Friday, March 12, 2010

Uff Da!


A recent article in the Minneapolis StarTribune got me thinking about cultural words, utterances and expressions that I grew up hearing.  My mom is Scandinavian descent (Norwegian and Swedish) and my dad is German.  As kids we were quite proud to compare heritages with friends; it was often tossed into conversation, shared as if we were comparing marbles or Barbies.  My dad never spoke any German phrases that I noticed, but my mother and grandmother used a few specific Scandinavian words that I will still hear, once in a while, from my mom.  [The italicized sentences below are quoted directly from the Strib article linked above.]

Uff da.  It is an expression used to express compassion, empathy or annoyance.  After your brother walks into the wall and rebounds in a sprawl on the linoleum, the appropriate response would be, "Uff da, that had ta hurt."  If you ever see a black Mercury Cougar cruising the Minneapolis area with the license plate UFDAYA—yep, that would be my mom.  Seriously.

Another one my mom used a lot was fy da (fee da).  Fy da expresses disgust, revulsion and horror.  Mom finds the new hiding place for my brother's beetles and frogs underneath her bed.  Fy da!   And then there's the version to express a shameful horror so deep there are no words—fy da faun.  Mom used that one a lot.  Hmm...

The Tribune listed nei da as a show of surprise or shock in a negative way or when something unbelievable happens.  My mom never said nei da, but she did say nei'men (ny men).  I think it means about the same.  If the little brother happens to walk out—naked—during one of mom's coffee parties, the appropriate response was nei'men, and a full blush on my mom's face.

It got me to thinking that these great cultural expressions are soon to be lost from our lexicon.  In fact, appreciation for entire heritages is slowly fading.  My kids have an idea what nationalities make up their background, but I guess that in a few more generations, kids won't have a clue where they came from.  America is becoming homogenized.  And that's not a bad thing.  Or is it?  We are the melting pot, after all.  And new nationalities and races are constantly joining the mix to refresh the great cultural lexicon.  But are all you Scandinavians out there okay with losing uff da?  I'm not.  (Okay, so I might not mind if lutefisk was forever banned from the kitchens of Scandinavian grandmas.  I'm just sayin'.)

Uff da, I think I need to start using some of those words my mother spoke.  :-)

What about you?  Tell us about words and expressions you grew up hearing, indicative of your heritage, that you don't hear as much nowadays.  What do they mean?  Do you think our grandchildren's children will be aware of their heritage, or even care about it?

Michele

17 comments:

lois greiman said...

Have you ever heard the term oosling? It's a word my mother used. It means weakling. Don't know where it came from. Mom is German. In fact, she spoke German exclusively until she started school. She used to sing a song in that language. A song I still sing part of and which my children sing....but we don't know what it means. :)

I worry too that the old ways are being lost. I began writing down Mom's life story a few years ago, because when that generation is gone, we will have lost so much.

PJ said...

My family was already a melting pot before I was born: English, Scot, Irish on my dad's side and English, French, Indian on my mom's. There were no cultural words or phrases that I recall and no stories about my heritage that had been passed down through generations. It appears that everything that came before was put behind them when my ancestors became Americans.

GunDiva said...

I'm not even close to Scandanavian, but I've heard (and used) Uff Da.

Probably the one phrase that my Mexican family uses that has been passed down forever is "go mimis" (mee-mees). When it's bedtime, you go mimis. I thought it was just a family thing until I ran into other people who said it, but until adulthood I'd only associated it with my family.

Also, Mija/mijo (me-ha/me-hoe), "little one".

I'm sure there are many more that aren't coming to mind, but I'm sure I'll be more aware of them from now on.

Michele Hauf said...

I like the sound of oosling. ':-)

mimis is cute, too!

Cindy Gerard said...

You're so right Michele. Just like those old traditions of playing board games and making blanket tents, i worry that some of the expressions might go away too.
I'm afraid my parents were already pretty homogenized ... I don't recall any ethnic expressions from my childhood - only localized slang. I still have southern friends laugh when I call a soda a pop.

Cindy Gerard said...

Oh - just thought of a couple things - not necessarily ethnic but local.
My dad always used to tell my sister and I to 'ret up' (clear off) the table after dinner.

