map of the Midwest states

It’s a Midwest Vernacular Spectacular

Welcome to the linguistic rodeo where the Midwest squares off against the rest of the U.S. in a playful showdown of phrases and pronunciations!

Ever wondered why your Chicago cousin invites you to play “bags” while your buddy in Georgia is all about “cornhole”? Or why grandma asks if you’ve had supper when it’s barely past lunchtime?

Buckle up, language lovers—we’re diving into the charming quirks of Midwestern vernacular compared to the rest of America. It’s not just about pop versus soda; it’s a full-on cultural throwdown, and we’re here to savor every syllable!

In the majority of the Midwest, “pop” isn’t just a sound but a beloved fizzy beverage. But Wisconsinites might give you a puzzled look if you refuse a “soda.” And if you’re crisscrossing the region, don’t be surprised when “sneakers” transform into “gym shoes” as you step into the Midwest. These aren’t just regional whims; they’re badges of identity, woven into the fabric of local culture.

Let’s dive into this regional dialect so you’ll be able to converse knowledgeably with the locals when you visit the Midwest…

Common Midwesternisms Defined

The following is a list of words and expressions commonly heard in the Midwest United States that to an untrained ear may sound like a language other than American English.

Ope – A versatile exclamation used often as an apology or expression of surprise.

You betcha – A way to say “you’re welcome” or “of course.”

Pop – What many Midwesterners call soda.

Hotdish – A term for casseroles in parts of the Midwest.

Dontcha know – A phrase added to sentences for emphasis or confirmation.

Uff da – An expression of astonishment, relief, or exhaustion.

Kitty-corner – Used to describe something diagonally across from something else.

Bubbler – A word for a drinking fountain, primarily used in Wisconsin.

Sweeper – Another word for a vacuum cleaner.

Jeet? – A colloquial contraction of “Did you eat?”

Warsh – A regional pronunciation of “wash.”

The Cities – Refers to Minneapolis and St. Paul in Minnesota.

Bags – A term for the lawn game also known as “cornhole.”

Fixin’ to – Preparing to do something.

Crick – A regional pronunciation for “creek.”

Spendy – Describing something as expensive.

Snowbird – Refers to someone who migrates from the colder northern states to warmer southern states in the winter.

Tennis shoes – Used broadly for all types of athletic shoes.

Supper – Another word for dinner, used more commonly in the Midwest.

Can I come with? – Often used in place of “Can I come with you?”

Slicker’n snot on a doorknob – Describing something very slippery.

The lake – Refers to visiting any of the local or regional lakes, assumed familiar to both speaker and listener.

Meat raffle – A local event where participants can win meat in a raffle, common in some Midwestern communities.

Grab a chair and set a spell – An invitation to sit down and stay awhile.

Salad – Can refer to a wide variety of dishes in the Midwest, including those made with gelatin or whipped cream.

Slippy – Used for describing surfaces like icy roads or sidewalks.

Store-boughten – Describing items bought from a store rather than homemade.

All swolled up – A phrase describing something that has swollen.

Holler – To yell or shout; also a term for a small valley or hollow.

To be out in Timbuktu – Describing a location that’s far away or remote.

Rummage sale – Another term for a garage sale or yard sale.

As you can see, we Midwesterners have a language all our own. See if you can’t throw one or two of these words into your next conversation!

This or That: Midwest vs the USA

We created an easy-to-use table to help you navigate the language barriers when you’re in the Midwest.

Midwestern TermElsewhere in the U.S. TermDescription
PopSodaBeverage terminology.
Garage SaleYard SaleType of sale event.
HotdishCasseroleType of one-dish meal.
BubblerWater FountainDrinking water fixture.
Duck, Duck, Gray DuckDuck, Duck, GooseChildren’s game.
Tennis ShoesSneakersFootwear.
CrickCreekSmall stream.
SupperDinnerEvening meal.
FreewayInterstateMajor highway.
SackBagType of container.
OpeOopsExpression of surprise or apology.
Gym ShoesSneakersType of shoes.
Kitty-cornerCatty-cornerDescribing something diagonal across.
FaucetSpigotWater outlet.
EuchrePokerCard games.
You BetchaSureAffirmative expression.
CasseroleHotdishRegional name for a type of casserole.
BagsCornholeLawn game.
Jeet?Did you eat?Inquiry if someone has eaten.
WarshWashPronunciation of “wash”.

Learning to Speak the Local Language

As we tie up our journey through the linguistic landscape of the Midwest, let’s tip our hats to a region that offers more than just hearty hotdishes and expansive cornfields.

Here, “ope” is not just a word, but a symphony of politeness, and every “pop” is a fizz of cultural identity.

RELATED: Learn to speak like a Michigander with this ULTIMATE guide.

While the rest of the country might play cornhole, in the Midwest, it’s a friendly game of bags. So, whether you’re enjoying supper or just finishing up a garage sale, cherish these uniquely Midwestern quirks.

Keep those gym shoes ready, because every step here is a step through a rich tapestry of American vernacular, seasoned with a good helping of Midwestern charm.

What Midwest words or phrases did we forget to mention?