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8 words I use as a Midwesterner that no one understands

Summary List PlacementWhere I'm from, a drinking fountain is called a "bubbler." When I ask people in New York City — where I now live — where I can find a bubbler, I get confused looks. "Ope" loosely translates to "Excuse me" or "Sorry." It's a hallmark of Midwestern politeness to exclaim "Ope!" when squeezing past someone in a narrow area, or accidentally bumping into someone on the street. There's no such word outside of the Midwest. "Puppy chow" does not refer to dog food. Puppy chow — a snack mix made of Chex cereal covered in melted chocolate, peanut butter, and powdered sugar —...

A drinking fountain

Summary List Placement

Where I’m from, a drinking fountain is called a “bubbler.”

When I ask people in New York City — where I now live — where I can find a bubbler, I get confused looks.

“Ope” loosely translates to “Excuse me” or “Sorry.”

It’s a hallmark of Midwestern politeness to exclaim “Ope!” when squeezing past someone in a narrow area, or accidentally bumping into someone on the street. There’s no such word outside of the Midwest.

“Puppy chow” does not refer to dog food.

Puppy chow — a snack mix made of Chex cereal covered in melted chocolate, peanut butter, and powdered sugar — was a staple at parties, movie nights, and sleepovers in my youth. I’ve found that most people outside of the Midwest have never heard of it.

I still call sneakers “gym shoes.”

Growing up, you needed to wear gym shoes for gym class. It’s right there in the name! These days, people assume it’s a special pair of sneakers I wear only to the gym. 

When I say “No, yeah,” I mean yes. When I say “Yeah, no,” that means no.

The rhythms of Midwestern dialect can be confusing for those who aren’t used to them. Unlike the no-nonsense directness of New Yorkers, Midwesterners amble around the point they’re trying to make by saying things like “Yeah, no, yeah,” to mean “I’m so sorry, but unfortunately the answer is yes.”

“Jeet?” is Midwestern for “Did you eat?”

“Jeet?” is folksy Midwestern slang and the region’s famous hospitality at its finest. It also sounds like nonsense to those who aren’t in the know.

Caramel is pronounced “carmel” if you’re from the Midwest.

I always get funny looks on the East Coast when I pronounce the word “caramel” with two syllables.

When giving driving directions, Midwesterners will tell you to drive north, south, east, or west.

When you ask for navigational help in the Midwest, people will tell you which directions to drive — for example, drive this many miles north and then head east for this many miles until you arrive. This could be because some trips might involve unlabeled roads, or it’s just the way Midwesterners think.

When I’ve given directions this way, I’ve found that’s pretty much gibberish to people from outside of the Midwest.

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