December 19, 2005


The longer you stay in Utah, the more you pick up on cultural nuance. We all know the funny New England expressions and accents. Here it's more subtle, but there definitely is something unique about it. It's not southern, it's not midwestern. It's just Utah. Here are some examples we've noticed.

First there is an indistinct accent buried in certain words or sounds. For Instance, Utahns really like to hit their "L's". Massachusetts folks might drop their "R's" at the ends of words, but here any word beginning with the letter "L" might sound like it's spelled with a series of "L's". Take the word "Layout". Now drag the "L" and say "LLlllaayout". Another odd sound is the omission of double "T's" in the middle of a given word. The "T's" in the word "rotten" might be replaced with glottal stop, sounding more like "raw-en".

Even more charming are the everyday expressions Utahns use in casual dialog. For example:

"Just barely"
Relating to a lack of excess. Example: "Have you been waiting long?" "No I just barely got here." The phrase "Just Barely" downplays any sense of urgency in the moment, putting both parties at ease. It's pedestrian nature suggests a sense of acknowledged personal fallibility.

"I appreciate you."
This heart-felt phrase is not unique to Utah. However it's casual usage is something that might catch a cynical New Englander off guard. Utahns may use this phrase in thanking you for a good deed, like holding the door open. However where some people might say, "Thank you. I appreciate that." Utahns are likely to say "I appreciate YOU." The difference is awkward at first, but it's just pleasant to hear things like that. However it is more likely to manifest casually in passing as "apprecia-Cha." Slightly less heartfelt but preferable nonetheless.

"You're OK" or "You're fine"
A casual response to an excuse or apologetic sentiment. Utahns are quick to forgive. Sometimes too quick. Rather than dismissing an offense, Utahns are likely to absolve the offending party altogether. For example, you're checking out at the grocery store and when asked if you have your frequent shopper card, you say "sorry, no I left it at home." Rather than saying "It's OK" or "That's OK", Don't be alarmed if the checkout clerk says "You're OK." He or she is pardoning the offense, although it may sound like they're acting gracious in excusing your very existence. You might think "Well of course I'm OK. I just forgot my frequent shoppers card. I wasn't looking for your approval." But try to take this generous expression with the innocent nature in which it was intended.

"Oh my heck!" (NEW!)
Apparently, no matter how humbly you were raised, there's still a need for exclamations. "Oh my heck" is a nice way of expressing shock or befuddlement without offending even the most impressionable of passersby. That's a skill we've yet to master.

ADDENDUM: As a research exercise, I posted the preceding on Craigslist, a popular online classified resource. I asked locals to respond with their favorite "Utahisms" and these were some of their responses.
Here are a few of the best, original Utah-isms I recall as a child.

1. Oh my hell!

2. Gad Sakes

3. Oh my land

4. Bugger to hell (I don't think they knew what the word "bugger meant or they wouldn't have used it...but their ancestors brought it over from Wales and so they thought it was OK)

5. Geeso-pete

6. For the love of hell

7. Damnit to hell

This was pretty much the extent of profanity in the Valley back in the 1960's-70's and 80's. Then the Starland Vocal Band released the song "afternoon delight" and everybody focused their attention on getting it banned from the airwaves and we all contemplated for the first time what a nooner must be like.

How about this:

"We was going to Kmarts and Fred Myers."

"He was literally climbing up the walls."

No, he was not literally climbing up the walls. He not spider man, he's a four year old. Unless you mean to say that he was actually scaling the wall, it is a figurative expression meant to convey the idea that he had excess energy. It's worse than when people incorrectly use ironic to mean coincidental or unfortunate.

"Oh, I seen you in Jeremy's CRX the other night!"

"Was you gonna go with him to wendover?"

"He's doin' pritty good since he got outa jell last month."

"He got new wills on his Honda! I think his mom melled him a check. She lives past the poin of the mou-un..."
"melk" instead of "milk". It seems that as a rule, if there are any vowel "L" combinations, Utahns will screw it up. "Sell" instead of "sale", "pell" instead of "pale", "mell" instead of "mail", "dill" instead of "deal", it goes on. Then there's Lay-un instead of Layton, with a "T". I had to train myself to say it correctly again after living there for a while.
One of the all time best -

I'm suprised to see this one has been missed - words ending with 'ing'.

"I was goun' ta walmart taday and I seen a car go crashun' into that Dodge."

Another Utah oddity, trucks are not trucks. If someone tells you about a Dodge, Ford, or Chevy, you are expected to understand that they mean pickup truck.
'Tuezdee', 'Wenzdee', 'Thurzdee', Frydee - Enough said.

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