With three-quarters of Lawrence University students coming from out of state — or, in some cases, out of the country — there can be a learning curve on all things Wisconsin. Getting to know Wisconsin is an important part of adjusting to life at Lawrence.
With that in mind, we’ve created this quick and handy Wisconsin vocabulary guide for our out-of-state newcomers who are getting ready to make this their home away from home for the next nine months.
Isabella is a born-and-raised Wisconsinite. Awa hails from New York City and has been busy learning this Wisconsin lingo for the past two years. We’re here to be your tour guide through Wisconsin vocabulary. There are other phrases to explore, but we cut it off at our favorite 15. There will not be a test.
1. Cheesehead (cheez-hed): Refers to a person from Wisconsin, especially a Packers fan. Also refers to the foam cheese wedge-shaped hat worn by fans at Packers games. It’s a fashion thing. You’ll get used to it.
- Use in a sentence, please: “All the cheeseheads were cheering when the Packers scored the touchdown.”
2. Brat Fest (braht-fest): This is an annual three-day festival held in Madison that celebrates Wisconsin heritage by dishing out hundreds of thousands of brats to hungry festival-goers. We highlight the festival because it so nobly honors the state’s love affair with its favorite sausage meat. Billed as the world’s largest bratwurst festival, it comes around again in late May, should you be thinking about a road trip.
- Use in a sentence, please: “I ate five brats at Brat Fest last year and I can’t wait to go again this year!”
3. Sconnie (skah-nee): Referring to a person who hails from Wisconsin. It’s a term embraced by some, derided by others. People can be seen proudly sporting “Sconnie” T-shirts; the term signifies pride in being from Wisconsin.
- Use in a sentence, please: “I’ve lived in Madison my whole life. I’m proud to be a Sconnie!”
4. “Squeaky” cheese curds (skwee-kee cheez kurds): The “squeak” is the sound you’ll hear when you bite into fresh cheese curds. This is exactly what you want to hear; squeakiness indicates freshness. It’s an acquired taste.
- Use in a sentence, please: “The cheese curds I got from the farmer’s market are really squeaky. It’s going to be a good day.”
5. Deep-fried cheese curds (deep frahyd cheez kurds): A Wisconsin staple food. Cheese curds, ideally squeaky and fresh, are breaded and deep-fried and served as an appetizer. Best when they’re not too greasy. No fried cheese curds are exactly alike; they’re served at a variety of eating establishments that have their own particular claim to cheese curd goodness.
- Use in a sentence, please: “The deep-fried cheese curds at this bar are the best in town.”
6. Supper club (suh-per klub): A traditional family-owned eating establishment. Only open for supper. But it’s more than a meal. It’s a social engagement. You’ll spend some time in the bar (not optional) before you’re shown to your table. Typical fare includes fish fry, prime rib, a salad bar, cheese and crackers, a relish tray and cocktails. Supper clubs can be found throughout the Midwest, but the tradition lives on most strongly in Wisconsin. They differ from location to location, but all come with a heavy dose of nostalgia.
- Use in a sentence, please: “This is the supper club my grandma went to all the time in the ’60s. We still go every Sunday for prime rib.”
7. Stop-and-go lights: A reference you’ll sometimes hear from Wisconsin motorists as they approach traffic lights because, well, you stop and then you go. Used interchangeably with stop lights.
- Use in a sentence, please: “Take a right up here at the stop-and-go light.”
8. Bubbler (buh-blur): A Wisconsin term for a water fountain. This one’s a classic. Wisconsinites take pride in it. Residents of neighboring states tend to mock it. You’ll get used to it.
- Use in a sentence, please: “I filled my water bottle at the bubbler in the hallway.”
9. Friday night fish fry (frahy-dey nahyt fish frahy): This is more of a way of life than a vocabulary quirk. It’s a traditional Wisconsin dinner — usually cod, perch, haddock or walleye, fried and served with lemon wedges and tartar sauce. Accompanied by a slew of sides: coleslaw, potatoes in numerous forms, and bread and butter. Sometimes it’s all you can eat. Can be enjoyed at a variety of eating establishments, especially supper clubs. You also might find a fish fry in the basement of a church. And always, of course, on Friday.
- Use in a sentence, please: “I’m still so full from that Friday night fish fry last night.”
10. The Pack (th uh pak): Referring to the Green Bay Packers, Wisconsin’s NFL football team. This, too, is a lifestyle thing among Wisconsinites. The cheesehead headwear is optional, but full-throated fandom is encouraged.
- Use in a sentence, please: “We’re rooting for The Pack tonight. Go Pack, go!”
11. TYME machine (ty-m muh-sheen): A reference to an ATM machine that to a newcomer makes absolutely no sense. But there’s history here. TYME was a specific brand of ATM machines local to Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The name at some point expanded in usage in Wisconsin to include all ATM machines. The acronym stands for “Take Your Money Everywhere.” The TYME brand went away a decade ago, but its usage in the Wisconsin vocab continues.
- Use in a sentence, please: “I have to go to the TYME machine to get some cash.”
12. Sausage race (saw-sij rey-s): Referring to the race of sausage mascots that takes place at Milwaukee Brewers’ home games at Miller Park. The five participants — Brat, Italian, Chorizo, Hot Dog and Polish — sprint along the track around the baseball field. Again, this is more Wisconsin tradition than a vocabulary quirk. But, still, it’s a sausage race.
- Use in a sentence, please: “I rooted for the Chorizo in the sausage race at last night’s game.”
13. “Aw jeez!” (aw jeez): Exclamatory remark expressing regret, sympathy or excitement. Usually punctuated by a very strong Wisconsin accent. Its multiple uses make it a go-to in almost any situation.
- Use in a sentence, please: Person 1: “Aw jeez, who ate the last cheese curd? Person 2: “Aw jeez! I ate it, I’m sorry.”
14. “Uff-da!” (oof-duh): Exclamatory remark expressing amazement, exasperation or relief.
- Use in a sentence, please: “Did you see that Packers game yesterday? Uff-da!”
15. “Or no?” (er-no): An utterance placed at the end of a question or an invitation to present the option to decline. The sound tends to blend into the rest of the sentence, functioning more as a habitual articulation than a question.
- Use in a sentence, please: “Did you enjoy this Wisconsin vocabulary guide, or no?”
Want to learn more about Lawrence’s Wisconsin roots? Check out our Rooted in Wisconsin page.