The push to get ‘yooper’ into the dictionary pays off

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary is the best-selling dictionary in the U.S. The word ‘yooper’ will be included in it beginning this year, and the push to make that happen took more than a decade.

The inspiration came in 2000 in a game of Scrabble that Delta County Prosecutor Steve Parks played against a friend.

“He called me out on the word ‘yooper’,” Parks said. “We went to the dictionary, and for one of the few times he’s been right about such things. It was quite a shock and surprise because at that time, even, I felt that the word ‘yooper’ was very common.”

He wrote to Merriam-Webster, Inc. in 2002 and 2004, but the associate editor who replied disagreed, saying ‘yooper’ was a regional term not commonly used elsewhere. When Parks wrote again in 2009, a new associate editor replied and was much more positive.

“I sent her a crossword puzzle from the Boston Globe,” Parks said. “I sent her a reference to a Stephen King book and other references, sometimes just commentary at Packers games where they (have) a national audience and say, ‘look at all the yoopers out there’, that sort of thing.”

They’ve continued writing to one another since then, resulting in ‘yooper’ recently getting a green light.

Thanks largely to Parks and his efforts over the years, ‘yooper’ will enter the Collegiate Dictionary between ‘yoo-hoo’ and ‘yore’. He says he’s thrilled about it because ‘yooper’ is much more than a simple reference to a geographical place.

“It has to do with us as a people, and it’s in our identity and our separate culture and our separate history, and that we are set apart. We’re not like people below the bridge,” Parks said. “I grew up in Owosso downstate, and when the family would come to the U.P. — and my dad was a native of Munising — we’d go through the toll and then he would roll the window down and yell ‘yahoo!’ I thought it was fun and amusing as a kid, but now, living up here almost 30 years, I totally get it because when I cross that bridge, even though I’m two hours (and) 45 minutes away from Escanaba, I feel home.”

The Merriam-Webster associate editor to whom Parks has been writing for the last five years is planning to visit Escanaba in August. And who knows? He may even challenge her to a game of Scrabble.

A Merriam-Webster official says the earliest use of ‘yooper’ in print that they know of was in an October 1974 issue of Bessemer’s weekly newspaper, the Pick & Axe. That publication used the plural term ‘UPers’, which Merriam-Webster considers a spelling variation.

Emily Brewster is the associate editor to whom Steve Parks has been writing. She says a National Mine native now living in Washington state told the company about that usage.