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You Say Drinking Fountain, We Say Bubbler

A guide to the unique vocabulary
and pronunciations of Wisconsin.
 


Mooooo!
 

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I've lived in Wisconsin all of my life, so I don't naturally perceive myself as having an "accent".  So, when I go away for a week or so, I listen carefully when I come home.  Think Midwestern twang, with a bit (or in some places, more than a bit) of German accent.  It's not easy being us - in order to speak you simultaneously emit air through your nose (for the twang) and through the the back of your throat by way of your diaphragm (for the gutteral German thing).  Here's an example of what you might hear when you order a brat - "Onion und kraut wit dat eh?" (You would like to have onion and saurkraut on your bratwurst sandwich, isn't that correct?).  The "eh" comes, I suppose, as a result of Wisconsin being relatively close to Canada.  It seems that the farther north you go, the more often you hear "eh" to signify a period or question mark at the end of a sentence.  Notice that in the preceding example, there's no comma, and therefore no pause, between "dat" and "eh".  "Dat eh" is nearly run together in everyday speech.

People from Wisconsin drive people from Illinois nuts by saying "bubbler".  People from Illinois (ignorant as they are), strongly believe that the proper term for "bubbler" is "drinking fountain".  That's their problem, not ours.

Below is a glossary of words and terms heard often in Wisconsin, with their common usages and meanings.

Term

Meaning

Ahm ganna pahk thah cah in Hahvahd yahd. Wisconsinite imitating a Bostonite.
brandy A word used more in Wisconsin than anywhere in the world.  Brandy is distilled wine.  90% of brandy consumed in the U.S. is consumed in Wisconsin.  Brandy Old-Fashioned, Brandy Manhattan, and so on.  Yes, if you ask for an Old-Fashioned or Manhattan in Wisconsin, you will get a Brandy Old-Fashioned or Brandy Manhattan.
brat (pronounced braht) bratwurst
bubbler appliance that spurts drinking water slightly skyward
cheesehead This was originally a pejorative term coined by flatlanders.  We've willingly accepted the term and use it freely.
dat that
eh? Isn't that correct?
flatlander Illinoisan (or is it Illinoisite?)
gesundheit "Good health," said when somebody sneezes.
good-time music polka
gemuetlichkeit A German word used in Wisconsin.  There is no literal English equivalent.  It seems to mean "feel really good because you're drinking beer and are surrounded by people you know who are also drinking beer and listening to German-style music and now you're ready to march to the town five miles down the road and conquer them."  Jefferson, Wisconsin has a festival each September called Gemuetlichkeit Days.  It's a wonderful celebration of a community's ethnic heritage.
happy music polka
oldtime music polka
oldtime goodtime happy music polka
mattress polka Oldtime goodtime happy activity
soda  

We drink soda, not pop (this does vary, however, by region of the state).  Unflavored carbonated water is seltzer.  A sweetened, flavored carbonated drink is called soda.  (People argue about this one, depending on what part of the state they come from.)  For an extensive discussion of this burning issue, see this scholarly treatise.

stop 'n go lights Traffic signals is a boring term eh?  Since one light means stop, and the other means go, it makes perfect sense eh? (The yellow light means the same here as just about everywhere else - go faster)
und and
up nort' To a flatlander, north of the south Wisconsin state line.  To a Wisconsinite, at least 100 miles north of home (at least we agree on something, in a relative sort of way)
we the Green Bay Packers
Why don't you come with? An example of typical Wisconsinite syntax  The sentence ends with a preposition. You linguists know there's a German influence working here, eh?
wit' with
yah yes
yah yah I heard you the first time (said to nagging spouse)

 

Webmasters note:  I didn't write the essay below, and don't know who did.  But you can be sure that if I find out who wrote it, I'll credit him/her, because I don't want to take an ass-kicking!

HOW TO SAVE YOUR ASS IF YOU PLAN TO VISIT WISCONSIN THIS SUMMER
ISSUED BY THE WISCONSIN BUREAU OF TOURISM TO ALL VISITORS:


1) Don't order Filet Mignon or Pasta Primavera at Al's Lodge. It's a diner. They serve breakfast 24 hours a day. Let them cook something they know. If
you upset the ladies in the kitchen, they'll kick your ass.

