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Define Yooper

‘Yooper’ added to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary

It’s official, the word Yooper will now appear in the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. The news was announced on Monday, March 24. We owe a big thanks and about 67 pasties (call us Steve!) to Steve Parks of Gladstone. For ten years he has been campaigning to have Yooper added to the dictionary after a discussion that ensued while playing Yooper during a friendly game of Scrabble. Success! Steve will join a cast of people who have contributed to the history of the word Yooper.

The entry in Merriam-Webster’s will read as follows and will be seen in upcoming editions.

yoo-per: noun \ ‘yu-(,)pər\: a native or resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan – used as a nickname.

This  is significant news for a Yooper. Bottles of champagne should be popped open across the Upper Peninsula, perhaps with a pasty. As Yoopers, we have never had the convenience of pointing someone to the dictionary. When I was 18, I first moved out of the Upper Peninsula to attend college (go Spartans!), it was there where I realized how few people knew the meaning of Yooper, or, for that matter, where the Upper Peninsula is. Though Yooper Steez was still years away from being founded, it was at MSU where I first found my passion in playing an ambassador role for the Upper Peninsula.

Since founding Yooper Steez in 2008 we have been seeking unique mentions of Yooper and have been fascinated with its place in history.  The history of the word Yooper is difficult to track its exact creation. It is certainly the case that more than one person had the idea to combine U.P. into U.P.-er and eventually Yooper. 

One of those people is Dan Rosandich, a graduate of Ontonagon High School. His “Yooper Doopers” comic first appeared in the Mining Gazette in 1979.

Origin of Yooper

Additionally in 1979, the Escanaba Daily Press held a contest for people to come up with a demonym for people of the Upper Peninsula. In addition to Yooper some of the other words submitted were: Skeeter-eater (as in mosquitoes), Michupper, Bush turkey, Pastian (as in pasty). We’re happy that Yooper was the crowd favorite. According to the paper it was Brett Crawford of Bark River who submitted Yooper to the contest.

Recently, our friend John Wallace III sent us references to Yooper being used that outdated Dan’s use in 1979. There are at least two mentions of Yooper in The Pick & Axe from Bessemer dated in 1975 and 1977.

Yooper used in 1975

“‘That’s too durn many,’ one Yooper was heard to say recently” – Pick & Axe May 13, 1977

Yooper used in 1977

“Madam please be advised that you are a Michiganian nor a Michigoose. The correct noun is UPer (pronounced Yooper) and to be one is super.” – Pick & Axe Feb 1, 1975

We really like the term Michigoose though! Perhaps Michimoose? And the editor is right, it is certainly  a super thing to be.

Though Merriam-Webster’s is perhaps the world’s most cited dictionary, it doesn’t mean Yooper hasn’t appeared in other dictionaries until now. As Richard W. Bailey points out in 2005, the word Yooper was being used in the lesser known American Heritage Dictionary.

yoo-per: noun \ ‘yu-(,)pər\: a native or inhabitant of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Bailey goes on to point out the importance of Yooper as an official dialect in the State of Michigan.

The culminating moment for the Yooper way of talking, so far, was the introduction in 2003 of House Resolution 183 in the Michigan Legislature in Lansing: “A resolution establishing Yooper as Michigan’s official state dialect.”

Most remarkable of all, Yooper (barely a decade old as an acknowledged community of speech) is in peril. The resolution declared it to be “an endangered dialect that is on the verge of vanishing forever” from our Great Lake State. It didn’t say anything about just what the Yooper dialect is.

It is the case, though rarely, that words are dropped from the dictionary. For example, at one time Merriam-Webster’s deleted any word that went essentially unused in over two hundred years. That’s a long time, and as long as we’re around, we’ll be making sure the word gets used plenty. And always in a positive context.

Alas, let’s not leave out the internet phenomenon Urban Dictionary. The site features a total of 14 definitions for Yooper. Some we like, some we don’t like, and some we can’t event mention on here. Here are a couple of our favorites.

#3 yoo-per: noun \ ‘yu-(,)pər\: A native or inhabitant of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Yoopers are known to be extremely friendly and welcoming people and make anyone feel at ease. Most tourists leave the UP with a feeling that they can’t wait to return.

#6 yoo-per: noun \ ‘yu-(,)pər\: Someone who makes fun of trolls for their reaction to three feet of snow.

troll: man, we got a lot of snow
yooper: eh?
troll: three feet, man!
yooper: yah
troll: no school, man, it was sweet
yooper: you closed school for three feet of snow?!?!??!?
troll: you like excessive punctuation, don’t you?

It’s important to note what an Upper Peninsula native considers a Yooper. Thankfully, for many, the definition does not rule out those not born in the Upper Peninsula. However, the strict Yoopers will say that you have to be born in the Upper Peninsula to be considered a true Yooper, while others say you have to live there for at least ten years. It’s also common notion that you have to live in New York City for at least ten years to become a true New Yorker. We’ll leave those finer arguments to you. Above all, we believe the essence of being a true Yooper means a sincere appreciation and respect for the Upper Peninsula’s nature, wildlife, people, and culture.

Next, we’ll have to work on getting steez in the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. 

steez: adjective \ ‘stēz\: style with ease.


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