Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I am distinctly Minnesotan and proud of it January 5, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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SEVERAL YEARS AGO, before my son-in-law married my daughter, I gifted him with How to Talk Minnesotan by Howard Mohr. It’s a rather humorous, but truthful, volume of Minnesota Speak.


The original version of How to Talk Minnesotan was published in the 1980s. This is the version I've read.

The original version of How to Talk Minnesotan was published in the 1980s. This is the version I’ve read.

I thought Marc might need a Minnesota “dictionary” given he grew up in California, where bars are drinking establishments and not also a sweet treat baked in a cake pan.  And, yes, he now lives in Minnesota with his wife, my eldest.

Having ever only traveled as far west as one mile into Wyoming, never down South and to the East Coast only once, during college, I am mostly unfamiliar with regional differences in dialect.

Apparently we Minnesotans draw out our “o”s and possess a distinct accent. No, not like the “sure, ya betcha” voices of Fargo.

The son noted this on his recent arrival home from Boston for holiday break. “Listen to yourselves,” he advised his dad and me.

Apparently friends at Tufts University have ribbed him about his incorrect pronunciations of “bag” and “sorry.”

Before my son transferred to the East Coast college from North Dakota State University in, yes, Fargo, two years ago, I phoned the Tufts financial aid office. The woman who answered had a Boston accent so strong that I could not understand her. I requested that she please slow down. If ever there was an accent…

An updated version published in

An updated version published in 2013 by Penguin Books.

Continuing along his Minnesota differences theme, the son noted also that we use the word “supper” to reference our evening meal. My husband and I explained that this is a carry-over from our rural backgrounds. The noon meal was dinner. Lunch was served at 3 p.m. to the men in the field and a “little lunch” around midnight, when you had company (aka visitors). Supper was served either before or after the evening milking.

After nearly 60 years of identifying meals as breakfast, dinner, lunch, supper and a little lunch, we’re not going to change our dining terminology.

That brings us to after meal clean-up. As the 20-year-old and I were doing dishes after supper (not dinner) recently, he noted that, “You know they don’t wash dishes like this in Boston.”

I paused mid swirl of dishrag upon plate, confused. “What do you mean? That everyone has a dishwasher?”

He shot me that c’mon Mom look youth sometimes reserve for parents, then explained. Rather than filling the sink with water, each item is washed individually with a squirt of soap under running water.

“Makes no sense to me and seems mighty wasteful of water and dish soap,” I chided. “Are you sure that isn’t just a college kid thing rather than a Boston thing?”

He didn’t respond.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


33 Responses to “I am distinctly Minnesotan and proud of it”

  1. treadlemusic Says:

    You are so correct! Midwesterners can be picked out anywhere. I didn’t realize this until our first trek out of this area (you may choose ANY direction, it doesn’t matter!!!) and someone will say….”Oh, you are from the Midwest/Minnesota!”. Yes, it IS that pronounced and the other characteristic (pointed out more when we were on the East Coast) is that we, here in the Midwest, walk down a public sidewalk and actually make eye contact with those passing AND……wait for it……may even smile and give a “Hello/Hi”!……almost unheard of elsewhere!!!! But, if these are our traits……I’m proud to be singled out as ‘owning’ them, aren’t you???????

  2. Dan Traun Says:

    An individual squirt of soap under running water sound extremely wasteful don’t you know. That sounds an awful lot like letting the water run full blast while brushing your teeth. Water is too precious to be wasted so blatantly like that.

  3. Marneymae Says:

    Delightful post.
    I once heard on NPR nearly 20 years ago that a scientist did a study on the many ways to wash dishes – she found over 200 varieties…

  4. Norma Says:

    I love to hear people from different areas of the U.S talk. My # 4 child married a southerner 30 some years ago. (Mississippi) Talk about a foreign language!!! My 2 grandchildren are sometimes really hard to understand. I used to tell them “slow down, and enunciate.” They did get better after college.

  5. Chiming in from Virginia via past lives in both Massachusetts and Minnesota. I never heard the Minnesota accent until I lived in Mass. for several years and then went back. I heard it then but with great affection which was not the case for the nasal, barking sound of the Massachusetts accent were my name was pronounce Baaaahbra. I can assure you that people in Mass. don’t wash their dishes as your son’s roommates do. That’s gotta be a kid thing. Fun post, Audrey. Hey, you’re lucky, you have a first name that can’t be mutilated in any region of our fair land.

