Wishing for a well & how to speak wuh-Scahnsin.

Growing up a city boy, buying a rural(ish) property in a small town has been a learning experience.

Take the well, for instance. When I learned our house had a well, I was super excited. I envisioned tossing coins down there and making wishes, hauling buckets of water up by hand, the whole works. At the least, I imagined we’d have a quaint, cool-looking wooden structure straight out of the English countryside. When Justin the Realtor met us for that initial showing, I scouted the grounds in search of one of these.

“Hey, where’s the well?” I asked JTR when I was unable to find anything remotely resembling this on the property.

“Right there,” he said.
“Right where?” I asked, still confused.
“Next to the tree in the front yard.”

I thought the old chap had gone daffy ‘cuz there was nothing there. The fact that I mentally referred to him as an old chap is further proof that I still had an English garden on the brain. He then pointed out an object protruding from the ground that most certainly was not a well.

Only, it is a well. Talk about a major disappointment. When I told Tara I thought all wells looked like storybook wishing wells, she laughed and laughed.

And laughed some more for good measure.

Boy, do I feel dumb. But I really, truly, honestly believed the first photo is what a well looked like. “Country people” may have a reputation for being hicks, but they’d laugh all the way to the outhouse if they heard this city slicker talk about his vision of a well.

Don’t even get me started on the septic “tank.”

House in the sticks aside, just moving to the Midwest has been eye-opening. There’s an entire vernacular exclusive to Wisconsin (and maybe a few neighboring regions). I’ve already mentioned that cornhole is called bags here. “Ope!” and “Geez Louise” are common phrases I’ve adopted into my everyday speech. And this morning, my friend Chris reminded me of yet another. He sent me the following clip.


What do you call it? 🤔 🎥: @holidayautomotive 📍 Fond du Lac #wisconsin #midwest #bubbler #explorewisconsin

♬ original sound – UpNorthNews – UpNorthNews

“Is this true?” he asked. “WTF is a bubbler. It doesn’t bubble!”

I couldn’t help but laugh even as I assured Chris that, yes, Sconnies do call water fountains (or drinking fountains) bubblers. Other popular Wisconsin lingo includes:

  • Stop-and-go lights (traffic lights).
  • “Cripes” (a polite way to swear; substitute for “Christ!” or “shit”).
  • Up Nort’ (refers to northern Wisconsin, though it’s more a state of mind than a physical location).
  • “Uff-dah!” (catchall term for joy, frustration, exhaustion, or pretty much any other emotion).
  • FIB (disparaging term for a resident of the state below us; f&ck!ng Illinois b@st*rd if I must spell it out for you).
  • Yooper (less-disparaging term for a resident of the state above us, i.e., the Upper Peninsula of Michigan).
  • “Real quick” (not a unit of measurement for time, but a way to ask for a favor, e.g., “Lemme squeeze past ya real quick” or “Could ya stop at the store real quick on the way home?”).
  • Brats (don’t confuse with a snotty little kid; in this case, it’s bratwursts—one of the three major Wisconsin food groups, alongside cheese and alcohol. Nobody uses the whole word).
  • “Ya know” (use to start and end thoughts, and really draw out the knoooow).

Then there are pronunciations to master. True Wisconsinites pronounce “bag” like “bagel” and “milk” like “melk.” That last is a particularly important distinction given that we’re the Dairy State. Oh, and it’s not Wis-con-sin, unless you’re not from Wisconsin, in which case it’s totally Wis-con-sin. Here, it’s wuh-Scahnsin.

Whew! That’s a lot to keep track of. Give me a couple three years and I might start sounding like I’m from around des parts, ya know?

What colloquialisms are common where you live? Give me a sentence from your area that I might not be familiar with, and I’ll try to guess what it means.

63 thoughts on “Wishing for a well & how to speak wuh-Scahnsin.

  1. Geez Louise! I will swear, given how many of these I know and say all the time that surely I must be a transplanted Wisconsin-ite, Wisconsonian, how about just cheese-head. Seriously though: cripes, real quick, ya know, melk and wuh-Scahnsin… I must have been kidnapped as a child and that explains my serious love of cheese.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Water fountains are called bubblers here too. But that’s just because Rhode Island is weird.

    Jeet? Let’s go down to Olneyville and get a couple of weiners all the way with a coffee milk, we can stop for an Awful Awful for dessert. We’ll pass by the Big Blue Bug on the way. Or we can go to Matunuck for steamers and stuffies. You decide.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Did you eat? Let’s get a couple of hot dogs with the works and lattes…yadda, yadda (don’t know about this dessert or bug)…we can go to Matunuck for clams and lobster rolls.

