Our wordly heritage makes the grade

  • Article by: BILL WARD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 25, 2012 - 7:20 PM

Is Minnesota well represented in a regional dictionary? You betcha.


What are these kids standing on? Anywhere else in the country it would be called dirty snow. Here, it’s “snirt.”

Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

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Huge news: "Uff da" has made it into the dictionary.

The final volume of the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), covering words beginning with "Si" to "Z," includes many Minnesotans' favorite euphemistic expletives as well as such colloquialisms as the snow/dirt mashup "snirt," the salutation "hey ya" and "woodchuck case" (a situation of necessity, one in which there is no choice).

The dictionary was decades in the making -- actually more than a century since the idea emerged from the fledgling American Dialect Society in 1889. University of Wisconsin Prof. Frederic Cassidy oversaw vast field research from 1965 to 1970. Not all of the 1,002 communities visited plopped out a welcome mat.

"That was a very unsettled time in our country," said Joan Houston Hall, who succeeded Cassidy as project editor. "Our field workers used rudimentary campers with 'University of Wisconsin' emblazoned on the side, which might not make them all that welcome in Mississippi or Alabama. The smart ones [field workers] did check in with the sheriff or police chief, both for credibility and good leads on sources."

The Gulf states are where Hall's favorite word in the books emerged: "bobbasheely," a Choctaw expression for "either a very good friend or to move along in a friendly fashion or associate with someone in friendly fashion."

The DARE folks followed up the field research with years of editing and poring through historical dictionaries and steadily released alphabetical volumes of the dictionary, which of course includes scores of Upper Midwestisms.

So there are obscurities such as "hodag" (a fierce fictional animal), "muskeg" (marsh) and "smear" (a card game). And many listings involve food: stews (booya), porridges (rømmegrøt), meatloaf (sylte), bread (limpa), pastries (rosette and Chicago) and cookies (krumkake, sandbakkels).

Nothing to say "ish" to there.

The dictionaries are $85 and available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Common Good Books, Micawber's and the University of Minnesota Bookstores.

Bill Ward • 612-673-7643

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