  6. I still remember a customer of mine many years back – this customer grew up in Australia moved to New York to be a cab driver then moved to Louisiana – talk about a unique dialect! I use certain words still and people here know I am not from here – ha! (people usually guess that I am from Canada – makes me chuckle) I also grew up on a farm and there were many meals to be had throughout the day. Thanks for bringing back some good memories – Happy Day 🙂

  7. Don Singsaas Says:

    Great comments! Being a displaced Minnesotan I too call it supper. I also say pop as apposed to soda, a shopping cart as apposed to a buggy, a jacket as apposed to a pakaa and while I grew up with snowmobile here in Alaska it’s a sno-machine or sno-go as apposed to a snowmobile. As for washing dishes well I use a dishwasher but grew up with one sink full of soapy water and a second sink to rinse in. Do the clear glasses first, plates and other items next with greasy cooking pans last! Hummmm I truly do miss some of the good conversations I have had while doing the dishes with mom, dad brother etc.

    I’ll have to look for the book. It sounds like an enjoyable read!

  8. Miranda Says:

    Here in Appleton, WI, I haven’t noticed that many differences in words, except most people here refer to “pop” as “soda”, “garage sales” as “rummage sales”, and the really true blue Wisconsinites call a “drinking fountain” a “bubbler.” 😛

    As an interpreter, I encounter Spanish-speaking people with many different dialects. It makes it challenging when someone from Mexico will use a different word than say, someone from Puerto Rico. And then there are people who will mix Spanish and Spanglish. It’s a continuous learning process.

  9. Neil Says:

    Minnesotan accents… consider yourselves blessed! People from other regions may not always understand what you mean, but at least they understand what you say. That’s because, as a general rule, midwesterners enunciate words correctly.

    After living in Oklahoma for 2 years, I found it very difficult to say the word “hill” (always came out “heel”). I quickly recovered my lost ability after moving to North Dakota. My son, who obtained most of his vocabulary while we lived in OK, used to pronounce “corn” with two syllables (“cor-in”; likewise, “horn” was always “hor-in”). We found it very entertaining!

    I’ve also picked up other regional language habits along the way, some of which would not please my old English teachers. These days, when someone asks me if I can do something for them, my response is likely to be “I might could do that.” How attrocious!

    I lost my New England accent within minutes of moving to Texas! The words that are most conspicuously used in Massachusetts are “soda” or “tonic” instead of “pop,” “bubblah” instead of “water fountain” and “hero” or “grinder” instead of “sub.” I still use soda rather than pop. I rarely hear “pop” used anywhere outside of the midwest. In the deep south, “pop” is “coke,” regardless of the flavor of soda you are drinking. Now that takes some getting used to! BTW, when we recently toured the Coke museum in Vicksburg, MS where Coke was first bottled, we found out that “pop” came into usage only after the bottling industry came into being. It came from the popping sound made when the corks on the soda bottles were removed.

  10. Jackie Says:

    It’s funny to think of the things that we consider normal, like the way we talk and what we label our meals….everyone else is wrong… right?

  11. Marlene Bregar Says:

    I was born and raised in rural New Richland/Waseca and have been in Colorado for 42 years and people still tell me they know I’m from Minnesota because I do that “funny thing” with my “o’s”…
    Having grown up as a second generation Swede, my vocabulary was interspersed with Swedish names for things around the farm! We always called calves, “cuzzies” for instance.
    And the whole soda vs. pop vs. coke…spent some time as part of a teacher’s project on the East Coast…that was a whole new vocabulary! I always thought curlers were something you put in your hair…until I ran into crullers (a fried pastry popular in New England)!!

  12. Noni Mausa Says:

    I grew up in Mankato, but moved to Canada in the early 1970s. After a couple of decades, going back and forth to visit of course, I first noticed an accent peculiar to young men in Minnesota, something I call the Minnesota Quack. Can’t describe it better than that, and I have no idea how it originated. It’s how one of my brothers talked, and when I heard the same quack in a shopping mall one day I thought it was him. Nope, it’s a “thing” with many young guys.

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