      How’d I do?


      1. Not bad guesses!.
        – All the way: weiner, steamed bun, mustard, special meat sauce, onions, celery salt.
        – Coffee milk: a glass of milk with coffee syrup mixed in. Must either be Autocrat, Eclipse, or Dave’s Coffee.
        – Awful Awful: a milkshake only found at Newport Creamery restaurants. Awful thick, awful good!
        – The Big Blue Bug: not just an obscure Family Guy reference. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Blue_Bug
        – Stuffies: A mix of chopped clams, bread or cracker crumbs, diced peppers, and sometimes Portuguese chourico, mounded in a clam shell and baked until golden brown and delicious.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Silly city dweller. I shall treasure the mental image of you wandering around your new yard searching for that English stone well. But cheer up, you can always build one.
    As for Maine speak, try these:
    I kifed that lipstick.
    After a few drinks I get gawmy.
    That was a wicked pissah.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. being a michigander/michiganian, we use yooper as well for the upper peninsula residents and lower peninsula residents (myself included) are trolls, which I kind of like.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Bubbler, wow. I did not know that. My older daughter’s longtime ex-boyfriend grew up in Casco, WI with a dairy farmer dad. So, I knew how to say Wisconsin correctly! I use some of those expressions once in a while. From my state, “The mountain is out!”

    Liked by 1 person

      1. This is perhaps the most iconic low-key insult in the South. “Bless Your Heart” is a way of implying a person is a bit slow. If someone says it, they are rarely blessing your heart.

        Example: “Bless your heart, you must not be from around here.”

        ~ From Narcity

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Mark, I live in what is often referred to as central Wisconsin just outside Medford. To me when they refer to “Up North” I think any place north of highway 64. To me that’s where there are bigger wooded areas. As for wells, if you live outside of a town you have to have a well and holding tanks or a mound system. There are so many things I could tell you about my area if you are interested in finding out about anything or if you need any info about something up north or even from central Wisconsin just let me know. Oh one more thing before I go. Where you live has a higher chance of more severe weather like tornadoes. Hope to hear from you soon. Sandy

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Sandy. I always get a kick out of the “Up North” debate. I suppose if you live in Beloit, technically the whole state is “Up North”!

      I figured this area was more prone to severe weather given our more southern location. I may be keeping an eye on the sky a lot this year…


      1. Hi Mark, One more thing if you don’t already know. Most of the time people around here don’t say “The” we say “Da”. Like instead of saying “Going to the lake. It would be, “Going to da lake.” I guess it might be like a Upper thing. You have heard of “Da Uppers”. ” Da Thirty Point Buck”. You hear that song a lot around here during hunting season. Sandy

        Liked by 1 person

  7. I did laugh over your pictured well. Did…did you think you would have to haul up water by the bucketload hourly? If so…why would you even consider buying that house?! Californians are easily recognized because I think we’re the only state that says “freeway” versus “highway” and we put an article in front of each freeway: “the 5,” “the 110,” “the mother%$#ing 405.” In the South, I might say “more nervous than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs,” or I might “pitch a fit” instead of a ball or a tent. And of course, pretty much anyone from New England will tell you it’s “wicked cold.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, no…I didn’t think I’d have to haul water up by the bucket, but I thought that might be a backup for when the power went out? I don’t know. Took me a while to even realize the noise I heard every time I flushed the toilet or turned on the tap was the well pump running. If there’s ever an extended power outage, we’re going to be in trouble.

      My brother just left California a couple of years ago after spending something like 35 years there. I still give him a hard time for saying “the 5” or “the 405.”

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hilarious, Mark! I grew up right on the edge of the city of Akron, but we did have a septic tank and a well. Do you have a water softener, too? I’ve lived in cities ever since, so never had to deal with any of that.

    I think everyone says ‘melk’ here, too. Here’s a weird sentence from my hometown, “We flicked school today, got a California cooler and some jojos, and accidentally drove over the devil strip.”

    From Cleveland, “I hope we don’t get lake effect because I’m going to the west side for Dyngus Day and paczki.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, we have a water softener…and no idea how to use it. The company we’re renting from said they would be happy to send a rep over sometime and go over that with us.

      We skipped school, got some booze and potatoes, and ended up in hell?


      1. Close. . . We skipped school, drank a grape drink (only available at local drive ins and ingredients are basically a secret, but no alcohol), ate fried potato wedges and drove over a tree lawn (at least that’s the name in Cleveland; the lawn area between the street and the sidewalk that the city owns, but you are responsible for).

