If you’re looking to move to the Midwest, you might be aware of a few cultural oddities. But if you want to sound like a true Madison local, you’ll need to check out or tips on Wisconsin slang, pronunciations, and dialects.
Many cities outside of Madison have Native American names, and if you’re not from here, you might stumble on some of the long names and emphasize the wrong syllables. Oconomowoc is pronounced “o-CO-nuh-mo-walk.” Waukesha is “walk a shaw,” and Wauwatosa is “Wa-wa-Toe-sah.”
But don’t worry, you won’t need to memorize all the different names. After a while, you’ll just get used to where the emphases tend to be.
Some other cities may seem a little easier to pronounce, but to sound like a true Madison local, the way you say even the word “Wisconsin” may need to change. The pronunciation is more like “Wiscahnsin” and the “c” can end up sounding a bit more like a “g.” And if you’re going to talk about Milwaukee, get rid of the “il.” It’s just Mwaukee.
It’s Willy Street
A dead giveaway that you’re not from Madison is referring to one of our main drags as Williamson Street, which is its official name. But everyone just calls it Willy Street, and it’s one of the best streets for local shops and eats.
Midwesterners are an enthusiastic, friendly people, and their speech reflects that. You’ll hear them shout “ope!” when you accidentally bump into them on the street (for which they’ll apologize), “you betcha!” when you ask if they want to go for some beer and curds (we’ll get to that later), and ohhhh before they get started on a lengthy answer to a simple question.
If you want to sound like a Wisconsinite, you’ll need to incorporate a few of these phrases into your daily speech, but be careful, because if you get too liberal with the “you betcha”s and start ending your sentences with “dontcha know?” people will start asking if you’re from Minnesota.
Cheese curds are Wisconsin’s culinary pride and joy, and locals will freak out if they hear you’ve never tried the little deep-fried balls of cheese. Ask your Madison friends “can I get one of those curds?” and make sure they douse it in ranch to really impress them.
Another food you’ll come across in Wisconsin that you may never heard of is poutine (see above). It’s a Canadian dish that’s really popular in Minnesota, but seeing as they’re both our next door neighbors, the dish tends to pop up in restaurants in Wisconsin. It’s basically a plate of french fried covered in gravy, cheese, and some time of meat, and it’s pronounced “poo-teen.”
If one of your new friends says they’re family has a house “up north,” there’s really no need to ask where. It’s probably some beautiful cabin in the woods on a pristine lake about 3-4 hours away where you’ll kayak, swim, hike, and drink lots of lots of beer. If you get an invite to your friend’s place “up north,” you definitely want to go.
Yous guys is more of a Northern Wisconsin/Minnesota phrase that comes out of the mouths of people with extremely strong accents. In South-Central Wisconsin, you’ll hear it a bit, but you’ll definitely hear everyone saying you guys. If you hit a Midwesterner with a “y’all,” you’ll get a few very confused looks.
— Bob Burns (@BigBobBurns) June 14, 2018
If your friend asks if you want a “Hamm’s,” they’re not offering you a piece of deli meat. It’s a cheap, lager-style beer that was originally made at Hamm’s brewery in St. Paul in the 1930’s. It’s now owned by MillerCoors, but can still pretty much only be found in Wisconsin and Minnesota.
These aren’t real words, but they’re definitely something you’ll hear in Wisconsin. People will pronounce their “e”’s more like “a”’s an you might even catch yourself referring to your handbag as a handbayg, or asking your roommate if they can grab some ayggs instead of eggs on the way home.
Want a Pop?
The word pop is quickly becoming old-fashioned, but you’ll still hear your Wisconsinite friends offer you a pop instead of a soda. If you call it a soda in Madison, they’ll know what you’re talking about, but if you ask for a coke, no one is going to ask “what kind?” like they might in some parts of the South.
If you’re moving from Massachusetts to Madison, you’re already a step ahead on this one. If you’re looking to get a sip of water from the drinking fountain, ask a local where the nearest “bubbler” is, and they’ll point you in the right direction.
A Sconnie is someone who is all Wisconsin all the time. They eat cheese curds for breakfast, will chat with any stranger at any bar, and is best friends with Bucky the Badger. If you’re looking to move to Madison, you’re probably not a Sconnie quite yet, but if you follow these tips, with a little practice people might start mistaking you for one.