5 Phrases You’ll Only Know If You’re From The Midwest

published Dec 7, 2019
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When it comes to regional accents in the United States, the South and the East Coast get a lot of attention. Although people who hail from the Midwest may not have the twang that Southerners are known for, and you definitely won’t hear about the “cah they pahked in Hahvad yahd,” that doesn’t mean they don’t have their own idiosyncratic way of speaking. 

In fact, Midwesterners have a dialect all their own. If you don’t call flyover country home, there are likely some phrases regularly used by those of us from the heartland that you’d be hard-pressed to hear on the coasts. Here are five words and phrases that only true Midwesterners will understand.

Garage sale

When you want to make a few bucks selling your old stuff, in the Midwest, you have a “garage sale.” Commonly known as a “yard sale” in many other parts of the country, you might also know it as a “tag sale” or a “rummage sale.” 

It all depends on where you’re from, as evidenced by a dialect quiz created for the New York Times by Josh Katz. The 350,000 responses to the survey became the basis for his 2016 book, “Speaking American.”


What do you call Coke, Sprite and other sweetened and carbonated beverages? If you’re from anywhere in the U.S. besides the Midwest, your answer is probably “soda.” However, Midwesterners call the beverage “pop.”

According to Edward McClelland, the author of “How to Speak Midwestern,” the term “pop” comes from the sound a cork makes when it’s drawn out of bottleneck. McClelland says Faygo Red Pop was so named by the company’s founders, bakers Ben and Perry Feigenson of Detroit, Michigan, after this distinctive noise.

Pop’s not the only regional term for soft drinks, however. In some areas of the South, all soda (or pop!) is referred to as Coke, regardless of the brand. 


I grew up in suburban Chicagoland, and when I started college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I noticed a lot of my neighbors to the north had a peculiar name for a water fountain: “bubbler.”

Strangely, this term seems to be hyper-specific to the state of Wisconsin, although it’s also used by people from Rhode Island. Who knew that a weird name for a drinking fountain could bring Badgers and Coasties (that’s what cheeseheads call East Coasters) together!

According to McClellan, in the case of “bubbler,” just as in “pop,” you can once again thank a company for the unique term. He says that the word comes from the fact that in the original design of a water fountain, the liquid bubbled up from a central spout.

“The Kohler Co., a Wisconsin-based manufacturer of plumbing supplies, advertised one of its early models as having a ‘Vitreous China Non-Squirting Bubbler,’” he explains.


Midwesterners are known for their politeness, and when they feel they may be in the way, or in lieu of “excuse me,” you might hear a friendly “Ope!” instead.

On person took to Reddit to ask Midwesterners about this strange utterance, and a couple users explained that it can be considered a form of “Oops!” 

“Ope!” is so ubiquitous that it even has its own Twitter account, @Midwestern Ope. The account’s bio gives a perfect example of how to use it: “*accidentally runs into someone* ‘Ope, my bad!’”

Gym shoes

Strangely particular to both Chicago and Cincinnati, “gym shoes” is the commonly used term for athletic footwear in these areas. Everywhere else in America, they’re typically known as “tennis shoes” or (less commonly) “sneakers.”

Back in 2017, Elizabeth Minkel tweeted about this phenomenon, which was also noted by Katz’s survey and resulting book, and the Twitterverse agreed with her shock. Her tweet racked up more than 7,000 re-tweets.