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Those must be Wisconsinites from way up nort’ saying bubblers, because I live near the Wiscaaaasin border and have never heard the term bubbler in person. I hope you read that sentence out loud. By the way, my Chicago friends have told me that I have a Chicago/Wisconsin accent; I’m not sure what to think about that.

    In terms of your well, could you put a cute little wooden well on top of the less appealing one? Perhaps friends and neighbors will throw spare change into it when they visit, allowing you to eventually quit your day job.😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear “bubbler” all the time, but it’s usually when I’m watching Charlie Berens movies. We actually have a bubbler in the TobacCo office, but I have never heard anybody call it…well, anything. It just sits there, mostly unused.

      Yes, we actually could add a decorative well on top, I suppose. If I’m ever destitute I’m a-gonna do just that!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Fun fact: the only other state that calls it a “bubbler” is Rhode Island!

    When I moved to Connecticut I went through the same thing as I tried to learn the local lingo. Eventually I made sense of all of it, but one word I could never bring myself to say, even after living there for years, was “grinder.”

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Don’t need to pay the video. It’s a bubbler all the way!! It was quite a surprise to go to college in Minnesota and find that nobody here calls it a bubbler. Cripes that threw me!
    And yay! You learned the epithet for Illinois people/drivers that I hinted at a few months back.
    We had a ski cabin in the UP growing up, so I spent a lot of time Up Nort(h) around them Yoopers.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Oh, and I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your so-called well looks exactly like what you would attach your trailer/RV sewer pipe to, only a little taller. Basically, it looks like a toilet hookup for campers. If it makes you feel any better, whenever I have to teach my students what a well is, I draw an exact replica of the one you were wishing for. Hey, maybe I’m unwittingly perpetuating the romantic storybook idea of wells. Am I dooming the next generation to ridicule, humiliation, and disappointment? Uff-da. I’ll have to ponder that tonight over beer brats and beer. (Just kidding – I don’t like brats OR beer. Did I mention I’m a disgraced Wisconsinite? Goes along with not caring a jot whether the Packers win or lose. I’m surprised my folks haven’t disowned me.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nothing wrong with not caring about the Packers, lol. Says the Broncos fan…

      I say keep teaching your kids about wells that way. Childhood is traumatic enough when you learn Santa Claus isn’t real. Let’s keep the fairytale well thing going; some of them might grow up and become otherwise reasonably intelligent adults who still believe wells look like that!

      Liked by 1 person

  13. We call a sandwich of Italian bread a hero….I know this varies. But I can’t really think of anything other than an outer borough accent that marks us

    Liked by 1 person

  14. What’s with the anti-Illinois stuff? Sorry for the well let-down. (Sort of a pun.) Uff-dah is a Minnesotan thing too. My MN blog buddy uses it, as does the Hubster and another friend from MN. I can’t think of any San Diego slang at the moment. It would probably all sound like stereotypical surfer dude.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. All states have their rivalries. North Dakota hates South Dakota. Oregon hates California. New York hates New Jersey. And apparently, Wisconsin hates Illinois. Never knew that until we moved here.

      Actually, “hates” is too strong a word. It’s more like a friendly rivalry.

      Except for the California thing. That’s outright hatred.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I grew up living in a small town adjacent to rural folk who’d say “real quick” and “crripes.” Your new vocabulary takes me back.

    Around here people will not listen to what you said, then reply with “please.” It means “pardon me, say that again.” And of course we all know our Skyline Chili orders by heart. For me that’s “a four-way bean with light cheese.”

    Liked by 1 person

  16. If you think your Well is disappointing, you’d not be impressed by ours. (it’s in the middle of our driveway, now covered by a giant metal plate. We added the driveway years after the well)

    Bubbler. WTH? It’s a water fountain, for heavens’ sake!
    Well, way down here in Florida, most people are transplants, so there is nothing fun to claim for Florida.
    But in GA, I always get a kick out of people saying: ‘Do what now’? instead of pardon me, or in any reference to not hearing or understanding what you said.
    I find myself saying it all the time now. 😜

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You find yourself doing what now?

      You’re right btw. Your well is much more disappointing than mine. At least I could turn it into a decorative wishing well if I wanted. You can park a Hyundai on top of yours. Not quite the same…


  17. My favorite is the ever popular “Bless your/his/her heart!” It’s so versatile. It can mean anything from a sincere “I’m so sorry” to “Wow, what an idiot” to “Eff you”.


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