If you’re visiting Michigan, you might hear some terms that you’re not used to. We have our own language, and some of us don’t even know it. Michigan words, slang, and pronunciations have become part of who we are.
Not only do we Michiganders have our own words, but we have our own way of pronouncing words that others use. It is quite ridiculous – and so very enjoyable! Read on to see if you recognize any spectacular vernacular idioms.
Michigan Slang Words
- The Bridge — When Michigan locals use this term, we’re referring to Mackinac Bridge. Although the state has tons of bridges, Mackinac Bridge is one of the largest in the country and connects our state’s Lower and Upper Peninsulas.
- Bumpy Cake — Created by Sanders Chocolates in Detroit, this dessert is devil’s food cake. The difference is that it’s topped with buttercream “bumps” and then with chocolate ganache.
- Cabrewing — This Michigan word is a combination of two summer activities that many locals love — canoeing and drinking beer. Usually, we do these two activities on a river in canoes and in a large group of people.
- Cherry Capital — Traverse City is known around the world for its cherries. Even international cities have Traverse City Cherry flavors of gelato and ice cream.
- Chook or Chuke — Rather than referring to chicken like in Australia, “chook” or “chuke” is Michigan slang for a hand-knit hat, typically with a tassel.
- Choppers — Traditionally used to refer to helicopters — such as in the show “M.A.S.H.” — this word refers to a deerskin mitten with wool inside.
- Clicker — While a “clicker” is a keychain device that makes clicking noises in other states, it also refers to a television remote control in Michigan.
- Coney or Coney Island — Most of the country knows the entertainment peninsula in New York — Coney Island. In Michigan, though, it’s both a restaurant and a beef hot dog in a bun that’s topped with meat sauce, mustard, and onions.
- The Cottage — This term often refers to an old wooden cabin. Instead, it means any vacation spot in the UP where locals go for summer or winter vacations.
- Deer Camp — No, a “deer camp” isn’t a summer camp for deer or deer hunting. It’s a place where hunters go, mostly to drink beer.
- Doorwall — In Michigan, a “doorwall” is what locals call a sliding-glass door. Maybe we chose this word so that we wouldn’t forget that we can’t pass through it without opening it first.
- Holy Wah — There’s no definition for what “wah” means, but we use this phrase to express awe, disbelief, delight, excitement, and surprise.
- Kiddy Corner — Don’t confuse this term with “catty corner.” We use it in Michigan to describe something right around the corner.
- The Mitten — We use this term in place of Michigan sometimes. It describes how the state appears on the map. The Lower Peninsula is shaped like a mitten.
- Michigan Left — Michiganders don’t simply turn left because of state road design. At intersections where we can’t turn left, we have to make U-turns via a special lane. Afterward, we can turn right.
- Michigan Sauce — Although known for its cherries, that’s not what Michigan sauce refers to. Actually, it’s the meat that goes on top of our Coney Island hot dog.
- Mushroom Hunting — This term is just how it sounds — looking for morel mushrooms in the woods during the spring.
- Ope — As opposed to saying “oops,” we use the Michigan slang “ope.”
- Opening Day — This real holiday celebrates the first day of rifle season for hunting deer. Kids even get the day off from school in many rural districts.
- Party Store — Pretty much everywhere, a “party store” is a one-stop shop for all of your party essentials. In Michigan, it’s a store where you buy alcohol.
- Pasty — Generally, a pasty is a flaky crust filled with meat. This savory meal is most popular in the UP, but you can find it in the Lower Peninsula as well. Some pasties are filled with fruit for dessert. They are a delicious and filling meal. It is a legal requirement for every Michigan resident to eat one before they die. Don’t look it up, just trust me.
- Pop — People might call it “soda” or “Coke” in other parts of the U.S., but that’s just crazy talk. We Michiganders call the sugary, carbonated beverages “pop.” It’s said that this Michigan word comes from the sound that opening a soft drink bottle makes.
- Shining — It’s common for couples on dates to go into the woods with large flashlights in search of deer during the fall. This activity is shining.
- The Soo — In the UP, the Sault Ste. Marie area is the home of the Soo Locks — a maritime marvel. We shorten references to the area to The Soo.
- Thumb — No other place in the country refers to a geographical area as a “thumb.” In the Lower Peninsula, it’s the thumb part of the Mitten.
- The UP — We seldom say “the Upper Peninsula” in Michigan. We use this shorter version instead. We might use the term “Up North” too.
- Vernors — The best ginger ale. Furthermore, the brand does not matter. All ginger ale is Vernors in Michigan. Canada Dry? The second-best kind of Vernors. Red Rock? What a great Vernors.
Michigan Words That Refer to Locals & Tourists
Citiots — It’s not the nicest Michigan slang, but this word is what locals of small beach towns call visitors from big cities — idiots from the city.
FIP and FOP — In Southwestern Michigan, locals use these terms to refer to visitors from Illinois and Ohio — “Friendly Illinois Person” and “Friendly Ohio Person.” Sometimes, though, the visitors are rude, so locals will trade the first word for an expletive.
Flatlanders — This word is what UP residents call visitors from the Lower Peninsula.
Fudgies — It may not sound like it, but this is an endearing nickname that locals — particularly those on Mackinac Island — call tourists who visit to buy and eat fudge.
Michigander — If you’re wondering, “What do you call a person from Michigan?”, the obvious answer used to be “Michigander.” However, there’s some contention over the use of “Michigander,” as others prefer a different term (see entry below). This may cause a semi-heated debate in the right circles.
Michiganian — Others prefer Michigander to refer to someone from Michigan, but this word could be used as well… unless it can’t.
