September 23, 2023

You Said It! Your Guide to Michigan Slang

By Kristi Kates | Feb. 18, 2017

Would you head over to Walmart’s to get a pop and pick up a new clicker with your friend, the fudgie?

You probably would if you live in northern Michigan. Each region of the country, right down to the state and often the town, has its own phrases, nicknames and slang terms indigenous to the area. Expecting a friend or relative for a visit? Email them a copy of this guide -- published in our annual "Made In Michigan" issue -- and they’ll be able to blend right in with the townies, er, locals, here in northern Michigan.

Clickers are those little devices you often see on key chains that make little clicking noises when squeezed. Kids love ‘em, and they’re also used to train dogs. Here in northern Michigan, the clicker also refers to the remote control for your TV. 

Perhaps the best known of northern Michigan nicknames, a fudgie is a person visiting our area. The nickname grew out of the simple fact that most people don’t manage to leave without first buying fudge. Indeed, thousands of rectangular pounds of the sweet stuff are exported every year.

Have a Good One
While in other places you’re told to “Have a nice day,” here in northern Michigan, the most common exit phrase is “Have a good one,” although no one quite knows what the “one” refers to. Could be a day, but it could also be a vacation, an ice cream cone, a dentist appointment, or a wedding. You just never know.

Holy Wah
If you’re participating in a northern Michigan conversation and looking to express awe, excitement, disbelief, surprise, delight, or “whoa!”, you can’t go wrong with a good hearty “Holy wah!” Again, no one’s really sure what’s being called holy, or even what “wah” means, but pretty much everyone says it.

Stemming from Michigan’s long and storied history in the labor movement, hourlies are people who work for an hourly wage as opposed to a salary. The phrase covers all branches of work and is used everywhere from restaurants to offices.

Wait…Aren’t those names supposed to be singular? Nope, not in northern Michigan. It’s a quirk of the region that stores like Meijer, Walmart, Kmart and JCPenney are spoken of in the possessive. If you say JCPenney, it sounds strange, but say JCPenney’s, and you’ll fit right in. Perhaps making stores sound like they’re owned by a person is just another way to share our Midwestern friendliness.

Michigan Left
Known as a U-turn in other parts of the country, this nickname is derived from the Michigan road design that allows for U-turns at intersections where cars can’t turn left. Instead, cars are guided to make a U-turn past their intended turn in order to then turn right, with a lane specially designated for this baffling maneuver.

Michigan Sauce
Nope, it’s not made of cherries, although that would be a good first guess considering how many condiments up here are made of northern Michigan’s favorite fruit. Michigan sauce is actually a ground beef meat that’s doused across the top of a hot dog and then dubbed a Coney dog.

Elsewhere, you might pack it, flatten it, or compress it, but here in northern Michigan, we pank it. This word is most often used when building a snowman or trying to carve a trench pit out of snow to get to your front door after a blizzard.

Carbonated beverages are referred to as soda on the East and West Coasts; in the southern U.S., all carbonated drinks are called coke; in east Texas, they’re called soft drinks. Here in northern Michigan, we drink pop, regardless of whether it’s actually Pepsi, Sprite, Coke, or Faygo, the most popular local pop in the state, headquartered right in Detroit.

The Cottage
It could be a musty old wooden cabin covered in sandy towels and vintage carved signs that say things like “Go Jump in the Lake,” or it could be a six-bedroom glass-walled beach house with its own dock and power boat. Either way, the place people head up north to for summer vacations or skiing is always, always referred to as “the cottage.”

It’s not quite the Jets and the Sharks, but visitors – usually the kind who return every summer, often to the same cottage (see above) – sometimes refer to the locals as townies, aka the people who live here year ‘round.

If you live in the Lower Peninsula, you’re a troll. This isn’t a reference to the internet troublemakers who poke and prod on message boards and chat rooms; the word is simply borrowed from the old folktale “Three Billy Goats Gruff.” In this case, those of us who live in the Lower Peninsula are trolls, and the bridge we live under is the Mighty Mac, yet another northern Michigan nickname, this one a reference to our storied Mackinac Bridge.

Okay, Trolls – you get to shoot a nickname right back at those who call you such. Those living in the Upper Peninsula are called Yoopers, a nickname squeezed out of the first letters of the region (“U” and “P”) with a bit of a twist on the end. There’s Yooper pride, too, most notably from the Ishpeming band Da Yoopers.


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