Book Report: Ya betcha, Wisconsinites are distinctive
“Throw the bull over the fence some hay.”
“You thrash me and I’ll plow you back.”
“I’ll drive by and toot you out.”
The above three locutions were common among folks in my hometown, hangovers from their immigrant parents.
“Wisconsin Talk: Linguistic Diversity in the Badger State,” edited by Thomas Purnell, Eric Raimy and Joseph Salmons (University of Wisconsin Press, $24.95, paper) reveals something lots of Badgerland denizens take for granted: Wisconsin is one of the most linguistically rich places in North America.
According to the authors it has the greatest diversity of American Indian languages east of the Mississippi, including Ojibwe and Menominee from the Algonquian language family, Ho-Chunk from the Siouan family and Oneda from the Iroquoian family.The state is peppered with names brought over from the old country: Scandinavia, Berlin, Potosi and Pulaski to name a few.One of the most interesting chapters in this scholarly but at times very funny book is by Wisconsin transplant Luanne von Schneidemesser. She tells of her first day in Madison and seeing a sign pointing to The BratHaus on State Street, a venerable sandwich joint.Unacquainted with what Wisconsinites call a “Brat,” she figured it was an institution that housed unruly children.From there she takes off on a mission to acquaint readers with how you can tell you’re in Wisconsin by the words you hear.Words like: Uff Da, Sissu, parking ramp, and bubbler. The last one means drinking fountain and author Schneidemesser discovered it was coined in the 19th century by a small Wisconsin company that manufactured faucets — Kohler.One of my favorites comes from southern Wisconsin. You’re hosting a dinner party at a supper club. Everyone is ready to order except you, so you tell the waitstaff: “Start with me last.”And of course that’s not the end of it with new infusions from faraway places like Somalia, Mexico and elsewhere.Our niece has advanced degrees in Spanish, but has trouble finding jobs in California, which is full of Spanish-speaking people.I’m tempted to tell her to move to Wisconsin and supervise the thousands of Mexicans who milk our cows, but have some trouble with the English language.I told a friend and he added that he’d just seen an ad in a Twin Cities newspaper inserted by a large construction company advertising for Spanish-speaking people to work with their Mexican employees on remodeling projects in the upper Midwest.
Dan Brown, author of “The DaVinci Code” and “Angels and Demons” has constructed a new novel for those bold souls who wander into Florence, Italy, as my friends and I did last summer, where we were flummoxed by traffic, hurly-burly crowded passageways crammed with tourists.Not so for Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon, the star of Brown’s new book, “Inferno” (Doubleday, $29.95).
If you’re not a Florentophobe, as I have become, you’ll like to gambol with the professor as he races through the Palazzo Vecchio, the Boboli Gardens and the city’s magnificent Duomo to unravel the mysteries of a brilliant scientist whose obsession with the end of the world is matched only by his passion for Dante Alighieri’s masterful poem, “The Inferno.”But if you’re being a Florentophobia makes that impossible, just book a cabin in the north country and bring along Brown’s book, so you can still enjoy — yes, you guessed it — the Palazzo Vecchio, the Boboli Gardens and the Duomo.Forego the Spumante and swordfish for a filet of walleye and a Leinenkugel. You’ll save lots of money.
Dave Wood is a past vice-president of the National Book Critics Circle and former book review editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Phone him at 715-426-9554.