Travel around the United States, and you might notice that this country is not entirely consistent with the English language. A “buggy” doesn’t mean the same thing in the South as it does in Pennsylvania’s Dutch country. “To grill” doesn’t always mean cooking meat outdoors. The terms Midwesterners use can be especially tricky for outsiders, leading to a lot of questions. Is there really a magical resting spot called “Naptown”? What’s a “pop”? Why do people want to eat “puppy chow”? Here’s a quick primer of words you might hear when you’re in the middle of the country.
Pronounced like “hope” with the “h” dropped, this is the Midwestern flavor of “whoops” or “my bad.” The origins of this interjection are unclear, but it comes in handy when bumping into someone, dropping your keys, or making a wrong turn. Essentially, “ope” is the way Midwesterners apologize to anyone and for anything.
Hailing from the Minnesota-Dakotas-Wisconsin corridor, “hotdish” is usually considered a synonym for a casserole, although there is a key difference between the two words. Throw the kitchen sink at a casserole and it’s versatile enough to be considered the main course, a side dish, or even dessert. A hotdish, on the other hand, is always a standalone main dish because it encompasses all the food groups via specific ingredients. It must contain either a “cream of” soup or a tomato base, a starch, veggies, usually some form of meat, a topping with some crunch to it (like tater tots, breadcrumbs, or corn flakes) … and, of course, don’t forget the cheese, because Wisconsin.
You know what might go well with that hotdish? A pop! Even though folks in other parts of the U.S. might say “pop,” the term is most closely linked to the Midwest. In other places, people order sodas — except in the South, where asking for a “Coke” will earn the response, “What kind?”.
Possibly the most cheerful way to agree with someone, reassure them that you’re on the same page, or even just show acceptance of another person’s point of view. This Midwestern positivity pairs well with just about any affirmation.
In Minnesota, this is commonly tacked on to the end of sentences as a way to elicit a response. “You betcha!” and “dontcha know?” work well together in conversation.
To unwind after a long day, head to the bar and grab a “brewski.” According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, it’s a combination of “brew” and “a fanciful ending, perhaps after the common Slavonic surname suffix -ski.” This term spilled out of frat houses in the Midwest and made its national debut on a 1977 Saturday Night Live sketch with the line “Yes, we were extremely upset to find six-packs of brewski in the children’s trick-or-treat bags.” A Nebraska specialty, a “red beer” is a brewski mixed with tomato juice and a shot of hot sauce.
It’s also a nickname for Maryland’s capital of Annapolis, but “Naptown” is what Hoosiers call Indianapolis — a town once considered sleepy because of its slower pace of life in the early 20th century. Club musicians may have coined the nickname just to avoid saying the six syllables in “Indianapolis,” and area radio stations like WNAP brought it into heavy rotation on their airwaves in the 1960s. Whether “Naptown” is slang of yore or an insult, it’s now the 17th most-populous city in the U.S., so it’s outgrown its “sleepiness.”
Also called “muddy buddies,” this snack, especially popular in Iowa, consists of Chex cereal coated in a mixture of peanut butter, chocolate, and confectioner’s sugar. Puppy chow got its name because at first glance, it looks a lot like dog food. Bonus: it freezes well and keeps for about three months.
Honorable Midwestern Mentions: Jeez, cripes, whoopensocker, padiddle, knee high by the Fourth of July
Featured image credit: hauged/ iStock