The Michigan Accent & Slang Words
Groups of people from every US state and, really, 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 fully 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 she and other Michiganders I’ve met (particularly those from the western/southwestern part of the Mitten, where I grew up) use.
The Michigan Accent!
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 actually 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 fairly cold here.
Michigander: A person from Michigan. (This is probably actually a nationwide term, 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:
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
In Michigan, We...
...go tuh the store, not "to" it.
...yoosta' have jobs in Detroit, not "used to"
...go huntin' in the wuds, not the "woods"
...get our tires slashed for driving a Tie-ota, not a Toyota.
...say er, not "or."
...feel like we're ki-nuh like Minnesotans, not "kind of."
Words for People (Tourists and Locals)
Townies: A townie is a derogatory term actually 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. There are a number of FIPs who are actually 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.
Sometimes in Michigan, we like to add things to words to make them longer. However, we ONLY do this if it makes it easier to say.
Realtor is just too hard to say, so it's "real-uh-terr."
I live near Cook Nuclear Power Plant, "nuke-yuh-ler."
Michiganders Like to Save Time
A big part of the Michigan accent is about saving time. We talk really fast here, so in order to do so, we do something similar to what the French call a liaison and elision. This is basically a way to mash up words in order to make pronunciation easier and faster.
The French language has a nice set of rules as to how to use a liaison. Unfortunately, there really 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:
Ja-eat?: 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 "Ja-eat?" so as to not alienate the exchange student. So what the heck does "ja-eat?" 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 "
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's it's a really 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. In order 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 definitely something a lot of people around here use (though I actually 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 apparently too much for Michiganders, so we just skip parts of it: "Grranrapids."
How do you say Chicago?
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 apparently 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 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 really 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 last 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 actually 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 really 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."
Are you from Michigan?
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 own personal dialect map.
Where does it say you're from? Let me know in the comments below!
© 2011 Melanie Shebel