And my gramma used to "take and put the pie in the oven." Or "take and do the dishes." or "Take and go to the store."
Thanks for making me jog my memory.

Kathleen Eagle said...

My Southern relatives (Mama's side)--women especially--started every other sentence with "I declare."

When I moved to the Dakotas I hung onto soda for a long time, but finally gave in to pop. I refused to change my sneakers for tennis shoes or tennies.

Another difference (among many) that has always interested me is the way people express time. Do you say quarter past, quarter after, 15 after? How about half past or 30 (as is twelve thirty)?

Debra Dixon said...

I'm from the South. Have you got a couple of days??

One phrase that we use in the family ...

"With wheels it'd be about this high."

We use that in memory of a brain cell challenged family friend who told the most Gawdawful, convoluted stories that ended with a simple sentence that summed everything up neatly...30 minutes later. So, when things get all tangled up in conversation we stop and say, "With wheels it'd be about this high."

Kathleen Eagle said...

It's a challenge to figure out how to spell some of the Indian expressions I like to in dialogue.

Tuale (pronounced du-ah-lay) is a catch-all expression meaning Really! or Touche or Go on!

And then there's en-it, which has no spelling and a ton of meanings, like Really? Oh?

I love this stuff. Language is so much more than a way to get a message across.

Terry Odell said...

Mom's side of the family would converse in German. Dad spoke only English, but his parents used Yiddish expressions.

I remember my mother saying something in German, and I asked her what it meant. She said, "If my aunt had nuts she'd be my uncle." I was more surprised that she'd use an expression like that than I was that she accepted me as old enough to understand what it meant.

Michele Hauf said...

It's quarter after. :-)

Which make me think about the 'dinner' 'supper' thing that drives me nuts. I tell my friends we should have 'dinner' and they think night meal, and I'm thinking the noon meal. I don't use 'lunch'. It's breakfast, dinner, supper. A lot of people don't use supper though, and that's their dinner.

en-it! I hear that one a lot from my German father-in-law

Christie Ridgway said...

I have a similar ethnic background to you, Michele (Swedish/Danish my dad was born in St. Paul!) but no foreign phrases have come down to me from my family. My mom's side is a real mix, so nothing there, either.

I'd say the most influence on phrases/words we use in our family come from my Navy captain father-in-law. The phone is the "horn." Something is "pao" (pow, not sure of spelling, Hawaiian word for finished from when he was stationed there). I'll think of a bunch more the instant I send this.

Helen Brenna said...

My mom was half German and had several things she'd say, but I have no clue how to spell them. Usually it was when she was mad at us!

My Grandpa used to say, "Doesn't that just frost you?" when playing cards or whatever and someone had just laid down a card that perplexed him for some reason.

Fun topic, Michele.

Deb said...

Hi, Michele.

My grandfather was from Denmark, but I very seldom heard him use Danish. He did say Ja and Nej. We called our great-aunt Tante (Danish for aunt). We have kept our Danish roots alive by following customs and traditions, especially at Christmastime. My sister does say Uff-da, even if it isn't Danish!

I think language and different pronunciations or slang are fun to hear. While visiting my MIL Texas once, we went out to eat and I asked the waitress what kind of pop they served. She looked at me, tilted her head, and said, "Ya'll aren't from around here, are ya'll?" Pop/soda in Texas is coke.

Even here in Iowa we have different takes on words from east to west. For example, creek or crick (which is how I say it) or hayride or hayrack ride.

Thanks for a fun post.

Martha Lawson said...

Loved this post!! It was fun reading everybody's sayings!! I'm from Miss. and it's coke here, too! We also use the breakfast, dinner, supper.

robynl said...

very fun post and interesting replies.
I am German(Dad)and Scandinavian(Mom-Swedish and Norweigian) so have heard Uff da often. I loved it when Grandpa would say Yam and Yelly for jam and jelly. I have a Norweigian cookbook with an Uff Da poem in it.

We kids never learned either of our parents languages but our German cousins who learned to speak German first would say 'make off the light' instead of turn off the light; they used to make us chuckle. Mak uff de light(terrible spelling I know.

Deb said...

Has anyone seen the play "Church Basement Ladies"? It is really funny and it's about a Norwegian Lutheran church in Minnesota: church dinners, lutefisk, receptions, and life. "Ja, this is most certainly true!