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April 8, 2014 |
Dear Mr. Keillor:
Merriam-Webster's 2014 Collegiate Dictionary will include the word "Yooper" for the first time. As a long time resident of Michigan's Upper Peninsula who has benefited from a liberal arts education heavily steeped in the humanities, I'm personally pleased that our shared moniker has gained some legitimacy.
As an English major, what's your take on this and similar developments? Do such inclusions water down our treasured language, or should we be happy that our universe of words is forever expanding?
I'm all for expanding the language but you and I have been using the word "Yooper" for ages, Mr. Stewart, and we didn't need Merriam-Webster to legitimize it. (Did I really just use the word "legitimize"? Aiyiyi.) It was a word for a proud people who are Michiganders but who stand apart from your rank-and-file Michigan crowd, and yet with no yen to be Wisconsinites or Canucks. People from a place where winter extends into May. Where miners live and the descendants of miners. In other words, a rough-and-ready bunch. Seeing it in Merriam-Webster now, I suppose all sorts of clans and tribes will want in. If Yoopers, why not Gophers? I grew up in a tiny sect called the Plymouth Brethren, who referred to each other simply as Saints, and when other kids asked what church I belonged to, I usually said, "Lutheran," to avoid a big Q & A, though it felt weaselish, Jesus having said that He would deny those who denied His Name. But it was too much for me at that age to say I was one of the Saints. Merriam-Webster never gave us that name, capitalized, but you know, it felt thrilling, even subversive, to belong to an unknown tribe. Now that you Yoopers have been admitted to the mainstream, some non-Yoops may horn in. Someone will come out with a line of men's clothing. There will be a TV show. Yooperism will be watered-down to mean simply anybody from the northern, or upper, part of anything, whether a peninsula or not. You know and I know, Mr. Stewart, that this thing is going to come around and bite you in the ass. That's just how it's going to be.