Melanie was raised in Michigan and has been living in the Midwest ever since. She also runs a YouTube channel: The Curious Coder.
Groups of people from every US state and every place in the world have a unique accent and have their own slang. People from the great state of Michigan are no different! If you’re not from Michigan and have heard our accent, it might seem a little bit odd to you. And, top it all off, we also have our own vocabulary.
If you’re not from the Midwest at all, you might think, as many do, that the Michigan accent (or dialect, really) is similar to the Minnesotan accent or Chicago accent. I can see why people might think that, but the Michigan accent is one of a kind.
Growing up close to Chicago, I have a sort of hybrid accent, a bit more on the Chicago side of pronunciation. I can’t say it’s entirely Chicagoan, though. I often get caught ‘Michiganizing’ words. My mother, however, has a stronger Michigan accent, which is different than mine (sometimes we’ll poke fun at how her accent is like Michael Moore’s.)
I’m going to share some of the colloquialisms and pronunciations that my mother and other Michiganders I’ve met (particularly those from the western/southwestern part of the Mitten, where I grew up) use.
An Accent or a Dialect?
The Michigan accent is actually part of a dialect of American English known as Inland Northern American English or the Great Lakes dialect. One of the main features of this dialect is a vowel chain shift that occurs which, according to Labov, Ash & Boberg( 2006), involves the clockwise rotation of six vowels /æ, ɑ, ɔ, ɛ, ʌ, ɪ/.
A Quick "Michiganisms" Video
- 19 Signs You're From Michigan
You know you're from Michigan when... everything on this list of Michigander stereotypes applies to you! A fun guide on the strange quirks of the Mitten state and its inhabitants.
There are some words and phrases we use in Michigan that aren’t often used elsewhere around the country. Here are some things you may hear if you spend enough time in the state:
Meijers and Krogers: (instead of Meijer and Kroger) – We like to put an S in the name of everything to make it possessive. Everyone around here says it as Meijer’s. Others, from out of town, have called it “Meijer” and it sounded weird. Friends will point out when we make these stores (and other place names possessive.)
The Mitten: (Yes, it’s a proper noun; it’s the name of a state for Pete’s sake!) This refers to the state of Michigan because, on a map, Michigan is shaped like a mitten. Mittens are of extreme importance to Michiganders because it can get relatively cold here.
Michigander: A person from Michigan. (This is probably actually a term used nationwide and not just a local thing.)
The U.P.: I've seldom heard a Michigander say "the Upper Peninsula." It sounds so formal! Perhaps it's only said when teaching people what U.P. means. You say each letter like "You Pea," not like the direction "up."
Up north: This is where you go if you're traveling within Michigan.
The union: "The union" is so integrated into Michigan life that when I was a kid, I thought the student union at Michigan State had something to do with the United Automobile Workers (UAW). When a Michigander says "the union" it generally means UAW. In my area, however, it's used to describe unions in/near Chicago.
It's pop, not soda:
Ope: This is a Midwestern thing and not just a word used in Michigan. It's used in the place of oops, for example when running into someone by accident. "Ope! I'm sorry!"
Read More From Owlcation
A party store is where a Michigander buys alcohol.
This is a U-turn. The name comes from the road design (common throughout Michigan) to allow for U-turns at intersections where cars cannot turn left. Instead, they are expected to make a U-turn, then turn right. The design includes a lane made specifically for U-turns. Interestingly enough, in some states U-turns are illegal. More about the Michigan left.
This Is a Michigan Left
Why do some people say soda and others say pop?
According to Ben Smith of DialectBlog, soda gets its name from soda fountains which were first seen in the eastern United States. At this time, much of the midwest was a bit behind and were purchasing this beverage by the bottle. Easterners eventually adopted the term "soda" to refer to carbonated soft drinks.
It's said that "pop" comes from the sound made when a cork is removed from a bottle.
Words for People (Tourists and Locals)
Townies: A townie is a derogatory term used by non-Michiganders visiting Michigan. Michigan's coastline is lined with small tourist towns frequented by wealthy people. Calling a Michigander a townie is like calling someone a commoner or a peasant. But it's okay; we've got a word for the out-of-staters slinging around such terms...
FIPs: This is what Michiganders in the southwestern areas of the Mitten (particularly in Berrien County) call people who visit from Illinois. Many FIPs are very nice, but often Michiganders feel they are rude. The term FIP is an acronym for *ahem* "F*cking Illinois People."
FOPs: FIPs from Ohio. This term is less commonly used.
Yoopers: This is what people from the upper peninsula are called.
Flatlanders: What Yoopers call those from the Lower Peninsula.
