reading all of your writings as well, you're one of my favorite Hubbers, too. Merry Christmas to you, too.

Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on December 07, 2011:

12/7, KathyH...GREAT, GREAT hub here. Voted up and all the way...hilarious and yet so true. But I am a born and bred southern man. And we used to say 'ye,' for you..can I get ye a drank of water? That stuff. Love your talent, Kathy. And I offer you my deepest apologies for not visiting more. I take all the blame. I do value your following and friendship, but I was hurrying to get as many projects done as I could before my health worsens. That was why I haven't been here more. Again, I am sorry. I will try to do better. Forgive me. Have a Merry Christmas, Kathy, and YOU are one of my Favorite hubbers.

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on December 03, 2011:

I thought it was a myth or joke, too, until I checked into a B&B in West Hampstead, London, and "right on cue" the clerk asked if I wanted to be knocked up. "Pretty" has nothing to do with it. Had I not known he was only inquiring if I wanted a wake-up call, I would've been flattered, not offended. I'd just arrived after a 7 1/2 hour flight from Chicago, and I can attest it's true that one DOES look like that gawd-awful passport photo after such a long flight! ;D

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on December 03, 2011:

Sure you are, Angie! ;) You probably just didn't stay at the right hotel! (winking!!)

Angie Jardine from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... on December 03, 2011:

I have never heard that said, JamaGenee ... I guess I'm not pretty enough :)

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on December 02, 2011:

OMG JamaGenee, that really IS what they say?? I have never been to the UK but I want to go one day! It sounds like a fascinating place, and now I just want to hear the desk clerk ask me that question! I'll just pretend to be shocked! TOO funny!!

Thanks Angie, I didn't realize so many of those sayings are used there, really interesting! :)Glad you like the hub! :)

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on December 02, 2011:

Not to get off-topic, but Angie's comment reminded me that the Brit expression that shocks most visiting female Americans is "Would you like to be knocked up?". Which only means "Would you like a wake-up call (a knock up)", but many male desk clerks get a kick out of not explaining the innocent meaning until the woman's expression has changed to shock...or outrage. ;D

Angie Jardine from Cornwall, land of the eternally youthful mind ... on December 02, 2011:

Hi Kathy - this hub was really interesting as we use loads of your Wisconsinisms in the UK!

'Fair to middlin' is a common colloquialism, as is 'believe you me'. 'Were you born in a barn' is also usual when someone forgets to shut a door but 'Whereabouts?' is just standard English.

Isn't language fascinating?

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on December 02, 2011:

You're friend is absolutely right, JamaGenee! :) I had always been told that there are two seasons in Wisconsin as well, "winter and not winter". I like winter and July better though! :)

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on December 01, 2011:

JayHAWKS! But I like "Jaybirds" better. Thanks! lol! (Don't tell anyone, but I'm NOT a KU fan.)

I had a genealogy pal who lived near Minneapolis-St Paul. One year she sent me a booklet called "How to Speak Minnesotan". My favorite part was: "There are two seasons in Minnesota: Winter and July. Remember, tourist season will begin in June. In late May, please start removing all the objects you've thrown into the front yard since last fall that will be exposed when the snow finally melts."

My friend swore it was all true! ;D

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on December 01, 2011:

Hey justateacher, glad you've heard the term "bubbler"... I was starting to wonder if I had just imagined it, nah... I remember her asking me where it was and my confusion! ;)

Thanks for stopping by and commenting! :)

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on December 01, 2011:

Hmm, JamaGenee, maybe it is more of a "Midwest" thing than Wisconsin, then! :) I worked with a really sweet lady from Kansas, I still remember her well, she was going to school to work in medicine, so she left retail after a couple years... she is back in Kansas now! (Jaybirds, if I remember, is that the football team?) :) Now that you mention it, she did talk a lot like "Wisconsin-ites!" Thanks for commenting!!

LaDena Campbell from Somewhere Over The Rainbow - Near Oz... on December 01, 2011:

Most of the terms you listed are, as JamaGenee says, very common in Kansas as well. I have heard the term "bubbler" for a water fountain, but only because a great friend was born and raised in Wisconsin.

Joanna McKenna from Central Oklahoma on December 01, 2011:

Funny, growing up in Kansas most everything you listed here was the way WE talked. Well, except for "bubbler". That's a new one on me, too. Maybe because our water fountains didn't bubble???? ;D

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on December 01, 2011:

Hey Kim, your sister in law might learn a few things from this, glad I could ... help? :) :) I think "Wisconsinan just might be right! ;)

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on December 01, 2011:

Hi Moonlake! It's funny you mention a Southern accent, I had one when we moved from North Carolina to Maryland, and even had it in Maryland... after almost 14 years of living in Wisconsin though, I lost it! Wish I hadn't, I love Southern accents!! Friends told me in Wisconsin that I was kind of "twangy" when I first got there, I had to giggle!

In Maryland we called a "slide" (that thing in the park that kids go down) a "sliding board) - in Wisconsin, it was "slide". Different sayings for different places for sure! Thanks for reading, I'm glad you like it! :)

Kim Cantrell from Deep In The Pages of a Book on December 01, 2011:

My sister-in-law, also a fellow Tennessean from birth, has to travel to Wisconsin frequently to see her medical specialists. She's getting pretty dang good at speaking Wisconsinan (is that right?). I'll have to direct to her this hub so she can speed up the learnin'. :)

moonlake from America on December 01, 2011:

I also have never heard bubbler we call them water fountains. I get after my kids for saying Go With. My husband is from Wisconsin born and raised. I have never heard him say BELIEVE YOU ME. I do say that and I'm from Arkansas. In Northern Wis. they call soda POP and my daughter said when she went to Madison she had to change that everyone made fun of her. My friend who was also born and raised here says YOUSE GUYS. Another thing we say here is that we "Go Sliding" instead of Sledding another northern saying.

I have lost so much of my Southern accent and I wish I hadn't.

Really enjoyed your hub.

KathyH (author) from Waukesha, Wisconsin on December 01, 2011:

Hi danoglund! :) I think it depends on the part of Wisconsin one is in, most of these are said around Milwaukee, and I think a few farther South, some are even from Sheboygan! :)

I hadn't heard "Bubbler" either, but then the lady at work asked me where it was, AND, our boys came home from school and said that kids had asked them if they wanted to go for a "bubbler ride" - we had lived in Maryland prior to that, and in North Carolina, and Hawaii and Tacoma, WA.. we've lived all over the place! :)

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on December 01, 2011:

I never knew those terms were not standard English.Except "bubbler" which I don't think I have ever heard anyone say.There are big mosquitoes here.

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