Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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

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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