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The Michigan Accent & Slang Words

Updated on July 13, 2017
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Melanie was born and raised in southern Michigan. She is now a chemistry major in the Honors College at Purdue Northwest.

The Michigan Accent (and fun Michigan terminology)
The Michigan Accent (and fun Michigan terminology)

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!

Michigan Slang/Colloquialisms

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:
'Nuff said!

In Michigan, we drink pop (pronounced "pahp"), not soda.
In Michigan, we drink pop (pronounced "pahp"), not soda. | Source

Party store:

Where a Michigander buys alcohol.

Michigan left:
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

Depiction of a "Michigan Left" road design.
Depiction of a "Michigan Left" road design. | Source

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."

Faygo and Better Made are Michigan made
Faygo and Better Made are Michigan made

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.

Adding Syllables

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."

Quick Poll:

How do you say Chicago?

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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."

Say, "Ahhhhhhh!" Congratulations! You've just mastered the Michigan accent!
Say, "Ahhhhhhh!" Congratulations! You've just mastered the Michigan accent! | Source

Are you from Michigan?

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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


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      Da'Naja 5 weeks ago

      I started crying because I just realized that all of this is true and I didn't know that we were the only ones that have an accent like that! I thought that a lot of other states sounded like us but apparently that's not true. I was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan and I'm 11/12 y/o and I sound like all of these. It is amazing to see that our state and country is very unique and I would love to hear more of what we actually sound like than other people who aren't from Michigan. This a really cool website and I send lots of love! Thank you!

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      Venessa 6 weeks ago

      I love this!! I love being from Detroit

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      Msfyt 6 weeks ago

      When it comes to geographical locations of the state of Michigan, you can live in the U.P or you can live in the hand. But the hand has subparts, like the "thumb". Having spent a lot of time driving the roads of Michigan I can tell you this is where a lot of people will tell you they live especially dairy farmers. Maybe you could add that to your list of being either from the "U.P.", "the hand", "outta state" ( otherwise known as "otta state"), or "the thumb", LOL.

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      Margaret Willis 6 weeks ago

      Here's one that no one can say unless you're from "around here" (another Michigan saying which means "within about a 30-mile radius of the place"): NOVI. Some people say "NO-vee", with the accent on the first syllable. Others say "Nah-vee", with the accent on the first syllable. Still others say "Nah-VEE", with the accent on the second syllable. Like I said you don't know how to say it unless you live "around here": "NO-vi", with the accent on the first syllable (as opposed to: "No-VI", with the accent on the second syllable. As you see, there are at least four different incorrect ways to pronounce it and only one correct way. Have a nice day! :-)

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      KPOM 8 weeks ago

      You do realize that about 75% of "Michigan" pronunciations and terms apply to those of us from Chicago.

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      Kate the Great 3 months ago

      Seriously; this is one of the best write ups on a Michigan accent I have found. I never thought it was a real thing- a Michigan "accent", but somehow people could always place me as being from MI when we traveled. Now it's just something that happens, I don't try to correct myself, because what's the use, eh?

      I HAVE made an effort to say certain things correctly... Like MEIJER (no s. lol) And Realtor (real-tohr) lol.

      But there's always gonna be the short speak and abbreviation of words that don't need to be abbreviated. (Gonna, yep, goin ta tha store, etc)

      And the words we just say funny... like melk (milk), bahg (bag), tuh (to), yoosta (used to), etc... well, they're just gonna haf ta get yoosta't.

      One thing, though... wtf is a door wall. It's a sliding door in West Michigan. Never been a dang door wall. Don't make us look dumb. (hahahahaha totally kidding.)

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      Cody 3 months ago

      Man I've lived in Southeast Michigan all my life, I swear I haven't heard more than half of this stuff pronounced that way. I agree with some of the weird slang we use, glottal stops for sure, and even the nasaly "e" uses, but a lot of it ive never heard commonly.

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      AShady 3 months ago

      Detroit, MI. Yup you got that right :)

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      4 months ago

      My family was from Michigan

      . Moved to Indy when I was young. Kids in school would say I had a Michigan accent. Thanks to your post. I finally get what they mean.

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      Andrew 5 months ago

      It's always amazing to me as a Michigander how bad of a slang we have!

    • Cyndi10 profile image

      Cynthia B Turner 6 months ago from Georgia

      It's always interesting to listen to the dialect from other parts of the country. I often try to guess where the speaker is from. I confuse Boston area accents with Michigan. (I hope I'm not committing some kind of offense. LOL) I'm from the South and we have our own thing going on down here! Lol. Take care

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      greenmind 7 months ago

      Hey great hub -- love the attitude and accuracy!

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      former michigander 8 months ago

      Oh man...thank you for the great laugh. My daughter gives me so much grief saying "I'm gonna throw you in the gross nasteee crik" or mauhhh!!! I had to send her this link so she could get a good chuckle as well. I was born in the mitten and lived there for a short part of my life.

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      Leeleebee 8 months ago

      My mom says "warsh" for wash, and "sandwich" instead of sandwich.

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      Me 8 months ago

      Funny. I'm from WV, and I talk like I'm from Michigan.

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      West Michigan girl 10 months ago

      I have live in Michigan all my life. East side Flint & Detriot area. & now West Michigan Grand Rapids. & I have never hear the sliding door called a door wall. I saw this on a nother site. But could not write a comment on it.

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      John 13 months ago

      How could you possibly not include "doorwall"

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      April Richardson 15 months ago

      Oh so true! I'm from Port Austin in "The Thumb".

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      Amanda 16 months ago

      I'm from Kentucky but I am datin a guy from MI. He loves my southern accent and I love his northern one! Although he says he doesn't have one

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      Paula 17 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Wow.....I don't know if I may have previously commented here and I'm surely not going to scroll through over 600 comments to find out! When you wrote this, did you even think you'd receive such a response??

      I am fascinated by our different accents, manners of speaking & how this often gives away where we hail from.

      I am scratching my head now though, because as I read through many of the pronunciations, it's clear to me that I pronounce a lot of the words the very same way...?? I'm not from Michigan, nor were any of my extended family members. I don't believe I even KNOW anyone from Michigan. Hmmm....this is strange to me.

      Long ago, I had a friend who constantly told me to stop using "er" for "or"......she annoyed me! LOL

      Very interesting hub. Thanks. Peace, Paula

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