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What's with the the?

I'm a big fan of local dialects and language quirks. I grew up near Milwaukee, where we had bubblers (water fountains) and schnibbles (scraps of anything), and where we always were going by the grocery store, instead of to the grocery store. A lot of the unique phrases go back to the area's German heritage.

Something I've noticed up here in Duluth is how people add "the" to all kinds of nouns: They live on the Rice Lake Road; She goes to the Cloquet High School; etc. I've never heard it in other parts of the country.

On a side note, people around here adding "the" seems to be the opposite of our neighbors to the north. Canadians remove "the" from a lot of situations: He is in hospital; She is going to university.

Is adding "the" just a Duluth / Northeastern Minnesota trait, or has anyone heard it elsewhere? Does anyone know the origin / reason for people adding "the"?

And, while we're at it, how about contributing your own favorite local language quirks.


As was recently discussed, a ditch full of water is a "crick."
I could "borrow" you a book (instead of lend).
Saying "ish" to mean "yuck."
I "scun" my knee (instead of skinned).
Saying "no-ah" instead of "no."
Pronoun trouble:
"Him and me got in a fight."
"A secret between her and I."
Other trouble:
Telling the dog to "lay down" instead of "lie down."
Is karaoke controversial? I say "care-ee-OH-kee," but a lot of people say "care-OH-kee." This one might be important.
There's the pop vs. soda thing, the shoe brand "NIE-kee" vs. "NIKES" (one syllable), coupon as either "coo-pon" or "Q-pon."
Many people are "sewery," not "sorry," but maybe those are the Canadians among us.

My favorite is the excessive use of "then", which might be an artifact from our fellow Canadians. I've actually heard this -- and quite possibly spoke it myself at one point...

"Ooo-kay, well I'm there then, and so..."

"there" meaning "here" right now that I've arrived.

Or "How are you doing then?", done without a precept in the conversation.

Btw, I recall a really funny book I read a while ago about the local vernacular called How to Speak Minnesotan.

As for Twin Ports speaking, I've noticed a more pronounced "oh" sound than elsewhere in the northland, or for that matter, pretty much anywhere else. People here tend to say the word "no" longer and with the mouth rounded and tongue dropped, to give you an idea.

Don't forget "betcha" :)

Oh, I didn't address the "the" question. Funny; I've heard also something to the effect of "You live up there on that there Rice Lake Road?"

I think the addition of "the" in your examples is simply a conversational way to add weight to the grammar object. I don't know if or why it would be localized, though.

As soon as I say the word boat or mountain or any word with an 'o' sound people I meet outside of Minnesota will immediately say, 'you're from Minnesota!' As soon as I ask for pop rather than soda people say, 'you're from the midwest'. My parants left me with quite a few quaint sayings and words. I am curious I always called a large brown paper bag in which you place groceries as a 'barrel bag'. Does anyone else know it by that term? Also, I have been told by others that the only people who use 'kiddie corner' for across the street on the oppposite corner are people from Duluth. True?

"kitty-corner" is not Duluthian. It's origin is French and has been used, in various forms (like cater-corner, translated) for some time.

I have only heard "the" in front of roads in Northeastern Minnesota.

Another one I've heard only here is "rammy."

Argh. What I mean was "I have heard 'the' in front of roads only in Northeastern Minnesota."

Duck, duck, goose

The radio show 'A Way With Words' is all about these sorts of things. It airs on 91.3 every Sunday morning at 9 or 10.
My favorite Duluth phrase I had never heard before I moved here is 'sh*t ton', as in 'That's a sh*t ton of work'

You know what else is funny about the Northland? People tend to wear more layers of clothing in the winter as compared to the summer. What's up with that? EH?

I hear "the" addition all over - even on the tv.
FUSTRATED! Instead of frustrated.

The "The" road issue has always bugged me. I don't get it, and I don't think I ever will. Whenever people say something like, "I live on the Martin Road." I always want to ask, "Wow! You live on *THE* Martin Road, not just any ol' Martin Road. You must be special." By the way, I live on THE 5th Street.

The "the" thing referencing roads does happen in other places although it usually references major, numbered roads. I've heard it in California and in Oregon from the natives there. i.e.:

"How do you get to Disneyland from here?"

"Well, I'd take the 70 over to the 15. From there just look for the castle."

