Saturday, June 14, 2008

Growing Up ‘Scansin: Part 3—Random Weirdness

Growing up in rural Wisconsin, we had certain words, expressions, and traditions that I just assumed every American shared in.

I was wrong.

When I met Iwanski (who grew up in Chicago), I began discovering these Wisconsin “oddities.” For example:

--In Wisconsin, the word “bag” (and words like it—i.e. flag, tag, and gag) is pronounced “bayg.” I learned from Iwanski that this is actually an incorrect pronunciation! Apparently the correct way to pronounce it is in a similar way to the word “bad”—just substitute the “d” for a “g.” Who knew?

Iwanski had a hard time adjusting to the unique Wisconsin accent when he attended college in Wisconsin. Once, when a store clerk asked him if he wanted a “bayg” for his purchase, he got momentarily confused. He thought, “No, I don’t wanna BEG for it, I would rather PAY for it.”

--In the area of Wisconsin I grew up in (not sure if this is true everywhere in Wisconsin), we refer to sloppy joes as “hot tamales.” (Although my sister calls them “Spanish hamburger.” So there’s that.)

This really threw Iwanski for a loop. When he was going to meet my parents for the first time, I told him that my Mom was making hot tamales. “Wow!” he thought. “Something ethnic!” Of course, when he got there and saw sloppy joes, he was pretty surprised. That’s when he realized that “hot tamales” were actually sloppy joes. (No, I have no idea why we call them hot tamales. It’s a true Wisconsin mystery.)

--There is also a unique Wisconsin tradition surrounding birthday candles. (Again, I’m not sure if this is just in the area where I grew up—all I know is that this is not a tradition in Illinois.) In my family, whenever the birthday girl or boy blows out the candles on the birthday cake, and some candles remain lit, the number of candles that remain lit are the number of boyfriends or girlfriends she or he supposedly has. (Yeah, I know, it does seem like a pretty silly tradition. I’m realizing that as I’m writing this.)

So when I attended my first birthday party with Iwanski’s family and his sister blew out all but two candles, I said, “Oh, you have two boyfriends!” They all looked at me like I had grown a second head. “What?” his sister asked. Then I had to explain/apologize about yet another weird Wisconsin tradition.

So there you have it. While I was growing up, I never realized how weird all of these things were. Frequent trips to the local cheese factory and the Dump, saying the word “bayg,” and “hot tamales” for sloppy joes, and equating the number of lit birthday candles with the number of boyfriends, all seemed completely normal to me.

Now they just seem funny.


Diane said...

Yup, you grew up in a normal rural Wisconsin household... what you described is what I experienced... even the equation:
# of burning b-day candles = boyfriends/girlfriends

Did you have dessert or something sweet after every meal growing up? I did and find this completly normal, acceptable and yummy! :)

Murry said...

How about a "fry-out"??? And bubblers? And pop? (soda)

Mathman6293 said...

I always marveled at the way my great-aunt talked. She lived in Oshkosh. I think she had another word for sloppy joes, too. I can't quite recall.

The bag thing is funny and I now know that many places wrongly call them sacs. Bayg doesn't seem so weird. And a grocery cart - in Ga it's a called a buggy.

Sling said...

Regional accents bring character,and flavor to our language...Not wierd a'tall!
I'm from California,and forever cursed to be accent free,..dude. ;)

Miss Healthypants said...

Diane--yes, and I still have to have something a little sweet after every meal! :)

Murry--of course! How could I forget fry outs and bubblers! *grin* But I always called soda, soda--not pop. :)

Mathman--I don't marvel at how my WI relatives talk--I giggle at it! *grin*

Sling--I know what you mean. But if you heard the WI accent, you'd think it was a little weird--or at least funny, DUDE! :)

Dale said...

I grew up between Sheboygan and Manitowoc, and "hot tamale" is the term of choice. In Milwaukee or further west (Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, Appleton) nobody seems to know the name unless they have some connection to the area. I'd love to know where the cutoff is. I was particularly interested to see you mention Spanish Hamburger as another name for sloppy joe, a name I've heard only in the fox valley. The soda / pop line seems to run somewhere along Lake Winnebago...I hear soda to the east, but in the fox valley I hear pop a lot more, and further west is largely pop country.

Thanks for the cool memories!