Wisconsin Dictionary

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The GSC (Graduate Student Collaborative) has compiled a handy phrase “book” covering Wisconsin vernacular. This page discusses some of those phrases.

BADGER: The state animal as well as the University of Mascot. Can easily beat up gophers as well as Wolverines.

BELTLINE: The common name for U.S. Highway 12/18, the expressway that skirts the city. Washington, D.C. has an expressway that circles its’ capital city called the ‘Beltway’. It is only fitting that as the capital of the great state of Wisconsin, Madison has the Beltline. It also offers Wisconsin newspaper editors the ability to refer to state political shenanigans as happening "inside the Beltline." The Beltline is a limited-access road, where you don't have to worry about traffic lights.

BRAT: Short for bratwurst, rhymes with "rot" not "rat." It is a German word and dates to circa 1888. In Wisconsin, it's a food of almost religious stature. This spicy German sausage (in gray or red varieties) can be found at the grill on the Union Terrace or at almost any picnic or public event. Backyard chefs like to boil the brats in beer and onions prior to browning them on the grill to create a true Wisconsin delicacy. Packages of six – eight brats may also be purchased at a supermarket in the meat section. A brat (rhymes with ‘rot’) should not be confused with a brat (rhymes with ‘rat’). A brat (rhymes with ‘rat’) is a sassy, obnoxious, spoiled child.

BUBBLER: A drinking fountain. Specifically, it refers to drinking fountains that feature a stream of water in the middle that bubbles upward. In Wisconsin, however, the term is frequently used for any kind of drinking fountain. You can find an example in most buildings on campus. According to the Dictionary of American Regional English (which is written by researchers at UW-Madison), "bubbler" has been used since 1914, with the most widespread usage in Wisconsin and northern Illinois.

CAPITOL SQUARE: The four streets that form a square around the state capitol building. The "Capitol Square” or sometimes just the “Square," as it is commonly known, sits opposite of the campus at the other end of State Street. It is the site for many Madison events, including, for example, the renowned Farmers' Market, Concerts on the Square, the Art Fair on the Square and the Taste of Madison. Restaurants and bars near the Square tend to be more upscale, catering to young professionals rather than UW-Madison students.

CHEESE CURDS: A cheese product and Wisconsin delicacy. They are available at grocery stores and establishments with "cheese haus" in their name (these are German-style cheese stores often attached to cheese factories). When milk coagulates, it separates into a semi-solid portion (curd) and a watery liquid (whey). Cheese is made from the curd. Cheese curds are the youngest cheddar cheese possible. Fresh cheese curds squeak when you bite into them. Cheese curds may also refer to a common item on tavern and supper club (see below) menus in Wisconsin. The same cheddar cheese curds are double-dipped in batter and fried to perfection, usually served with a side of marinara sauce.

CHEESEHEAD: Many consider this a derogatory name for the state's residents, but some Wisconsinites are actually proud to wear foam-rubber cheese wedges on their heads. Don't be surprised if you see them on State Street, in Camp Randall (the football stadium), or outside the Kohl Center (the basketball arena).

COTTAGE: Term for a second home. "Cottage" may refer to a fishing shanty or a huge mansion. Often, people will go "up north" (see below) to their "cottage."

FISH FRY: A Wisconsin tradition, restaurants and bars throughout the Madison area have Friday night fish fry specials. Whitefish and codfish is usually featured. High fat content is a must.

FROZEN CUSTARD: This is a unique ice-cream-like treat that is found only in a handful of cities around the country. Made with cream and eggs, frozen custard has become one of the area's primary food staples. Michael's Frozen Custard and Culver's both supply Madison with this rich and tasty treat. There are other independent stores in the surrounding areas outside Madison.

GROCERY STORE: Another name for a large supermarket likes Copps, Sentry, Woodmans, etc.

LIBRARY MALL: The open area between Memorial Union, Memorial Library, and the University Bookstore at the corner of Lake and State Streets. This area is home to many food / vendor carts and street performers, especially when the weather is warm. This is one of several "malls" on campus, where "mall" means a street without motorized traffic. Henry Mall is the centerpiece of the agricultural campus on the west side of the university. Engineering Mall is the area with the fountain outside the engineering buildings, also on the west side of campus.

MADTOWN: An abbreviation for 'Madison'.

SODA: While many Americans call carbonated beverages "pop," many Wisconsin residents (especially those from the Milwaukee area) use the term "soda." Soda refers to any brand of carbonated beverage like Pepsi, Coke, 7-Up, Ginger Ale, Diet Coke, etc.

ST. VINNIES: Also known as St. Vincent DePaul, this is a charitable resale shop for used clothing, furniture, and miscellaneous goods that outfits many students and furnishes their apartments. Goodwill, another resale shop, also serves this purpose.

SUPPER CLUB: A Wisconsin dining tradition, supper clubs do not actually have members. They are not clubs either. They are restaurants with dark dining rooms usually specializing in Friday night fish fry (see above) and Saturday night prime rib. Cracker baskets and iceberg lettuce salads are usually featured.

TENNIS SHOES: Athletic shoes that are used for any sport. In other states, people call them sneakers. People play all sports in tennis shoes as well as wear them for their shoe of choice.

TYME MACHINE: No, H.G. Wells was not reincarnated as a UW professor. TYME stands for Take Your Money Everywhere. TYME Machines refer to the local network of ATMs. When people go to an ATM to get cash, they say they are ‘going to the Tyme Machine’.

UP NORTH: Where Wisconsinites go on vacation (sometimes the location technically may be south, west, or east). Usually refers to the resort areas or their cottage (see above) in the northern part of the state.

WILLY STREET: The common name for the near-eastside neighborhood around Williamson Street. This is a popular area for grad students, with several good restaurants and shops. The Willy Street Natural Food Co-op is located there. The neighborhood also hosts the Willy Street Fair in early fall.