NEW YORK – Da Yoopers up dere in da U.P., Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, have hit it big with inclusion of their nickname in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary and the company’s free online database.
The moniker for native or longtime residents of the Lake Superior region known for a distinctive manner of speaking and its Scandinavian roots was among 150 new words announced Monday by the Springfield, Massachusetts, company.
The update of the Collegiate’s 11th edition has pleased Yooper Steve Parks, the prosecutor in Delta County, Michigan, who pushed for more than a decade to have the word recognized by Merriam-Webster. He and others splashed their joy online when news of the higher profile spread back in March.
People up here, we really do have our own identity and our own culture, Parks said by phone Friday. 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.
But really? Is Yooper as recognizable as, say, the Yankees of New England? Peter Sokolowski, a lexicographer and editor at large for Merriam-Webster, insists it has crossed from regional to more general usage.
Plus, it’s just a really colorful word, he said.
Many of the other new words and terms stem from digital life and social media – spoiler alert, hashtag, selfie and tweep – while others are food-driven, including pho and turducken, a boneless chicken stuffed into a boneless duck stuffed into a boneless turkey.
Such is the Yooper culture that it has its own band, Da Yoopers. They rely on the dialect, usually for parodies that include Smeltin’ USA. And Jeff Daniels symbolizes the highest Yooper profile in film with his star turn in Escanaba in da Moonlight, out in 2001 and so named for the Delta County seat.
Climate change and the environment did not go unnoticed, with the addition of cap and trade, a system that limits the amount of carbon emissions companies can produce but allows them to buy extra emissions from others.
Fracking also made it into the update. So did e-waste and freegan, one who scavenges for free food in store and restaurant trash bins as a way to reduce consumption of resources.
Merriam-Webster relies on a network of observers who track down word usage in everything from newspapers to soup can labels. Three or four senior editors make the final cut.
While an early reference to Yooper can be traced to 1975, in an Upper Peninsula newspaper, it had a break-out moment in The New York Times four years ago,along with other media outlets, Sokolowski said.
As for social media, well, that term is already in the dictionary, but social networking wasn’t. Adding the latter was just taking care of business, said Sokolowski, a word nerd and Twitter lover with nearly 11,000 followers.
Other new words in the Merriam-Webster Collegiate, along with the lookup database at Merriam-webster.com:
Catfish (not the fish but the person who takes on a false online identity, a la the phantom girlfriend of football pro Manti Te’o); poutine, a French Canadian snack or side dish of french fries covered with brown gravy and cheese curds; steampunk, a literary genre with dress-up followers that mashes up 19th-century Victorian or Edwardian societies with steam-powered technology; unfriend, which joins defriend; and hot spot, a place where Wi-Fi is available.
And still more: crowdfunding, big data, baby bump, digital divide, dubstep, fangirl and gamification, the adding of gamelike elements to something to encourage participation.