Fudgies: This is what Michiganders call tourists visiting the northern parts of Michigan.
Trolls: This is what Yoopers call those who live in the lower peninsula. This is because they live "under" the bridge.
Michiganders Like to Save Time
A big part of the Michigan accent is about saving time. We talk fast here, so to do so, we utilize two elements the French call the liaison and the elision. This is a way to mash up words to make pronunciation easier and faster.
The French language has a nice set of rules as to how to use a liaison. Unfortunately, there are no rules for how we butcher our words in Michigan; it's often just what's most convenient.
A great example is a phrase my mother uses:
Jeet?: When I was a teen, my parents hosted a foreign exchange student from Hungary. Before she got here, someone came over to give my mom a sort of linguistics lesson on how to avoid using phrases like "Jeet?" to not alienate the exchange student. So what the heck does "jeet?" mean? It means "Did you eat?"
People from other states might shorten that to just "Didja eat?" but that's still not acceptable to a Michigander. Another one, very similar to this is "imunna" which means "I am going to." Again, others just shorten this to "I'm gonna'" but we're innovators, so we shortened it further!
Yuh guys: In Michigan, we say "yuh guys," even when speaking to women. Since many Michiganders won't say "y'all," "yuh guys" is what we're left with. Note the time-saving "yuh" versus "you." Keep in mind that it's a quickly spoken word, so don't drag out the "uh" sound.
Secretariah State: In Michigan, we go to the Secretary of State to get our driver's license, not the Bureau/Department of Motor Vehicles as in other states. To save time, we just change the pronunciation of "of" to "uh" and mash it onto secretary.
Lookit!: This one is kind of tough to explain, but it is something a lot of people around here use (though I don't do this anymore). This is said when you find something cool, gross, or worth a look. You say, "Lookit." I think it's a combination of the words "Look at it" and is comparable to saying "check this out."
Where at?: This is NOT a time saver, but something my mom says all the time. Instead of just saying "where?" she adds the "at." In fact, I've noticed that a lot of people around here end their sentences with prepositions. I try to avoid it, but sometimes it slips out unnoticed.
Fyer: It's pronounced "fyer," not "fire." (I can't even pronounce fire the "correct" way!)
It's "meer" not "mirror."
We don't say "clothes," it's "cloze." "Ya' left yur cloze on the floor."
Melk - Some Michiganders say this to mean milk. (We don't say this in the southwest of Michigan, but it can be heard elsewhere.)
Michigan Place Names
Pontiac - This is pronounced pah-neeack, if you say the "t" sound, you will give away that you're not from Michigan.
Dowagiac - You say this like "D'waah-jack" with an emphasis on the "waah" part.
Livonia - This is pronounced like "Lih-vone-yuh" so don't do an "ia" at the end, it's definitely "yuh."
Grand Rapids - The first part of this city name is too much for Michiganders, so we just skip parts of it: Grranrapids.
Houghton – Ho’un
The Michigan Accent
The Michigan accent is a strange breed of something from Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ontario. I've been able to stop using words like "lookit" but I cannot stop myself from using my Midwestern accent. When my sister and I tease my mom when she says "car," she gets miffed and shouts, "Well, how am I supposed to say it?" This comes out sounding like, "Well, how my spose'ta' sayit'?" (Note that "how am I" in her speech comes out like "how my.")
The letter "A" as in "car" is a kind of light "ee-yeah" sound. If you're familiar with diacritical marks, it would be kind of like ēă, but much lighter and less noticeable.
Crayons are crēăns (similar sounding to "crans").
Dad is dēăd (again, only a slight difference from "dad").
The long "e" sound, like the "i" in "mirror," is a bit longer and nasally. Also, we don't waste our time with the "or" in "mirror," so it's just "meer." Make it really nasally, though.
Glottal stop: This is when your voice kind of stops in the middle of a word and then starts again. Think of a kid saying, "Uh-oh!" In Michigan, we like to do glottal stops at the end of our words, which is kind of like a tiny bit of forced breath. For example, when we say Detroit, we don't say the "t" sound at the end. Instead, it's like "Detroi" and then a bit of forced breath.
If the word has a double consonant 't' in it, like "kitten" or "button," there is a glottal stop without the t sound being pronounced: kitten = kih'ihn, button = buh'ton or buh'ohn. (Thanks to from Doe·Wah·Jack for pointing this out!)
The letter "t": Leave it to a Michigander to screw up the pronunciation of a consonant! If the letter "t" occurs in the middle of a word, it has a "d" sound. This is so embedded in my speech that I can't say a word like "city" with a "t" without sounding like I'm trying hard for that "t" sound. It's "ciddy."
