The Minnesota of my memory comes with a “greatest hits” soundtrack.

“Every Breath You Take” (the Police) = high school dances in dark gymnasiums.

“Fishin’ in the Dark” (the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) = summer weekends waterskiing with friends.

“From a Distance” (Nanci Griffith) = a snowy January spent living in cabins with other college students at Itasca State Park.

Other sounds on this soundtrack are the voices of Minnesotans I know, the phrases they use … some of which, living in Washington state, I felt the need to cull from my own repertoire. Used outside their natural habitat, they sometimes stopped conversations, elicited laughter or required explanation.

Top of this list is “uff dah,” which carries a wide variety of meanings, from excitement to dismay. Try to lift a surprisingly heavy object: “Uff dah.” Drop a cupcake on the carpet, icing-side down: “Uff dah!” Unexpectedly run into an old friend: “Uff dah!”

Then there’s “you betcha” or “you bet,” a variant of “you’re welcome.”

There’s “oh for fun” (pronounced “OH-ffer-fun”), which can mean “that sounds like fun” or something almost like “good for you.”

I’ve been living back in Minnesota for more than two months now, and I almost feel as if I’ve been carrying around an imaginary Minnesota Vernacular Bingo Card, dabbing my favorites as I hear them.

With the pandemic, the game has been slow going, as outings have been confined largely to grocery runs and the occasional socially distant visit. But last night I got another one of my favorites.

Checking out at Hornbacher’s, our local grocery store, I watched as the cashier put my bunch of beets on her scale.

“Do you make soup?” she asked.

“Borscht? No,” I said, explaining that I usually dice up the beets, along with some potatoes and sweet potatoes, to roast in the oven.

She paused briefly before bagging the heavy purple roots, seeming to weigh this possibility. Then she nodded, apparently reaching a decision on how she felt about the matter, and uttered one of my favorite Minnesota phrases:

“Well, that’s different.”

Translation: “That’s pretty weird, but I’m too polite to tell you so.”


Photo credit (beets): Emma-Jane Hobden on Unsplash

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