You Must Be from North Dakota

You Must Be from North Dakota

First, a word about the provenance of this catalog of North Dakota-isms. It all started with a feature in the newspaper column, Plains FolkTM, that was distributed across the region by NDSU Extension on the last day of 1997. Here is the full text of that column.

Plains FolkTM Column distributed 12/31/97 copyright 1997 Tom Isern

Most Americans by now are familiar with Jeff Foxworthy's satires on Southern culture. In a self-effacing style similar to telling Norwegian jokes, he goes on forever with his catalog of good-old-boy qualities, all in the "If you (fill in the blank), then you might be a Redneck" format.

Now, what if we were to catalog the distinctive traits of North Dakotans in the same way? I already had been thinking about this for a while when I received a folklorish electronic communication from sources unknown headed, "You might be a North Dakotan if . . ."

"If you define summer as three months of bad sledding," this document intones, "you might be a North Dakotan." Or,

  • If your definition of a small town is one that doesn't have a bar . . .
  • If you can identify a Minnesota accent . . .
  • If "down south" to you means Aberdeen . . .
  • If you have no problem spelling "Wahpeton" . . .
  • If you have an ICBM in your back yard . . .
  • If you have as many Canadian coins in your pockets as American ones . . .
  • If your kids' baseball and softball games have ever been snowed out . . .
  • If you drive 70 mph on the highway and pass on the right . . .
  • If at least 50% of your relatives smell like beets . . .
  • If you don't understand what the big deal about Moorhead is . . .
  • If people borrow things to you . . .
All right, I'm sure now you have the idea. I encourage you to read these out loud, with appropriate inflection, to get the full flavor.

What's more, I'm volunteering right now to be the official curator and cataloger of the "You might be a North Dakotan" register. I'll even contribute a few of my own to prime the pump:

  • If you have ever served glorified rice at a wedding reception . . .
  • If you refer to the state just east of you as "The People's Republic of Minnesota" . . .
  • If you expect to be excused from school for deer season . . .
  • If the soup du jour at your home-town cafe is always beer cheese or knoephla . . .
  • If you like to send liberal Democrats to Congress and rock-ribbed Republicans to the statehouse . . .
  • If your favorite hors d'oeuvre is little weenies and barbeque sauce in a crockpot . . .
  • If you refer to the blessed union of an ELCA Lutheran and a Missouri-Synod Lutheran as a "mixed marriage" . . .
  • If you'd like to laugh at this, but you're afraid someone will notice you . . .
Then, I'd say, you might be from North Dakota. And you'd be capable of helping me out with this list. So send your lines to Tom Isern, Minard 412C, NDSU, Fargo ND 58105-5075.

All contributors will receive a printed catalog of contributions done up in reasonably tasteful style on fairly attractive paper suitable for sticking under your refrigerator magnet. Offer limited to North Dakota residents and expatriates (which means about half the people in Arizona and Washington state) and good people who wish they lived in North Dakota.

The Response

The response from the reading public was more than I expected, such that I was compelled to resort to acknowledgment by form letter, which read:
Please forgive this form memo, but I have received an embarrassment of riches.

It has always been my habit to respond personally to all letters and communications from readers of my column, Plains Folk, but I have had to make an exception. So many people have responded to my appeal for "You Must Be from North Dakota" items that I have resorted to this form memo.

First of all, thanks for your contribution. Now, let me tell you what I'm going to do with this stuff.

  • Use selected items in future Plains Folk columns. And in order to protect the guilty, I will refrain from attributing items to individuals.

  • Make a catalog of all items submitted and post it for public perusal at the Plains Folk site on the World Wide Web.

  • Publish a selection of items as a poster, of which you will receive a copy by mail. As I am out of North Dakota for the next few months, though, don't look for this before the summer. Besides the free copies to you, I'm going to sell posters, too, for a modest price, with any profits above production costs going for support of NDSU students pursuing Great Plains studies. (Buying their Great Plains books, for instance.)
Again, many thanks for responding, and thanks for reading Plains Folk.
The respondents, to whom I sent the above, number 86--53 from North Dakota, 6 from Minnesota, 3 from Massachusetts, 2 each from California, Iowa, South Dakota, Oregon, Idaho, Arizona, Wisconsin, Florida, and Kentucky, and 1 each from Montana, Colorado, Indiana, Virginia, and Maryland (plus one with no state attribution). I believe that all the responses from out of state were from expatriate North Dakotans or spouses of same.

The Catalog

Okey-dokey, now for the catalog of North Dakota-isms. I have done some grouping according to topic. Use the links below to get the list on each topic. Disclaimer: Someone is sure to be offended by some of the items in the pages linked above. Heck, I'm offended by a few of them myself. But I asked for them, and so I've reproduced the whole gathering as a matter of record.

If you like this page, then you're one of us Dakotans who can have a laugh at our own expense, and you'll probably also like Kate's NoDak Page.