THE COEN BROTHERS’ MOVIE AND THE SPINOFF TV SERIES have made Fargo, North Dakota famous. But if you ask a local, they’ll be quick to say, “we don’t really talk like that.” Except…sometimes we do. Here are 12 things people from Fargo actually say.
1. Uff Da
Everyone denies it, but this versatile little exclamation (sometimes pronounced “oof da”) is firmly embedded in the Fargo vernacular. It’s exclaimed when one is surprised or does something clumsy and used in place of a groan to indicate chagrin or disgust. (“The oldest Olson girl wrecked her car again? Uff da.”) If you’re especially annoyed, do what the locals do and stretch out the first syllable and roll your eyes skyward to really maximize the sarcasm.
When someone from Fargo says a number before the word “below” they mean it’s that many degrees below zero Fahrenheit — not that many degrees below freezing. The temperature is pretty much always below 32o F here in the winter (no big deal) so the dip below zero is really the only fact worth noting.
Fargo is urban, so people meet for lunch and go out for dinner. But many city-dwellers are from rural parts of the state, where the midday meal is called dinner and the evening meal is supper. So if you’re inviting someone to dinner, be sure to indicate the time of day you mean, or you could be waiting at the restaurant alone.
4. Ya, sure
These two little words can be used to indicate chipper agreement, thoughtful consideration or (when drawn out and said with an artfully arched eyebrow) withering sarcasm. The broad “ah” sound shows up in common dialects in the region, including Norwegian, German and several Native American languages. This means an absurd amount of people in Fargo have said this phrase and immediately thought, “Holy crap, I sound just like grandma.”
For most of the world, a salad is a healthy dish featuring fresh vegetables. But in church basements and family cookouts across North Dakota it also means a savory mayonnaise-based side dish or a dessert-like concoction that contains everything but vegetables — and pretty much anything goes. Combine Jell-O, canned fruit and a little Cool-Whip and you’ve got a salad a Midwestern grandma would love.
People in Fargo (and the Midwest in general) are impeccably polite and masters of understatement. So even potentially disturbing news may be greeted with an even-keeled “Well…that’s different.” The pause between words, the degree of emphasis on the word “different” and body language will provide insight into just how alarming the speaker finds your news to be.
Sure, you can call it a casserole or a covered dish and we’ll know what you mean. But make no mistake, the hearty comfort food that results from tossing together a protein, a starch, a can of cream-of-something soup and whatever vegetables you have on hand will always be called a hotdish. Even the word brings us straight back to childhood.
8. Oh, Geez
As an exclamation of surprise or delight, this expression can sound almost adorably wholesome. Since it’s a curse-free version of “Oh, Jesus”, it even sounds North Dakota nice when it’s used in times of fear or misfortune. But the ability to turn two little words into a cynical dismissal is where the Fargo speech pattern really shines. To express annoyance or dismay, just stretch out the word “geez” into one endless syllable of disgust.
In other places, a meal where everybody brings a dish to share would be called a basket dinner, a covered dish dinner or a carry-in dinner, but here it’s always a potluck. We skip the word “dinner” altogether, because if we’re too lazy to cook a full meal, we’re certainly too lazy to use unnecessary words. And we also eliminate any possible lunch/dinner/supper confusion.
Ask for a Coke in Fargo and you’ll be offered a red can. Order a soda and you’ll be asked what kind you want — and pointedly offered a pop in return. Fizzy drinks are called pop here. And, yes, we’re subtly trying to make you say it, too.
11. Oh fer…
This is another occasion where that stereotypical Fargo accent creeps into even the most neutral speech pattern. If you’re looking at photos of your coworker’s adorable new kitten, “Oh, fer cute” is always appropriate. And “Oh, fer dumb” covers a multitude of mishaps. For something truly exasperating, bust out “Oh, fer fuck’s sake”, the ultimate in Fargo-style curses.
12. I better letcha go
When a conversation has run its course, a Fargo resident will attempt to avoid an awkward silence by saying, “Well, I better letcha go.” This means, “I’m done talking.” We don’t want to say it outright, so we make it seem like we’re doing you a favor. Do not attempt to continue the conversation. If you do, we will shift uncomfortably, find ways to mention the time and glance about furtively, while silently begging you to take the hint and release us.
Photo: AJ LEON