Lindström is only the beginning

LindstromLindström, Minnesota, made news this week, winding its way into the New York Times and Washington Post for one simple reason. It wanted its dots back.

Specifically, the central Minnesota city wanted the umlaut that makes the distinct Swedish “ö” in the distinctly Swedish immigrant story of Lindström. When the Minnesota Department of Transportation put up the new road signs a couple years they just made it an “o,” but as any shoestring fourth generation Swedish-American knows, that’s not the same thing. Still, MnDOT wanted to enforce a “standard” alphabet on all signs, regardless of the linguistic origins of the places described.

But just like its viking forbearers, what Lindström wants, it takes.

In one of the most inspired press releases I’ve ever seen come out of the Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton’s office, the state’s chief executive demanded umlaut satisfaction.

“Nonsensical rules like this are exactly why people get frustrated with government,” said Governor Dayton. “Even if I have to drive to Lindström, and paint the umlauts on the city limit signs myself, I’ll do it.”

While I would have liked to see Dayton do that, MnDOT crafted little reflective dots to place on the sign, which it reportedly finished yesterday. (Incidentally, Lindström is about 35 miles north of the Twin Cities, but nevertheless represents the southern edge of “Northern Minnesota’s” Eighth Congressional District).

Seeing the Nordic discord in Lindström, however, reminds me that there are scads of proper nouns in this state that bear foreign origins. Sure, everyone likes to talk about Minnesota’s Scandiavians, hence the the umlaut love fest. Yet, Northern Minnesota’s Iron Range brought in not only Scandinavians, but also Finns, Eastern and Southern Europeans and Greeks. These immigrants didn’t just bring their native foods and music, they brought scores of squiggly lines and dots, too.

Unfortunately, unlike Lindström, most of these distinctions were lost. I know of several families on the Iron Range who know they’re related, but each of whom have a different Americanized version of the same ethnic last name that once seemed too hard for the locals to write out. These people have been around long enough to see variations of those names placed on streets, businesses and bridges.

What happens when they want their dots back, too?

So, celebrate Lindström. But be careful, Minnesota. What started as a fun little story about dots could unleash a torrent of new signs and names, confounding typists everywhere.

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