Wisconsin Englishes

Here are a few aspects of Wisconsin English varieties that we are investigating:

Words

Please refer to the Introduction and Chapter 5 of Wisconsin Talk for more information about this topic!

The following list is just a small sample of the many Wisconsin dialect words listed in the Dictionary of American Regional English. Thanks to Luanne von Schneidemesser from DARE for her help in selecting these!

bubbler

noun
commonly known as: a drinking fountain
origin: Wisconsin
distribution: especially frequent in Wisconsin
details: Kohler Company, makers of plumbing fixtures, and located in Kohler, Wisconsin, produced a nickel-plated brass self-closing bubbling valve, which was used on many models of drinking fountains beginning in 1914. Check out this advertisement for a Kohler bubbler! In some instances, the terms bubbler and drinking fountain are interchangeable, though many in Wisconsin either maintain a difference between a bubbler and a drinking fountain or adamantly insist on their regional term. This map shows the distribution of bubbler and other words for drinking fountain used throughout the country.

budge

verb
commonly known as: to step in front of someone in a line
origin: Upper Midwest
distribution: Upper Midwest, Canada
details: Other variants include: butt-in (with some people hearing bud-in), barge, push-in, or cut. The individual who steps in front of another person in line is known as a budger, a cutter or a butter.

booya

noun
commonly known as: a stew
origin: Belgian, from French bouillon or bouillabaisse. The term came into English roughly around 1905, arguably in Green Bay (See Green Bay Press-Gazette, October 29, 1976).
distribution: Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota
details: Typically, booya does not have a specific recipe, but it is often made in very large quantities, in large kettles at church or community activities.

bakery

noun
commonly known as: baked goods; that which you buy from a bakery
origin: Wisconsin, mostly in areas that were heavily settled by German immigrants.
distribution: Wisconsin, primarily
details: This is an example of Metaphorical Extension, a linguistic process whereby the meaning of a word is expanded to refer to an idea or object that is like the original referent. Therefore, when a speaker from Wisconsin says that he or she would like to eat some bakery, it means that they are interested in eating that which comes from the bakery (rather than expressing an interest in ingesting parts of the building).

bratwurst

noun
commonly known as: a fresh pork sausage typically topped with condiments, including sauerkraut.
origin: Originally German, the bratwurst was brought to Wisconsin with German immigrants.
distribution: Mostly German-settled areas of Wisconsin, though the term has spread widely recently.
details: While the term bratwurst (or the shortened form, brat) was known only in German-settled areas as recently as the 1980s, the popularity of the food - and the term - has become widespread due to the success of Johnsonville Brats. The company is based in the town of Johnsonville in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin.

cheese-head

noun
commonly known as: originally meaning an awkward or stupid person, but has changed to mean Wisconsinite or Green Bay Packers fan, due perhaps to the dairy industry in the state. By extension, it can also refer to the cheese-shaped hats sold at Packers games.
origin: Wisconsin
distribution: Typically used by Wisconsinites, but may be used by those outside the state
details: This was originally a pejorative term, but is no longer such.

czarnina

noun
commonly known as: chalina, charnina, czarina; a type of soup made from duck's blood.
origin: Polish
distribution: Primarily Wisconsin, in areas settled by Polish immigrants.

golden birthday

noun
commonly known as: the day on which your age in years matches the day of the month on which you were born (for example, turning 21 on the 21st day of one's birth month).
origin Wisconsin
distribution primarily Wisconsin
details: This term is entering widespread use via Hallmark's recent incorporation of the golden birthday into their line of birthday cards.

julebukk

noun
commonly known as: julebokk(e), julebukker(s); a Christmas fool
origin: Norwegian
distribution: Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, in areas settled by Norwegian immigrants
details: Julebukkers are people, typically young people, who dress up in masks and costumes and go visiting neighbors between Christmas and New Year's in search of food and drink.