Hailing from southern MN/Iowa, myself, we dispose of the "the" in all road and highway names. That might be because in farm country most roads aren't named, just numbered. In So. MN, they do make a point of saying what kind of road it is, i.e. County Road 20, Highway 22, Interstate 35, etc.

And that's 5 minutes of my life I'll never have back.

My boss says Setember and Brefast (breakfast) and insists that is the proper way to pronounce both of those words. She actually corrects people for saying them differently. Another one that gets me is that instead of doughnut or danish, people around here call them all "breakfast rolls." Or the trees are 'leafed' vs. 'leaved' out. I just say the trees have leaves.

"My boss says Setember and Brefast (breakfast)"

SWEET! My child #1 (Duluth native, unlike her parents) used to say brefast. As in, "Mom I want some brefast."

Child #2 (also Duluth native) will tell you her birthday is in "setember". Although she's slowly getting the "p" in there.

My wife grew up in St. Paul. She uses the
"the" in only one phrase. Periodically she suffers from "the diarrhea".

Could this be related?

ruthie: My mother-in-law calls brown grocery bags "barrel bags." She grew up on the Range.

Adult: "Yeah my kid had the diahreaha."

"The" is very popular in southern California to identify highways and freeways. "He's traveling south on the 90." "Just north of the Thirty Five." "Turn right on the one-oh-one." Unfortunately, due to overbreeeding and the expanding migration patterns of the native Californian, The use of the "the" is spreading northward to the Pacific Northwest as well as eastward into Arizona and Colorado.

Haven't noticed the the, but the borrow/loan thing really frigging annoys me. So cut it out.

all this nonsense is because of the gays.

Does anybody besides me ask others to "reach me" something? Can't tell if it's East, West, South, or Duluth.

The speech oddity that always kills me is the "Want to go with?" I never heard that before moving here!

Here's one for ya. Is it "up there" or "down there" when you're traveling? In CO, they actually say "up to" Denver when traveling from Boulder. The thing that makes me chuckle is that not only is Denver south, but also lower in altitude.

In MN, we keep "down" and "up" related to the compass for the most part. In Duluth, we drop into mountainous mode and start saying "up" and "down" with relation to height above the lake.

But, we don't say, "Up to Mahtowa."

IN Philly, we'd say we were "going down the shore" -- and the shore was east of us, sometimes even a little northeast!

Kills me when my Cities friends tell me I live "outstate."

My boyfriend constantly uses "take and go" in conversation. As in, "let's take and go to the store." He's from Proctor...could this be a Proctor thing?

There is a "word" that has become quite the verbal crutch in recent years:


What in God's name does it even mean? Everytime I hear someone use "whatnot" my opinion of them goes down about 50 points.

"Actually" is a big verbal crutch too, but at least it's a real word. It's no "whatnot".

"Whatnot" is actually a word according to Merriam-Webster.


I hate the term 'outstate'! I can tolerate the term 'greater minnesota'. When I was in college I used to cringe every time I heard someone from 'The' Cities use the term 'Up North'. I am not even sure why it bothered me so much. May be because they made it sound so adventuresome and to me it was so tame....my back yard.

In the hood where I be libbin, we say BOOGOOKAAAANG instead of Burger King. I like to axe to go there for my birfday.

Why is this site hosted in Canada?

"Whatnot" may be a word, but it's also a big verbal crutch. It should be used only by NASCAR drivers.

"and whatnot" is a good phrase for saying "and others", much like "etcetera". It makes the predicate of the sentence a little ambiguous about the quantity, but it doesn't bother me that much, especially in computing. It just means one or more others besides my list. So logistically, I wouldn't consider it a verbal crutch in any language. Maybe, you're saying it's just not your flavor?

I actually use it quite a bit.

The word has been around since 1540, btw.

"Whatnot" has become very, very popular in recent years. It's pretty pathetic. It has become a very lazy way to say "etcetera". Even worse than that though, many people just use it incorrectly.

"We're going to a movie and whatnot." Pure laziness.

Most of the time when I hear somebody use "whatnot" there is a breif pause right before they say the word. It's almost as if they were going to continue the list they had begun in the sentance and they're brain stopped working. They decide that instead of thinking for a few seconds and continuing on they would just throw a "whatnot" in there and basically say "Fuck it. That's good enough." It's just lazy speak...in my opinion.

