It’s been said that in New York, every insult is a compliment: “This is my buddy, Jerry. He’s been bustin’ my balls for 30 years, right, Jer?” In the South, every compliment is an insult: “Well, aren’t you kind?” In the Midwest, you’re never sure whether you’re being complimented or insulted. Midwesterners don’t like to sound critical or hurt anyone’s feelings, so we’ve developed code words to avoid stating an opinion altogether. The story is told of a consultant from D.C. who presented an idea to a group of Midwesterners and thought it was going over well because they all said it was interesting. Or the Minnesotan who delivered this scathing one-word review of Fargo: “Well, that was different.” Passive-aggressive criticism is an important Midwestern skill. So is avoiding excessive praise. Or talking excessively, period.
As the author of the book How to Speak Midwestern, and a Regular Fellow at the Institute for Midwestern Studies in Keokuk, Iowa, I think I have a pretty good idea of how people talk in this part of the country. I’ve lived in Illinois and Michigan, worked in Indiana, and seen the wonders of Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota (including the world’s largest penny and a giant animatronic Paul Bunyan). So I put together this quiz to help you determine whether you talk like a Midwesterner, by testing your skill at avoiding verbal conflict, as well as your knowledge of various other words and pronunciations. It may not be as extensive or scientific as The New York Times dialect quiz, but, you know, we’re just regular folks doing the best we can with what we’ve got here. If you disagree with any of these, that’s OK. No worries. Hope you at least find it interesting.
You have two marbles in your hand. A friend gives you another marble. How many marbles do you have now?
- A couple tree
- A few
- 2. A couple tree
A co-worker suggests that everyone in your office wear name tags, so you can all greet each other. How do you respond?
- “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
- “You really ought to think that through before you tell the boss.”
- “That’s a really interesting idea.”
- 3. “That’s a really interesting idea.”
What do you call our nation’s capital?
- 2. Warshington
You’re going to the beach and you want a friend to join you. How do you ask her?
- “Will you be joining us?”
- “Are you coming along?”
- “Do you want to come with?”
- 3. “Do you want to come with?”
Which of these is an acceptable way to refer to a group of people?
- You guys
- All of the above, although “yinz” is only acceptable in Pittsburgh.
How do you ask someone whether they’ve had their supper yet?
- “Have you had your supper yet?”
- “Are you still hungry?”
- 3. “Jeet?
What do you shout at someone who cuts you off in traffic?
- “Hey, jagoff! Learn to drive!”
- “Well, aren’t you kind today?”
- Nothing. You just keep driving and seethe.
- 1 in Chicago or Pittsburgh. 3 everywhere else.
You’re racing to catch a train and you almost run into someone. What do you say to them?
- “Excuse me.”
- “Get the f— out of my way!”
- 3. “Ope!”
You’re at a concert. You’re moved to tears by the singer’s voice. How do you express your appreciation for her performance?
- “That was fantastic!”
- “That was magnificent.”
- “She’s pretty good, eh.”
- 3. “She’s pretty good, eh.”
If you want to know everything there is to know about someone you’ve just met, what one question do you ask them?
- “What neighborhood are you from?”
- “What parish are you from?”
- “Where’d you go to high school?”
- All of the above.
A friend from another part of the country complains about the weather. What do you tell him?
- “You get used to it.”
- “It weeds out the softies.”
- “Just wait five minutes; it’ll change.”
- All of the above, although 3 is preferred.
How would you describe your accent?
- “Inland North. I have long ‘o’s and sharp ‘a’s. I say ‘cay-et’ for cat and ‘pahhp’ for pop.”
- “Midland. I say ‘Dawn’ for ‘Don’ and ‘warsh’ for ‘wash.’”
- Midwesterners don’t have accents.
- 1 or 2, although all Midwesterners believe 3 is correct.
You’re driving home from the Wisconsin Dells on I-90. Your family wants to know when you last filled up the gas tank. What do you tell them?
- “I filled it up before we left.”
- “I never drive with less than a quarter tank.”
- “We can make it to the next exit.”
- 3. “We can make it to the next exit.” (There’s always a Casey’s around, right?)
Your friend invites you to see Brett Eldredge at the Kane County Fair. How do you let him know you’re not coming?
- “I’m not really into country music.”
- “That’s kind of a haul for me.”
- “Oh, that sounds great!”
- 3. “Oh, that sounds great!”
How do you ask someone whether they’ve had a successful year?
- “Did you get a raise?”
- “Did you get a new job?”
- “D’ja get your deer?”
- 3. “D’ja get your deer?”
What’s the room overlooking the street, where all the furniture is covered in plastic?
- Living room
- 1. Frunchroom
What do you call a carbonated beverage?
- 1 in Milwaukee or St. Louis. 2 everywhere else. 3 never.
You lent a friend $5,000 and he never paid it back. How do you let him know you’re ending the friendship?
- “You’re the most dishonest grifter I’ve ever met.”
- “I never want to see your face again.”
- “It’s all good. Don’t worry about it. Whenever you get the money.”
- 3. “It’s all good. Don’t worry about it. Whenever you get the money.”
How do you pronounce “cot” and “caught”?
- “caht” and “cawt”
- “cawt” and “cawt”
- “caht” and “caht”
- 1. “caht” and “cawt”
Where’s that place I’m pointing at?
- Over there
- Over by dere
- 3. Over by dere