When it comes to speech, folks generally focus on the Minnesoooota accent (the existence of which I still dispute). While the tales of our accents may be greatly exaggerated, there are a number of choice phrases you’ll only encounter when visiting the lush woods and luscious people of the North.
A simple affirmative, but a phrase distinctly Minnesotan. The vowels may be played up or down depending on one’s proximity to The Cities, but the message remains constant. Whether we’re heartily agreeing with a statement, answering a query, or responding to a request, we like to be agreeable. This may be preceded by “Oh,” which is true of any phrase on this list like. For example…
“Oh, for cute.”
I thought only my childhood neighbor Kay used this exclamation when faced with something adorable/darling/mildly amusing. But I’ve been around the state enough to claim this as an authentic Minnesota-ism. Generally employed by women who have accumulated enough years to cut their hair short for practical and not fashionable reasons, you can hear applied to dance recitals, children’s artwork, a festive centerpiece, and various pieces of dangly jewelry.
“Wanna come with?”
It wasn’t until my second year of college that a non-Minnesotan pointed out the grammatical oddity of this phrase. “With whom?” she would ask, exasperated. Perhaps our Minnesota friendly is so deeply ingrained that the implied “with me/us” seems utterly superfluous. In a land of subzero temperatures, you keep your friends close, your enemies closer, your dog on your lap, grandma on your right shoulder, and the mailman at your left shoulder. We welcome anyone into the circle who can provide valuable body heat.
“Oh my garsh.”
Another attempt to avoid actual cursing, this adorable phrase can replace “OMG,” “Oh, my goodness,” or even “Oh, for f**ck’s sake!” when in the company of more gentle-minded Minnesotans. Think grandmothers or those who aspire to one day become grandmothers. Try it next time you stub your toe or feel frustration rising at a car that won’t start. You just might find it so adorable you forget what troubled you in the first place.
“Have some bars!”
Lemon squares, brownies, cookies of a certain shape. In Minnesota, these all qualify as “bars.” Any sweet baked good cut into quadrangles will be labeled as a bar. There are scotcheroo bars, Rice Crispie bars, chocolate chip bars, and pumpkin spice bars with sour cream frosting. Bars for birthdays, bars for Christmas, bars to bring to the bar. The bar is a scrumptious treat certain to appear at any true Minnesotan gathering. Eat up!
“Oh, yah” (declarative or interrogative)
Another simple phrase, but one usually spoken with that Minnesota spice. (Yes, “Minnesota spice” is cinnamon and brown sugar.) You’ll hear this in response to an obvious statement (“You excited for the first snow/thaw? “Oh, yah!”) or surprising statement (“I heard the Vikings have a good shot at the Super Bowl this year.” “Oh, yah?!”) One way for outsiders to discern the difference is to listen to where the emphasis is. A clear affirmative will emphasize the “Oh,” while a surprised response leans more heavily on the “Yah.” It may sound like a slight difference, but like our winter hats and our love of gravy, it will not be subtle.
“Um Ya Ya.”
This collection of letters seems nonsensical at first, but, as with most things in Minnesota, after a few beers it makes perfect sense. The first bars (non-edible) of this fight song hail from local college St. Olaf. From their Northfield origins, they have made their way off campus and can be heard at bars, weddings, sporting events, and various festivities throughout the state. Though an “Ollie” (a St. Olaf alumnus) may begin the song, soon most folks within earshot will gladly join in. And if you don’t catch on at first, they’ll keep singing until you do. Much like the “Ole!” chant of soccer fans in Europe, the general meaning is merriment and joy. Chime in, or we might not buy ya a second (or third) round!
Growing up, my dad had a shirt worn only during exercise that had a heavily-bundled skier tumbling down a hill. Underneath the picture read “Uffda!” But the phrase lives not only on novelty shirts, but in most places in Minnesota where folks run into trouble, which is most places in Minnesota. Eschewing the coarse language of actual curse words, we often choose to use adorable euphemistic phrases like “garsh” and “Oh, what the eff.” In the case, “Uffda” can stand in for harsher language that may spring to mind when beset by trouble. For example: “Gee, Harry, I think you’re gonna have to replace that roof.” “Uffda, that’s gonna cost a bundle.”