ESCANABA – Holy Wah! It’s official. We are all Yoopers. We know this because we can now look up the word in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Hard to believe but the word “Yooper” had not been in the dictionary but apparently officials felt it was considered too regional.
And it is no easy task to get a word in the dictionary. It took 12 years to persuade Merriam-Webster. Delta County Prosecutor Steve Parks made it his mission after trying to use the word in a game of Scrabble.
“I was playing an old friend of mine in a game of Scrabble. I tried to use the word ‘Yooper’ and he called me out on it. We looked it up and he proved to me that it wasn’t in the dictionary. From then on, I started a quest to have it put in the dictionary,” Parks said.
It wasn’t Park’s good lawyering that convinced the wordsmiths at Merriam-Webster. Instead, he used a pseudonym or pen name to make his point. He created Clayton Parks, a cranky old Yooper who demanded that “Yooper” be added to the dictionary.
“I often wrote the letters while I was taking a break. This was when I was in private practice. I would do it over the noon hour. It was an escape for me,” explained Parks. “I enjoy writing and this was just something I did as a break from the rigors of private practice.”
Eventually Parks had Clayton die so the task was left to his son, Claymore, who was more diplomatic. As it became clear that the word “Yooper” might actually be accepted, Parks came clean on who he was.
It was all in good fun but Parks says he is glad that the word is now going to be recognized.
“There’s a sense of community among Yoopers. When I was in college, I knew people who were from the U.P. It was important to me. And I know others who’ve had the same experience. You’re kindred spirits. You have the same roots. So there is that connection,” he said.
Emily Brewster at Merriam-Webster said the definition for Yooper will be “a native or resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan – used as a nickname.”
So, the next time someone asks you, “What’s a Yooper?” You can say, “Look it up.”
The letter to Parks’ pen name “Claymore Parks” from Merriam-Webster.
Dear Mr. Parks,
It is with no small amount of relief and happiness that I write the following words: I have been informed by our Director of Defining that Yooper will be entered in the 2014 copyright printing of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. There it will be defined as “a native or resident of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan – used as a nickname.” I am also told that Yooper is slated for entry in Merriam-Webster Unabridged, at www.unabridged.merriam-webster.com, as well.
I like to think that Yooper would have made it into the Merriam-Webster’s dictionaries without your dogged determination, but in truth it might have languished undefined in our files for some time. Thank you for your persistence. Our dictionaries are better for it.
With best regards,
P.S. Thank you for the Wikipedia article in which Yooper refers not to a Yooper but to the dialect spoken by a Yooper. It looks like we may need an additional sense for the entry. I’ll work on that.