How to Speak Wisconsin—Phrases for Beginners
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?
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!
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 visit...as long as you pick up your Wisconsin passport and bring your translator along, you should be just fine, "Believe you me!"
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.