Friday, November 9, 2012

Dat’s How Dey Talk In ‘Sconsin, Inso?

Last night I had a fun Facebook exchange with my friend Dick Alpert, erstwhile morning host on WIBA-AM in Madison who now masterfully handles traffic reporting duties for the all the Clear Channel radio stations in Wisconsin, from their Milwaukee hub.  Dick is from Sheboygan, but you couldn’t tell from hearing him speak.  Like most broadcasters, Dick has that neutral diction that sounds the same all across America.

The exchange started when Dick posted that he had heard someone on the police scanner say “Highway One Hundred” – which is one of the many main thoroughfares in the Milwaukee metro area.  The reason for his post is that those of us who have been around the state for a while know that people in Milwaukee – which, by the way, is usually pronounced with two run-on syllables - mwokee –by the natives, invariably say “Hiway a hunnert”.  Not “Hiway one hundred”, but “Hiway a hunnert”.

That post kicked off a sting of follow-up comments from folks who appreciate the true Wisconsin accent, as heard in communities like Milwaukee, Sheboygan, the “holy land” between Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan, and pretty much everywhere above HiWay 8.

Part of this unique regional speech is characterized by a more “German” syntax, where you hang the vowel on the end of the sentence; part of it is reflected in the “th” sound being replaced with a “d” – as in dese/these, dem/them, does/those, and so on.  And a part of it is unique articles which ‘sconnies innately understand – like “inso”, which I believe is a contraction of “isn’t it so?”, which you would hear in any conversation, like “dem Packers really are playin’ good now, inso?”

And, of course, you have to drop your g’s to speak proper ‘sconnie .  It’s “playin”, not “playing”.  And the popular new nickname for Wisconsinites – ‘sconnie – comes from the way so many people who live here pronounce the name of the state: ‘sconsin.

The area around Sheboygan and the holy land (the communities of St. Anne, St. Nazianz, Holy Cross, etc. in Calumet, Manitowoc, and Sheboygan Counties) speaks an intensely pure form of ‘sconnie, and to navigate the area, you’ll need to know things like to those folks, a cook-out is a fry-out (they have frequent brat-fry events), a barbeque sandwich is a hot tomale, and scores of other terms which are really not part of mainstream ‘sconsin speech.

For years, I worked with a young woman from Hilbert, who had learned to adapt her speech to the neutral broadcast inflection, but hearing her on the phone speaking with a friend from back home, she’d slip into the native tongue, and say things like “Yah, den, I gotta work Friday ‘till five, but den I’m comin’ back over by yous for dat big brat fry dere havin’ by Johnny’s ma’s place, ya know, so you guys should meet me dere, inso?  Yah, den, we’re gonna get all loopy, inso?”

You don’t go over to someone’s house; you go over by their house.  “Yah, hey, I heard Jim is stayin’ by Frank’s place fer a while – guess da old lady got fed up wit his drinkin’ and carryin’ on, and went to work and trew him outta da house.  He says ta her, he says, dat was just da Leinie’s talkin’ da udder night when I come home and called ya a bitch, but she din’t buy dat story, so out on the street he went.” (Notice how the past tense verb is hung onto the end of the dependent clause.)

If you can follow that long sentence in the paragraph above, you know that “went to work” doesn’t mean “went to work”, but that it’s just a common filler phrase indicating any sort of action, such as “went to work and bought another round for da whole bar, yet”.  And no one in the Badger state calls it Leinenkugel’s; it’s Leinies.

Verbally indicating agreement with a friend during normal conversation might sound something like “Yah, too yet, once, I’m da same way, inso”.

Please don’t think this post is meant to belittle or make fun of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Wisconsinites who speak this unusual language.  I thoroughly enjoy hearing it, just like I enjoy hearing a good Minnesota accent, or a good Canadian accent – although “accent” doesn’t really do it justice.  It’s really another dialect, and part of what gives us character – inso?


  1. inso = ain't it so. I think you could put in others as well, but I too enjoy going back to visit my family and friends in Wisconsin to hear the "old language" if you will.

    Another good one is stop and go light = traffic light! We now have two of them in our home town, right Tim?

  2. The other one that kills me is the use of "seen" instead of "saw." Example: "Yeah, we seen him up by Woodmans yesterday."

    In the case of people I know, they speak like that to humble themselves down, not sound too educated.

    My other favorite: Nobody calls him Mike Holmgren. It's pronounced "Hole-grem."

  3. Cri-hey, ain't dat da troot? What I really need is some kind of an outfit on which I can eat my croolers & summer sausage.

  4. inso = ain't it so

    Agreed. The long A is there, but virtually un-noticed.

  5. Bag = beg

    Bunch of = buncha

    Sure = oh, sher

    This list goes on and on and I love it.

    I love regional dialects such as this - when I hear someone speaking true 'sconnie, I always ask them "from what part of the state are you? I assume God's country" because I know that they aren't from the stateline area or Madison.

    A long time ago I lived in my shitbag apartment in Rockford (that is where I am from) and a local TV news anchor woman moved in right next door. I was no catch, but she was lonely as those news people job hop a lot apparently. So I invited her over for beers one day and we became pretty good friends. On that first night she commented that I had a perfect accent. Not knowing what she was talking about I asked her to explain - she noted that she had to suppress her (wherever she was from, it was a long time ago) accent when on the air to sound LIKE ME. I said to her then that I guess I didn't have an accent then, did I? She laughed.

    I never dated her, but it is one of my fondest memories of socializing with the opposite sex before I met my wife.

  6. I live in NY now, but Sheboygan born & raised-also speak that mother tongue including koolers(popsicles), fry-outs, hot tamales, & bubblers!

  7. Tell 'em in NYC about bubblers, pop & smelt, and maybe brats cooked in beer and onions ... The reaction you get is priceless