Pank — In most parts of the nation, you may compress, flatten, or pack something. But in Northern Michigan, we pank it. We usually use this word when building snowmen.
Townies — Unfortunately, this is a derogatory term that visitors use in reference to locals.
Troll — UP residents use this Michigan slang for residents of the Lower Peninsula. It comes from the “Three Billy Goats Gruff” fairy tale in which the troll lives under the bridge. In this case, the bridge is, of course, the Mackinac Bridge.
Yooper — Anyone who lives in the UP is called a Yooper. And yoopers have their own set of words and Upper Peninsula slang that they don’t share with trolls.
Michigan Pronunciation & Combined Words
Cloze — You might think that this pronunciation means “close,” but it actually means “clothes.”
Didja — We like to combine words in Michigan, and this word is a short way to ask “did you?”
Jeet — Rather than asking “did you eat?”, we shorten this common phrase to “jeet?”
Lookit — Another shortened phrase, this one means “check this out” or “look at this.”
Secretariah State — That’s not a misspelling. It’s just how we save time when saying “Secretary of State” which is our version of the DMV.
Yuh Guys — Whether we’re speaking to men or women, we use “yug guys” instead of “y’all” or “you guys.”
Nukyuhler — With this Michigan pronunciation, we change the syllable in the middle of the word “nuclear.”
Kroger’s, Meijer’s, Walmart’s, etc. — We Michiganders like to add an “s” at the ends of names to make them possessive.
Realuhter — We don’t just pronounce “realtor” as it’s meant to be pronounced. We add a syllable in the middle.
Michigan Destinations You’re Probably Mispronouncing
The State of Michigan offers a comprehensive database of pronunciations for cities, townships, street names, and even notable people. It even includes brief audio files so you can hear how things are actually said in Michigan.
Bois Blanc Island — If you know, you know… and if not, you’ll mess it up every time: “bob-low island”.
Charlotte — Unlike the girl’s name or the North Carolina city, this small town near Lansing is “shar-lot”.
Dowagiac — The “i” in this small southwest town’s name only affects the “g” but is otherwise silent: “doe-wah-jak”.
Gratiot — A popular fort to visit in Detroit, we forgot our French lessons again: “grash-it”.
Hamtramck — This Detroit neighborhood was on our 2021 #MIAwesomeList for its art scene, but did you know there’s a hidden syllable in its name? “Ham-tram-ick”.
Houghten — With multiple Michigan destinations bearing this name, you’ll want to know that it’s pronounced “HOE-ten”.
Keweenaw — Flip-flip the long “e” in the first two syllables of this peninsula on the Upper Peninsula’s northern shores: “kee-we-naw”.
Kitch-iti-kipi — Keep the “i”s short, except for the last one: “kitch-iti-kip-ee”. Bonus if you’ve been there!
Lake Gogebic — This largest inland lake in the Upper Peninsula’s name gets frequently slaughtered by non-Michiganders. You’ll want to know that it’s “goh-GE-bick”.
Lake Orion — Forget what they taught you in astronomy. This northern Detroit suburb is “Lake Oh-REE-en”.
Mackinac/Mackinaw — The city, the bridge, and the island – while they may have different spellings, their pronunciations are the same: “mack-in-awe”.
Milan — We’re not in Italy, we’re in Michigan. So we’ll say this our own way: “My-linn”.
Ocqueoc — The largest waterfall in the Lower Peninsula, you’ll want to plan a summer trip to splash in the pools at “ah-key-ock”.
Okemos — Just east of downtown Lansing, this town’s name is “O-kuh-mus”.
Ontonagon — Home to Michigan’s mountain range, this Michigan county’s name is pronounced: “on-ton-ogg-on”.
Sault Ste Marie — Nope, there’s no salt in this city’s name: “sue saint marie”.
Ypsilanti — Also known as Ypsi (“ip-see”), this Ann Arbor neighbor is pronounced “ip-sill-ann-tee”.
Differences With the Michigan Accent
Crayon — Our accent makes “crayon” sound like “crans.”
For — We make this word sound like “fir,” as in that of an animal.
Fire — Most locals don’t pronounce “fire” the right way. We say “fyer.”
Mirror — You really hear “meer” when we say this word.
Milk — When Michiganders use this word, it comes out sounding like “melk.”
The Letter “T” — With the Michigan accent, a “t” in the middle of a word often has a “d” sound. So, “city” becomes “ciddy.” If it’s at the end of a word, the “t” is silent. So, “Detroit” becomes “Detroi.” Although, there are exceptions — “kitten” tends to come out as “kih’ihn,” while “button” becomes “buh’uhn.”
The Joe — This affectionate nickname is a reference to Joe Louis Arena. It’s demolished now, but it was the home of the Detroit Red Wings for a long time.
Little Brother — University of Michigan fans have given this nickname to the football team at Michigan State University. This stems from Michigan’s lopsided win record against the Spartans. Michigan’s 2007 running back, Mike Hart, first uttered this phrase at a press conference.
Octopus — Typically, “octopus” only refers to the cephalopod with eight tentacles that you find in the ocean and some North American rivers. In Michigan, though, some locals sneak octopus into Little Caesars Arena to throw onto the ice during hockey games.
Walmart Wolverine — Michigan State University fans use this controversial nickname for those they think are bandwagon fans. It comes from the extensive collection of merchandise that the supermarket chain carries. Even though “Walmart Spartan” makes more sense, it doesn’t sound as good.
More Michigan Slang and Words
This was an expansive look into some very interesting Michigan words, pronunciations, and slang. These only make our state and Michiganders more endearing. However, we probably missed some. Tell us which ones we missed and which ones are your favorites in the comments.
Thanks to Jennifer Hamilton and Gabe Aikins for contributing to this article.