kermis

noun
commonly known as: kermes, kirmes; a community fair or festival, often hosted by a church.
origin: Dutch kermis; Belgian French kermesse, German Kirmes
distribution: primarily Wisconsin<

kilby

noun
commonly known as: chilbi, kilbi; a festival held near the end of the Summer, at harvest time.
origin: German, a variant related to Kirmes
distribution: Wisconsin, primarily in areas settled by Swiss immigrants.

lutefisk

noun
commonly known as: ludefisk, lukefisk, lutfisk; a dried fish that is soaked in lye in order to prepare it for cooking
origin: Danish, Norwegian, Swedish
distribution: Upper Midwest, primarily Minnesota and Michigan
details: Additional terms taken over into Wisconsin English from Norwegian (and some of these are also in Swedish and Danish) include lefsa (meaning 'flatbread made from potatoes’) and bakkels or sandbakkels or fattigmanns bakkels (meaning ‘a types of cookies or pastry’). Uff da, a term that can be used as an expression of disgust – or of surprise – can be heard in Minnesota and Wisconsin and other places of Norwegian settlement.

paczki

noun
commonly known as: paczski, poonchka, poonchkey, punchkey; a filled doughnut
origin: Polish
distribution: Areas settled by Polish immigrants, primarily in Michigan and Wisconsin
details: This doughnut is typically filled with jelly, and eaten on the Tuesday before the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday. This Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, is also regionally known as Fat Tuesday or Paczki Day

(parking) ramp

noun
commonly known as: an elevated, multi-leveled, often urban structure where cars may be parked.
origin: Wisconsin
distribution: Madison, Wisconsin, and other larger cities in Wisconsin; elsewhere in the Upper Midwest
details: Many Wisconsinites will use parking ramp generically for any parking structure, though often times it is used to designate an elevated parking structure. Therefore, the term parking ramp might be used less often in rural areas where elevated parking structures are less common. Further North, Canadian English often uses parkade. Further West, parking structure is more common, and in the Southeast, parking deck is more commonly used to refer to an elevated parking facility. Parking garage is often used to refer to an underground car-parking facility, though this term might also be extended to all parking structures, as shown by the Seinfeld episode 'The Parking Garage,' which first aired on October 30, 1991.

Photo of WiscoPop sign

pop/soda

noun
commonly known as: soft drink; any variety of terms relating to carbonated beverages
distribution: Wisconsin is strongly divided, with the eastern part of the state preferring soda and the western part of the state preferring pop, as shown on this map.
details: The use of either pop or soda (or coke) to refer to carbonated beverages varies largely by region, and has generated a good deal of discussion.

Additonal information

In addition to those listed above, here are a few more words from German that have been retained in Wisconsin English varieties (and have in many cases spread widely in the country):

References and related publications

Benjamin, Steven M. and Luanne von Schneidemesser. 1979. "German Loanwords in American English, a Bibliography of Studies, 1872- 1978." American Speech 54.210-215.

Cassidy, Frederic G. and Joan Houston Hall, eds. 1985–2012. The Dictionary of American Regional English. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Schneidemesser, Luanne von. 1993. "More German Loanwords from the Dictionary of American Regional English." The German Language in America, 1683-1991. Joseph Salmons, ed. Madison: Max Kade Institute. 225-249.

Schneidemesser, Luanne von. 2002. "Settlement History in the United States as Reflected in DARE: The Example of German." American Speech 77.398-418.

Schneidemesser, Luanne von. 2007. "The Dialect Vocabulary of the Midwest." The American Midwest: An Interpretive Encyclopedia. Andrew Cayton, Richard Sisson, and Christian Zacher, eds. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 289-291.

Schneidmesser, Luanne von. 2013. Words used in Wisconsin. In Wisconsin Talk: Linguistic Diversity in the Badger State, eds. Thomas Purnell, Eric Raimy and Joseph Salmons, pp. 68-81. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press.

McDavid, Virginia. 1990. Irregular Verb Forms in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota: Educational Attainment and Gender Differences. Kansas Quarterly 22(4): 31-43.