Minnesota Made Easy—True Meanings

Because of their meteorological and geographical isolation from most of the rest of the United States, residents of Minnesota have evolved a language all their own. To the ears of the newcomer, this parlance may sound strange – even foreign. However, the most important aspect of Minnesota life is to “fit in”. Therefore, the newcomer will want to quickly acclimate themselves to the quirks of the local lingo. It isn’t easy, but with practice, the newcomer can trade quips, commentary and pleasantries like a native.

An important first step is to understand the true meanings of common Minnesota phrases. A frequent mistake of many newcomers is to believe that since Scandinavians and Germans (the most common heritages in the state) are straightforward and without pretense, they always say what they mean. Though true as far as it goes, the fallacy arises when newcomers fail to take into account the overriding Minnesota conviction: it is always better to be misunderstood than to be understood completely.

For Minnesotans, the key is to be oblique. Never, ever will you hear a true Minnesotan come right out and criticize another person. Nor is it considered proper to offer advice by directly indicating at whom the advice is aimed.

Instead, the preferred approach is to use a handy phrase such as “A lotta guys would…” to preface one’s remarks.

For example, let’s say you are attempting to start your 1982 Nissan on a January morning in Minnesota. You have cranked the starter repeatedly, yet the frozen motor refuses to turn over. Your neighbor (a native Minnesotan) has come over with a can of starter fluid. You remove your gloves long enough to loosen the wing nut and remove the air cleaner, and using a Bic pen to wedge open the butterfly valve, you aim the spray nozzle of the starter fluid into the carburetor. Leaning over to get a good view, you prepare to spray.

At this point, the Native Minnesotan might say:

“Ya know, a lotta guys would keep their face away from the carb. Eyebrows burn pretty easy, ya know?”

 Now, at first blush, this may seem like a casual comment on a general topic. But in fact, the Native Minnesotan is attempting to pass along an important safety tip.

Loose Translation: “If you lean over the carb like that, you run the risk of burning your eyebrows off if the starter fluid ignites due to backfire.”

Literal Translation: “Hey Nimrod, you’re about to have a singe-fest!”

 The important point for the newcomer to keep in mind is that if a Native Minnesotan says “A lotta guys…” he or she means you. Once you hear that phrase, the next words will be the suggested course of action.

A related phrase is “A guy could…”. In this case, the “guy” is the speaker. This phrase is used by Minnesotans to suggest a course of action for themselves, which is followed by an opportunity for comment by others.

In the above situation, the phrase might be used as follows:

Native One: “Ya know, a lotta guys would keep their face away from the carb. Eyebrows burn pretty easy, eh?” 

Native Two: “I s’pose. Maybe a guy could keep his face a little farther back.”

Native One: “Whatever.”

To recap: When addressing another, use “A lotta guys…”. When referring to one’s self, use “A guy could…”. This will help the newcomer fit in quickly and get along in most Minnesota social situations.

Today’s Fact-Cetera

Floccinaucinihilipilification is the action of estimating something as worthless.


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