Oh ya, Yooper is a word now

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Last Monday, the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary officially enshrined the word “Yooper” in its lexicon. The charming regional entry came with the dictionary’s annual introduction of new words that also included fracking, catfishing and poutine.

If you don’t know what a Yooper is, here is the official Merriam-Webster definition:

Yoop·er noun \ˈyu̇-ər\ :  a native or resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan —used as a nickname; yoop- (from the abbreviation UP) + 2-er; First Known Use: 1977.

Here on northern Minnesota’s Iron Range, we’re quite familiar with our northern Michigan Yooper brethren. Many of our iron mining ancestors started out in the U.P. before moving west to the Mesabi, Vermilion or Cuyuna ranges some 80-100 years ago: that was true of my family. Periodically Iron Range youth wander off to college at Michigan Tech in Houghton, returning with pencil protectors and a dangerously high alcohol tolerance. And in the bleaker snow years, one always knows there is fresh snow for machines and skis over ‘dere.

In fact, having grown up in a world where I remember the novelty band The Yoopers’ hit “Second Week of Deer Camp” played hourly on local radio during deer hunting season, I was more surprised it *wasn’t* a word.

So how does a regional nickname, drenched in motor oil, cheap beer and deer blood, come to find itself in an honest-to-gosh dictionary? Quite simply, it was a Yooper labor of love. Steve Parks, county prosecutor for Delta County, which is seated in Escanaba, Michigan, wrote a lot of letters. He saw the word in widespread use, beyond just a playful moniker. Yooper was in the name of products, used without explanation in the newspaper, and recognized far and wide outside woods and starry nights of the Upper Peninsula.

So Parks wrote letter after letter until the editors of the dictionary said, “Oh, sure.” Or something like that.

“People up here, we really do have our own identity and our own culture,” Parks said to the New York Daily News last week. “We’re a really hardy bunch. We love the land, we love the lakes, we love hunting, we love fishing. You have to be very resilient to live up here.”

That all sounds very familiar. Maybe the Iron Range needs its own word in the dictionary? The critical hurdle to overcome is making the argument that your new word isn’t just some saying, like, “Hon, I’m gonna go up get some Rudy’s,” or an acronym like “IRRRB,” or even a misremembered folk acronym like “Triple I-R-B.” We’ve got to find an Iron Range word that holds generational resonance.

And I think that word is, quite simply: Ranger.

“Ranger” is, of course, already a word, as evidenced by Merriam-Webster. Its first definition is “a person in charge of managing and protecting part of a public forest.” Its second definition is the same thing, but for a national park. Its third and final definition is “a soldier in the U.S. Army who has special training, especially in fighting at close range.”

We’d simply add a fourth definition to that list: “a native or resident of the Iron Range region of northern Minnesota.” Bingo bango banjo, done.

It’s going to be a hard road to get “Ranger” into the dictionary for a fourth time. It’s not nearly as fun to say as “Yooper” and we don’t have an aptly-named bar band to belch uneven beer-breathed lyrics into the ears of the editors.

Plus we’d have to find the mailing address for the dictionary, and jeez that’s small type. Can I borrow your glasses? Ah, these ones don’t work. What’s so important about words, anyway? It’s car racing season.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This post first appeared in the Sunday, May 25, 2014 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. John Ramos says

    “The” Yoopers, Aaron?


  2. John Ramos says

    The U.P. is like the Iron Range without all the wealth and glamour.

  3. Elanne Palcich says

    It was I TripleR B.

  4. erickajen says

    isnt it i triple r b?

  5. Yes, but apparently the joke missed. It is the IRRRB (as stated) but a common and amusing misnomer is Triple-I-R-B.

  6. MattNOVA says

    It might be easier to start with a word that doesn’t already several meanings, especially if it’s catchy and sounds kinda tough (although I guess Yooper doesn’t really sound all that tough). How about ironfolk? I know it sounds a little like a term from a JRR Tolkein or GRR Martin novel, but it not only references the Iron Range, it also implies something about you folks who live there.

    Just my $0.02 as an outsider who always related more to “Rusty Chevrolet” than “Second Week of Deer Camp.” 🙂

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