How “Yooper” became a word

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ESCANABA, Mich. (WJMN) — In honor of 906 Day in the U.P., there is no better time to reflect on the Yooper heritage, and what better way than to learn about the word itself?

“So many people come in and ask us, you know, ‘How long do I have to live here to be a Yooper?'”, says Hoolie, Owner of Da Yoopers Tourist Trap in Ishpeming.

“Yooper” is a term to describe someone born or living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. While it’s not entirely clear where the word “Yooper” originated the term has caught on over the years and is no a point of pride for the inhabitants of the U.P.

“They consider themselves Yoopers, always. They have the cord attached to the Upper Peninsula,” adds Hoolie, “There’s just something about it.”

But it wasn’t until 2014 that Yoopers were officially recognized by the rest of the United States.

“A friend and I were playing Scrabble and he went to play the word ‘Yooper’ and we haggled about that and we went to the dictionary and realized that it was not in the dictionary,” explains Steve Parks, a Delta County resident. “So from that point on, I decided to write to see if I could get it in the dictionary.”

For more than 10 years, Steve Parks wrote to Merriam-Webster under the pen name Clayton Parks. He says tried to have some fun with his work by sending the lexicographer some Yooper treats.

“I sent her Yooper pens, I sent her Yooper chocolates, I sent her a Yooper shirt. I was bombarding her with Yooper stuff…Yooper cards…anything that said Yooper on it, I mailed it to her,” says Parks.

But Steve says it wasn’t his Yooper gifts that sealed the deal, it was a crossword puzzle.

“A crossword puzzle from the Boston Globe and the word was ‘a name for a resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’ and that was probably the clincher,” he adds.

Yooper became a part of the Merriam-Webster dictionary in 2014 and made Steve a celebrity overnight.

“He said ‘You’re trending on Facebook’ and I said ‘What’s trending?’,” laughs Steve.

He was interviewed by TV, radio, and newspapers across the country and even invited the lexicographer from Merriam-Webster to visit the U.P. For Steve, being a Yooper has a special meaning.

“It takes me back to my dad who was born and raised in Munising, this was his home, this is where he liked to come back to. So we would ride up north in a station wagon with 5 kids and the adults and as soon as we paid the toll, my dad would roll down the window and yell ‘yahoo!’ because he was so happy to be back,” says Steve. “I understand that feeling because if I go downstate when I come across that bridge, I feel home.”

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