"Ah" as in father has to be drawn out. In Michigan, you don't have a mom. You have a "maahm." And after school, you go to "haahckey" practice. On a slightly related note, Chicago is "Chic-aah-go," not "Chi-caw-go."
Everybody's going snurfing!
The concept of snowboarding was invented in Muskegon, Michigan where it was originally called snurfing. The first snowboard was a wide ski ridden like a skateboard (no binding.) Nowadays, everyone just calls it snowboarding.
What Accent Do You Have?
What American Dialect Do YOU have?
The New York Times has an online quiz you can take that will analyze your accent to show which area of the country you're from.
It chose Grand Rapids for me (see the map above for my results.)
Take the quiz to get your personal dialect map.
Where does it say you're from? Let me know in the comments below!
© 2011 Melanie Palen
Tim W. on August 01, 2020:
My results: Fremont, CA; San Jose, CA; Stockton, CA. I am. in fact, from Vallejo, CA, an SF Bay Area town a few miles North.
Also a SPARTAN! Heard the talk. Go Green!
Josh D on July 12, 2020:
A garage in Michigan is a grage. No tim for useless syllables. I really noticed it when I heard Kid Rock say "I go behind the grage and fire it up" in Bull God.
Konnie Sue on June 30, 2020:
Why do we go to 'the Soo' and not 'the' before any other city. We do go to 'the island' meaning Mackinac, or 'the bridge' meaning the big Mac, or 'the thumb' for the bay area, out on'the big lake' for one of the 4 .
Michigander can’t drive on June 09, 2020:
Don’t forget that after a Michigander removes the “T” from a word (Like when Mountain becomes Mou-‘un), they give it back by adding then”T” to another word, like acrost instead of across.
Milo on May 18, 2020:
me and my friend read this instead of doing homework and now we are contemplating everything
Mary L. Simons on May 03, 2020:
Southwestern Michigan pronunciation of "milk" is "melk" in Allegan, Ottawa, Kalamazoo, Barry and Kent counties at least. The area has many Dutch and the word in Dutch is "melk". Far southwestern Michigan may be different.
marley davis on May 01, 2020:
wow i know a lot more now thank you Melanie a lot it may be called pop or soda i dont know I call it soda but that's me but thank you again
David Caprathe on March 01, 2020:
I’ve always heard it called “Michigan mush mouth” because of our tendency to smash words together and say things quickly.
Cheyenne Davis on February 27, 2020:
It is SO true with the Pontiac thing. I read it as Poneeak. Also, did anyone else that lived in rural Michigan have a 'side yard'? Also, you could drive tractors on our road without a seat belt, I did it once and drove down the road into town to get some pop. Yes, I said pop. Sue me.
Tim on November 24, 2019:
I've lived here all my life you got it. For example it took me two years to understand a true Michigander.
True enough he was down to earth, that's okay good man.
Kyle on November 04, 2019:
There's more to Detroit than the "t" at the end. It's Duhtroi', not Deetroit
Paula on October 09, 2019:
It’s a parking structure or I’m parking in the structure .. not a parking garage..or it a door wall not a slider or a sliding door.
David on September 20, 2019:
Because when you're from Michigan you're family! :)!
Spiritu Tuo on August 12, 2019:
You forgot the main thing about how Michigan people talk - The funny way they pronounce the letter "O". "Come on" is said as 'Come ahnn". Back when I moved here, in the late '70's there was a diaper service that was on the radio all the time saying they would pick up your dirty diapers and give you " Sahft Cahtnny diapers" (Soft, cottony diapers) LOL Some try to outdo everyone when they have an "O" word. Want some "Pahhp"? (Pop) LOL That is how I pick out a Michigander anywhere in the world! The other ones you mentioned are, actually more nationwide, not just limited to Michigan. People in almost every State say "worshrag" instead of "washrag". So, you are generalizing as if it is only Michigan, it's not! Haha. Many, many people say "ciddy" insteqad of City- it is not a Michigan thing, it's a human thing. You did mention it in the wrong place. You wrote: "In Michigan, you don't have a mom. You have a "maahm." And after school, you go to "haahckey" practice. On a slightly related note, Chicago is "Chic-aah-go," not "Chi-caw-go." THAT'S THE FUNNY "O" I am talking about. you should have had a section on the pronunciation of "O"'s , but you threw it in there with the ""ahhh" of fahhther". You messed up in your writing. Also the glottal stop is universal and everyone does it, again, it is not just in Michigan. Wow. You did mention the funny way Michiganders shy away from saying the "O" sound when you wrote: "Pontiac - This is pronounced "pah-neeack." - That's the funny accent of Michigan people who do not like to say the "O". You wrote about how funny the words are pronounced, but you failed to understand it is all about the way Michigan people do not pronounce an "O", they say an "ahh" and it is so funny and makes them sound silly and foreign. That is the main thing about the Michigan accent. Own it! LOL
Mary Lou Creamer on July 29, 2019:
I think this is a great article, but I have a problem with her map. With a few brief exceptions, I have lived in Port Huron my entire life. Port Huron is located at the base of the thumb, where the bone protrudes out on your hand, not in the middle of the thumb. That means her markings of Flint, Detroit, and Ann Arbor are all off. Port Huron is as far southeast in Michigan as you can go.
