You Know You're from the Midwest if You Know What These Words Mean

It's time for a little "pop" quiz.

People in the Midwest at Iowa state fair

As a native Ohioan and proud consumer of "pop" and "hotdishes," my Midwestern vocabulary sometimes gives away my humble Ohio origins as a newly-transplanted New Yorker. And if you're one to drop "jeez" often in conversation, it's likely that popular Midwestern words are giving you away too. So, it's time to test your knowledge with these words that are only uttered in the Heartland.


water fountain midwestern words

Many people throughout the Midwest and in Wisconsin especially use the term "bubbler" rather than "water fountain," says Jodi Rose Gonzales, a Wisconsin-based art therapist and creator of Jodi Rose Studio.

Example: "For cryin' out loud, Tommy, stop blocking the bubbler! Dontcha know that's rude?"


woman saying ope midwestern words

"Ope" is a term that often replaces words like "oops" or "darnit." As a native Ohioan, I can attest that this word is uttered with absurd frequency throughout the Midwest. It's normally followed by a string of the most polite apologies you've ever heard. After all, we are the most well-mannered section of the country.

Example: "Ope! I just spilled my brewski everywhere."


Isch midwestern words

When referring to something unpleasant, instead of saying "gross" or "ew," Minnesotans especially use "isch." It's derived from German, though it bears no relation to the German usage—which, if you're curious, is as suffix attached to nouns to form an adjective (i.e. "amerikanisch" means American).

Example: "Isch, my hotdish looks nothing like the one on my Pinterest board."


Uffda midwestern words

This is a term used to express astonishment, exhaustion, relief, and dismay. It's basically a useful interjection for any and all situations, according to John Wilder, a marriage, relationship, and sexual coach (and Minnesota expert). The term originated in Norway, where it bears the same meaning.

Example: "Uffda! I got so schnookered at the bar last night."


shopping midwestern words

According to linguistics expert and Minnesota native Anne Szustek Talbot, Midwesterners use the slang term "spendy" instead of saying something is "a little bit expensive."

Example: "This Ann Taylor top is just a bit spendy for my taste."


Casserole Midwestern Words

Hotdish is the local Minnesotan term for a casserole, typically consisting of a starch, meat, and a canned or frozen vegetable mixed with canned soup. "Bonus points if said dinner incorporates cream of mushroom soup and is topped with tater tots, Durkee french fried onions, or mashed-up potato chips," says Talbot. If you wanted proof that the Midwest is the epicenter of comfort food, hotdishes are it.

Example: "Jeez, I'm not sure what was in that hotdish, but I think my body just aged another 20 years."


date midwestern words

This is a super-specific term for a super-specific part of the Midwest and a super-specific kind of gal. According to Talbaot, it's used in Chicago to refer to "a freshly graduated sorority sister from a Big 10 university who plants herself in one of Chicago's North Side locales to date her male equivalent (a 'Chad'), drive VW Jettas, and avoid spilling her PSL all over her Ann Taylor blouse."

Example: "That Trixie never knows when to shut up about the latest Chad she's dating."


Woman drinking soda midwestern words

Depending on which region of the country you call home, you might call that fizzy brown drink a "soda," a "Coke," or—if you're in the Midwest—a "pop." Even if you get mocked for it, don't worry, you're in good company. Mapmaker Alan McConchie created this "Pop vs. Soda" map and it turns out, "pop" is also the word of choice in the Pacific Northwest, some parts of the Southwest, and Alaska.

Example: "Can I have a pop with my hotdish?"


Woman driving midwestern words

As someone who grew up playing "padiddle" with my friends—and is slightly embarrassed to admit it—I can tell you just how important this word is to Midwesterners. Basically, in this simple car game, when you spot a vehicle with only one functioning headlight, you shout "padiddle." Then, those who weren't quick enough to the draw must remove one article of clothing.

Example: Player 1: "Padiddle!" Player 2: "Jeez, you're quick!"


Creek in Georgia midwestern words

"Crick" is a direct result of the mispronunciation of the word "creek"—and the perfect way to encapsulate the strange way most Midwesterners pronounce common words.

Example: "Take your tennis shoes off before wading in the crick."


drunk man midwestern words

In the Midwest, you don't get "wasted" or "slammed" at the bar. Those in the Heartland are more likely to say that they got "schnookered," AKA drunk in public, in layman's terms.

Example: "I got totally schnookered on brewskis last night, man."


frustrated woman midwestern words

Midwesterners are more likely to utter a simple "jeez" instead of a string of curse words when expressing any agitation or surprise, proving that manners come first in this part of the U.S.

Example: "Jeez, I shouldn't have gotten so schnookered at the holiday party."


Men drinking beer midwestern words

You're likely to hear the word "brewski" floating around a local Midwestern pub. It's just another way we say "beer"—and it's a testament to the large fraternity population in the Midwest.

Example: "Hey bro, can you grab me a brewski? Preferably, like, an IPA."

Tennis shoes

woman wearing sneakers midwestern words

British people call them "trainers" and Midwesterners call them "tennis shoes," but you might know them as "sneakers," "running shoes," or "gym shoes." According to research from Reader's Digest, "tennis shoes" is actually the preferred term for athletic footwear in the U.S. And in case you were wondering, no—no game of tennis is required when you're wearing them.

Example: "Please take off your tennis shoes before stepping on to my shag rug."


highway midwestern words

People in Chicago and other parts of the Midwest refer to the "interstate" or "highway" as the "expressway." When you think about it, it almost makes more sense than the other terms since it's typically the fastest way to travel.

Example: "Let's hop on the expressway and find the nearest Applebee's."


mother and daughter at cafe midwestern words

Rather than wasting precious syllables, Midwesterners are guilty of shortening the phrase "did you eat?" into "jeet?" Because apparently, Midwesterners waste no time with the basics of language.

Example: "Jeet yet? There's a chain restaurant down the street I've been dying to try."


vacuuming carpet midwestern words

In Ohio and Indiana, "to sweep" and "to vacuum" actually mean the same thing. If someone in those states asks you to sweep the living room rug, that doesn't mean you should break out the broom—"a sweeper" is a vacuum and a broom is simply…a broom.

Example: "Can you use the sweeper to clean up the hotdish from the carpet?"

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Ashley Moor
Ashley hails from Dayton, Ohio, and has more than six years of experience in print and digital media. Read more
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