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I’ll Be Your Boo

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If you’re nibbling on slippery Jims or sipping sweet soup, chances are you’re in the Badger State. It’s the language of Wisconsin — explained at last. Also, the famous abolitionist whose name became an exclamation, and how to respond if someone says, “Well, aren’t you the chawed rosin!” Plus, parking garages vs. parking ramps, trouper vs. trooper, my boo, and the possible origin of toodles.

This episode first aired November 2, 2013. It was rebroadcast the weekend of March 30, 2015.

Mosquito Limerick

 The robin may be the official State Bird of Wisconsin, but a listener from the Badger State shares a limerick about the unofficial state bird: the mosquito.

My Boo

 Boo and my boo are a terms of endearment common among African-Americans, going at least as far back as mid-90s jams like the Ghost Town DJ’s’ “My Boo.”

Parking Garage vs. Parking Ramp

 In parts of Wisconsin, parking garages are called parking ramps.

Church Narthex

 The part of a church known as a foyer, vestibule, or lobby is sometimes called the narthex. This word appears to go back to the ancient Greek term for “fennel,” although beyond that, its etymology is unclear.

Sweet Soup

 What is sweet soup? It’s a Wisconsin specialty, made of cherry or raspberry juice mixed with prunes, raisins, and tapioca, and served either warm or cold.

The Flat Word Game

 Quiz Guy John Chaneski has a twist on a challenge that’s a favorite among members of the National Puzzlers League, the classic fill-in-the-blank game called The Flat.

I’ll be John Brown

 The exclamations “I’ll be John Brown!” and “I’ll be John Browned!” have a sticky history, going back to view that the abolitionist John Brown was doing something damnable by arming a slave revolt.

Trouper vs. Trooper

 Is the correct expression “He’s a real trouper”, or “He’s a real trooper”? In its original form, the correct word was trouper, and referred to that the mantra of dedicated actors everywhere, “The show must go on!”

Slippery Jims

 In Wisconsin, a slippery Jim is a kind of pickle.

Response “I’m Good”

 A former waiter in Underhill, Vermont, is annoyed by restaurant patrons who respond to a server’s query with I’m good rather than No, thank you when asked if they’ve had enough.

Milwaukee Goiter

 Among Sconnies, or Wisconsinites, a synonym for beer belly is Milwaukee goiter.

German Influence on Wisconsin Dialect

 In parts of Wisconsin where the dialect is heavily influenced by German, it’s not unusual to hear phrases, like “Let’s go buy some bakery” for “let’s buy some baked goods,” and “from little on up,” meaning “from a young age.”


 I don’t want nairn, meaning “I don’t want any,” is a contraction of never a one, and it’s been used for hundreds of years.

Chawed Rosin

 “Well, aren’t you the chawed rosin!” is a reference to the chewy sap of a gum tree, considered a sweet treat. It’s used to refer to people who think highly of themselves, and is heard primarily in the South Midlands of the United States.

Captain, May I?

 In Wisconsin, the game Mother, May I? goes by the name Captain, May I?


 Toodles, meaning “See you later,” may come from toddle, as in to “amble” or “take leave,” or it might simply derive from the sound of an old car horn.

Christmas Fooling

 Christmas Fooling, the Norwegian tradition of dressing up and visiting folks around Christmas time, was once popular among young Wisconsinites.

This episode is hosted by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett, and produced by Stefanie Levine.

Photo by Joshua Mayer. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Music Used in the Episode

My BooGhost Town Dj’sMy Boo 12″ SingleColumbia
Blues for CeliaGreyboy AllstarsA Town Called EarthGreyboy Records
Turnip’s Big MoveGreyboy AllstarsA Town Called EarthGreyboy Records
911 BeatTimmy Timeless35th and AdamsTimeless Takeover
The Brown’s at HomeGreyboy AllstarsWest Coast BoogalooGreyboy Records
Tight TimesJimmy McGriffElectric FunkBlue Note
Blue JuiceJimmy McGriffThe WormSolid State Records
Tom vs. GaltTimmy Timeless35th and AdamsTimeless Takeover
Soul DreamGreyboy AllstarsWest Coast BoogalooGreyboy Records
Fire EaterGreyboy AllstarsWest Coast BoogalooGreyboy Records
Let’s Call The Whole Thing OffElla Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Ella Fitzgerald Sings The George and Ira Gershwin Song Book Verve

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  • In Yiddish, I think “bubbe” means “grandmother” while it’s “bubbuleh” that means “dear.”

  • I taught in a predominantly African-American university setting starting in 1980, and I became curious (but never quite had the nerve to ask) why female staffers (more administrative staff than faculty) would call each other “boo-boo” or “boo.” It seemed to be a very distinctively black and female usage. I may have heard it more in the 1990s than in the previous decade, but I couldn’t swear to that.

  • From To Kill a Mockingbird, there is the character Boo Radley, which being an older use of Boo, more likely is a variant on Beau.

    I wonder if Captain, May I may have a prison background where the officer in charge of a prison work gang was addressed as cap’n.

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