Christian on June 13, 2019:
We measure distance in time in Michigan instead of in miles. And its POP not Soda get over it! LOL
Kay on June 01, 2019:
We also use the phrase “Kick the Bucket” to mean death. I heard a news caster in Georgia talking about a severe storm in Michigan tithe TelePrompTer he was reading from said “ the Storm is about to kick the bucket.” Was hilarious the news caster literally stopped speaking to make sure he was reading the TelePrompTer right! Then he said it then said that’s a term people apparently use in Michigan. Lol
me on May 20, 2019:
When saying kitten or mitten we sorta just say mi'in or ki'in.
Sarah on April 05, 2019:
Another thing for saving time... I say 'kai' instead of can i.
And you are so right about the t thing. I tried for a few minutes and i CANNOT say it!
Donna on March 20, 2019:
I say amina, i am. Amina go to the store.
Tony Galano on January 24, 2019:
@ktrose, No, Michigan is NOT the only state in the Union that calls soda "pop" Even Faygo and Vernor's use the word soda on their labels
Tony Galano on January 24, 2019:
In Michigan, it's puh TAY tuhs, as in "Will you pass the mashed puhtaytuhs, please." Or "I love a good baked puhtaytuh with butter and sour.cream
Cindy on November 09, 2018:
My chart showed Rockford, Aurora and Grand Rapids. Interesting—the first 34 years of my life were spent in Aurora! The last 31 years were spent in Brighton, which is halfway between Ann Arbor and Flint. This is a distance away from Grand Rapids, but at least they both are in Michigan. I have only been in Rockford maybe three times in my entire life. Here are two more terms that I’ve found uniquely a part of the Michigan vernacular and still drive me crazy: “Ashphalt” for asphalt, and “door wall” instead of patio doors, or sliding glass door. I learned these right away when we were looking for our house. There were a few words and parts of dialect you listed that I have never heard in 31 years. They might be uniquely from the southwestern part of Michigan. I did, however, love this article Thank you.
Arndt on November 01, 2018:
The Pinky might be worth mentioning. Too much Thumb in the comment section...
Arndt on November 01, 2018:
I moved Up North from Germany 6 years ago into the TC area. My quiz came up with GR. Earned accent :) In Australia they thought I am from Canada. Btw melk is low German for milk, my native language. Should have been a cheesehead thing though. Will go to Meijer's and get some... great article to educate new Michiganders. Thank you
Ally on October 17, 2018:
I lived in Michigan for about 6 years and I moved to Ohio and all of my friends laugh when I say something in my amazing Michigan accent
MichiganDenise on September 26, 2018:
I worked in radio and new-to-town DJs never believed us when we told them how to pronounce “Gratiot.” Like, you can swear? On the radio?!
Mike Hardy from Caseville, Michigan on September 26, 2018:
Cool well thought out article. I’ve got one “Michigan Thing” that’s is common. We express travel in time it takes not miles. “It’s two and a half hours door to door to be get to Port Austin” sometimes we don’t have a clue on how many miles it is?
Jacqueline on September 24, 2018:
I have lived in southeast michigan for all my life. I say about half of these but the other half are just as foreign to me as to someone out of state. I've never heard anyone say fudgie or jeet. Its more like Ja eet.
Mark on August 28, 2018:
Native and proud of my Michigan accent!
Alyson on August 20, 2018:
You know you're a true yooper when you know what a dandy is and you call your buddies "chum".
Lei on July 22, 2018:
So, I took the dialect test, and I received Grand Rapids and Detroit. Which, it's true! I'm from the Detroit area, and by the way, thank you for letting people know how to pronounciate Livonia! For once the Out Of Staters won't get it wrong (hopefully)
bagor on June 20, 2018:
I am from the Grand Rapids area. My mother used the term "Melk". I realized after I married my husband who is first generation American from The Netherlands that "melk" is the Dutch word for milk. I didn't know my grandparents but I do know they spoke Dutch as most of the Reformed and Christian Reformed churches were still preached in Dutch at the time. That is how I learned that word.