It’s been a twelve year fight through red-tape and linguistic naysayers for Gladstone resident Steve Parks, but—at long last—he’s reached light at the end of the tunnel/Seney Stretch: “Yooper” is now recognized as a word by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. What began with a challenge in Scrabble—Park’s play of YOOPER was nixed when he couldn’t find the word in the dictionary—is now a cause for celebration on the north side of the Mighty Mac. MyNorth’s Evan Perry chatted with Parks, who’s the prosecuting attorney in the Upper Peninsula’s Delta County, to get into the head of this indefatigable public servant.
Got a suggestion for a Northern Michigan-made word that should be in the dictionary? Wanna show some love for all the fudgies out there? Submit a comment at the bottom of the page!
As a person from the Lower Peninsula, I wonder why there’s no such thing as a ‘Looper’? I think I might be a bit jealous.
Well, there is a term—but it’s kind of derogatory—for what Yoopers call people that live below the bridge. Maybe you’ve heard it…
Yeah, that’s it.
Do you know if ‘Yooper’ was ever used as a derogatory term?
I don’t think anybody at this time believes it’s derogatory, but just the other day I spoke with an older gentleman who was close to 80 years old, and he told me that he knew a man—who has long since passed on—who believed that the word was very derogatory and he hated the word. So there may have been a time when people thought it was a demeaning word, but I think that it’s been embraced over time. I don’t see it as a word that has any negative connotation at all.
What does it mean to be a Yooper, and why do you think it’s now a term of endearment?
The term basically means to be born in the U.P. or to be a resident here, but beyond that, it means to have a certain resilience, and hardiness, and a sense of community when you live in a place like this, which is so isolated. To me, those terms are synonymous with the word; we have to be self-reliant and independent to live up here.
There are maps out there that don’t have the U.P. in them; in some sense we seem to be forgotten. Ultimately, we do have a different identity, a different way of life, and a different history and culture up here, and having that identity means a lot to people. It’s amazing to see some of the blogs online, where people that were raised up here who are now across the United States are so happy about this because, if you’re born up here, it’s in your DNA. And if you’re not from up here—and I’ve tried to explain this to many people—there’s this feeling up here of the land and the people. When you cross that bridge, in some sense you’re home. Every time I cross that bridge, I feel like I’m back on hallowed ground, even though I live two hours from the bridge.
Can you give an example or relate a story that demonstrates that difference in mentalities?
I was actually in Traverse City a few weekends ago for a high school robotics competition with my son, and there were about 45 teams from all over the state, with a handful from the U.P. Now, some of the teams from the Detroit area are sponsored by some big names—GM, Ford. From our perspective, those teams have unlimited resources, and they have more technical assets, like advisers who are licensed engineers by trade.
Now I’ve coached my kids in all kinds of sports throughout the years, but I’ve never felt the jubilation when the Escanaba, Gladstone and Cedarville team won that district tournament. And part of the gratification for that comes from knowing that, at Gladstone, we don’t have any advisers who are licensed engineers, but we do have people who are bright and resourceful. The competition really had sort of a David and Goliath air to it.
So that gets us back to having resiliency and a self-starting mentality, and also looking out for each other. That event really exemplified what it meant to be a Yooper for me.
Note: The cartoon above is provided by Dick Guindon, an American cartoonist best known for his gag panel, Guindon. Guindon’s cartoons have appeared in the Minneapolis Tribune, The Realist and the Detroit Free Press. Traverse Magazine profiled Guindon in the February 2005 issue, saying “He has been called an angry man, a bon vivant, an irreverent wit, an irrepressible cynic, a guy who’s a little too preoccupied with carp.” Dick now calls Suttons Bay home.
We know there are plenty of words unique to Northern Michigan: fudgie, troll, pastie and, ehem…conelicker. Post a comment below to get the conversation started about your favorite Up North idiom!