Sidenote: "Seen" used incorrectly is a big one around here, too:

"I seen your brother at the mall yesterday."

Danny said: things and whatnot.

I guess we agree to disagree, actually. (the use of "actually" on the end, btw, means something different than if I had placed it in the middle).

Actually, I would think that jumping to the conclusion that a word is made up when a simple search in a dictionary would prove otherwise is pure out-and-out laziness and whatnot. Much lazier than using a living language's natural evolution to provide you with a variety of often colorful ways to say something, etc. But, you know, whatever.

Fine. It's a real word. A real over-used, abused word common with people who drink too much Mountain Dew.

wtf?! this thread is such a public service announcement for what 8 months of winter will do to a person.

i am so glad i moved out of state. why are you people even continuing this thread? really?!

Yeah, the "I seen you at the mall yesterday" is one I don't understand. It doesn't make sense to take part of a more complex conjugate, "I have seen," and use it instead of "I saw." Is it possible that native speakers of some other language use a verb like that, and they continued doing it with English?
And by my count, winter lasts only six months.

My grandmother would always use the phrase "I'm going to the Walgreens then I'm heading over to the Glass Block." I just thought she was crazy.

isn't the proper terminology for what's being discussed here called a "colloquialism?"

zra: I think the term "colloquialism" fits for most of these examples. I think the subject is interesting. How much should we expect everyone to talk alike? Do differences in the way we express ourselves lead to serious misunderstandings? And so on, etcetera and whatnot ...

being a transplant who has lived in a few other spots than Duluth, I've not only brought with me my native -isms, but some i've picked up along the way.

i wouldn't go as far as to say that problems could arise because of expressive differences...possibly...but with the advent of the interwebs and such, one could argue that language and the way we express ourselves is becoming homogenized...or altered completely due to simple things like l33t and texting.

I'm actually surprised, despite TV, radio, internet, and whatnot, how regionalisms persist in this day and age. When my husband met me, he always thought my calling that brown thing you carry groceries in a "sacK" must be a Claire-ism. Then he met my relatives and realized that's what we call those things in my homeland. I still call that object a "sack."

I'm reading a novel by a Canadian author who lives in Winnipeg, who writes sentences like, "We drove down the I-29." It's true, it's true, Midwesterns stick "the" in there wherever they can! Even Midwestern Canadians do it!


Whenever asking for some "affection" from the wife, I always say:

"How about we have some of THE sex."

Does that count?

Danny is flirting with another ban ...

Or, more appropriately, THE ban ...

Roads in Duluth are "The Smooth"

Have you ever noticed that nearly every waiter asks "how is everything tasting"? That used to drive a friend of mine (who was from PA) nuts. I think it's a northern MN/WI thing, but I'll have to watch for it in the TC.

Cathyp-- I hate when waiters say that too! My brother lives in Paris and is more French than the French. He hates when American service staff at restaurants ask him if he's "still working on that." He hates it, he hates it. He also hates ice in his water.

My pet peeve is using the word "that" too much. When reading something, notice how many "thats" are in the text and see what happens if you take them out.

From Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley"

"...speech is so much more than words and sentences. I did listen everywhere. It seemed to me that regional speech is in the process of disappearing, not gone but going. Forty years of radio and twenty years of television must have this impact. Communications must destroy localness, by a slow, inevitable process. I can remember a time when I could almost pinpoint a man's place of origin by his speech. That is growing more difficult now and will in some forseeable future become impossible. It is a rare house or building that is not rigged with spiky combers of the air. Radio and television speech becomes standardized, perhaps better English than we have ever used. Just as our bread, mixed and baked, packaged and sold without the benefit of accident or human frailty, is uniformly good and uniformly tasteless, so will our speech become one speech. I who love words and the endless possibility of words am saddened by this inevitability. For with local accent will disappear local tempo. The idioms, the figures of speech that make language rich and full of the poetry of place and time must go. And in their place will be a national speech, wrapped and packaged, standard and tasteless. Localness is not gone but it is going."

I couldn't agree with John more. I used to be annoyed when my friends (we were born and raised in northwest WI) would say "I seen" or "He borrowed me that lighter"....etc. More and more, though, I just embrace it and remind myself I'm lucky to have grown up where I did.

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