BY LEANNE ITALIE
NEW YORK (AP) — 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, which has already shipped to retailers. 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.
“It’s a young word, from 2006,” Sokolowski said of freegan. “It’s one of the youngest in this list. This kind of environmentalism was a Lone Ranger type of activity before but has taken off.”
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 mainstream media outlets, Sokolowski said.
“This word is fun to say and has a fun origin, from U.P. It’s just the kind of word that many people are likely to hear and remember – and look up in the dictionary,” he said, noting the distinctive dialect of turning “th” into a “d” sound for da Yoopers.
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.
So how does he feel about Oxford Dictionaries making selfie a star last year, when the British company named it word of the year? Did Merriam-Webster wait too long to jump on the selfie bandwagon?
“No, not at all. One of the most important things we have to watch is the trendiness of language, so we don’t want to put a word in that will then have to come out,” Sokolowski said. “We want to make sure a word is here to stay.”
Selfie, that thing with the smartphone that Ellen DeGeneres did at the Academy Awards, has now spawned shelfies, which are photos people put up on social media to show off their books and how they’ve arranged them. And we now have stealthies, those sneaky little phone pictures masquerading as selfies when the taker actually snaps what’s behind him or her instead.
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 process of adding game-like elements to something to encourage participation.
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