2) Don't laugh at the names of our little towns (Sheboygan, Menomonee, Nekoosa, Prairie du Chien, etc.) or we will just have to kick your ass.

3) Don't order a bottle or a can of pop here. Here it's called "soda." Accept it. Doing otherwise can lead to an ass kicking.

 4) We know our heritage. Most of us are more literate than you are. We are also better educated and generally a lot nicer. Don't refer to us as a
bunch of hicks or we'll kick your ass.

 5) We have plenty of business sense. You have to to make a living here. Naturally, we do sometimes have small lapses in judgment from time to
time, but we are not dumb enough to let someone move to our state in order to run for the Senate and let her win. If someone tried to do that, we would kick her ass.

6) Don't laugh at our giant fiberglass fish and cows. Anything that inspires tourists to buy 50,000 postcards can't be bad. And don't laugh at our love
and pride of cheese or we'll kick your ass.

7) We are fully aware of how cold it gets here in the winter, so shut up. Just spend your money and get the hell out of here or we'll kick your ass.

 8) Don't order the vegetarian special at the local diner. Everyone will instantly know that you're a tourist. Eat your steak rare like God intended
and have some potatoes with that, for heaven's sake! Also, don't ask what a hot dish is or we'll kick your ass.

9) Don't try to fake a Wisconsin accent. We don't have an accent. That will incite a riot and you will get your ass kicked.

10) Don't talk about how much better things are at home because we know better. Many of us have visited big-city hell-holes like Detroit, New York
and Chicago, and we have the scars to prove it. If you don't like it here, interstate 90, 94 and 43 are ready when you are. Move your ass on home
before it gets kicked.

11) Don't complain that Wisconsin has too many mosquitoes and farmland. If you whine about OUR scenic beauty we'll kick your ass all the way back to
Chicago.

12) Don't ridicule our manners. We only speak when spoken to. We hold doors open for others. We offer our seats to old folks because such things are expected of civilized people. Behave yourselves around our sweet, little gray-haired grandmothers or they will kick some manners into your ass just like they did ours.

13) So you think we're quaint or losers because most of us live on the farm or in the woods? That's because we have enough sense to not live in
filthy, smelly, crime-infested cesspools like New York or LA. Make fun of our fresh air and we'll kick your ass.

14) Oshkosh B'gosh is NOT a joke. Your ass will be kicked.

15) The Green Bay Packers are not a joke. God created the greatest football dynasty ever and placed it in Green Bay. Any jokes about the Packers or
Vince Lombardi will result in a severe and unrelenting ass kicking.

16) If you are from Atlanta, for your own safety, say you are from somewhere else, lest you get your ass kicked. (Take three sports franchises from
Milwaukee and we have a tendency to hold a grudge.)

17) If you are looking for a water fountain, you'll need to go to a park. Water comes out of bubblers here. Make a joke about it, and you guessed
it, another ass kicking.

18) Sausage Races are cool. Make fun of it, and one of the Sausages will come up from the field of Miller Park and lay down a 8 foot sausage ass
kicking on you.

19) The University of Wisconsin is the oldest, best school in the Big Ten. Any jokes about the quality of UW will result in Barry Alvarez, Ron Dayne,
Dick Bennett, Bo Ryan, Crazylegs Hirsch, Alan Ameche, Pat Richter, and any able bodied UW students assisting Bucky Badger in his class, Ass-Kicking 101.

20) Last, but not least, DO NOT DARE to come out here and tell us that hunting is cruelty to animals and venison is not edible meat. This will get your ass shot (after it is kicked). Say this twice and you will go home in a pine box. Minus your ass.

Now enjoy your visit and then go home!
 

 

 

It's Pronounced "Oconomowoc", Don'tcha Know?

Two tourists were driving through Wisconsin. As they approached Oconomowoc, they started arguing about the pronunciation of the town's name. They argued back and forth until they stopped for lunch.

"As they stood at the counter, one tourist asked the employee, 'Before we order, could you please settle an argument for us? Would you please pronounce where we are . . . very slowly?'

"The blond leaned over the counter and slowly said, 'Burrrr gerrrr Kiiiing.' "

 

 

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This page last updated on 06/03/2004

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