Musings, North Dakota Living, Teaching

I Say Creek, You Say Crick

One of my favorite things about teaching high school students from all locations is the arguments over pronunciation and word choice. Not that these arguments are limited to high schools students – just the other night at the lounge where I work, a customer made me repeat the word “bag” after I said it. (Yes, I’m from North Dakota, so a bag is a “bay-g.”) He thought it was quite entertaining.

Numerous times over the last year and a half, I have had to practically break up fights in class over the simple matter of how one pronounces a word, or what one calls a simple object. Here is how my last one went. I was in the middle of grading while the students were working, when suddenly a freshman boy in the front of the room erupted, “YOU CAN’T CALL IT THAT! THAT IS THE DUMBEST THING I HAVE EVER HEARD!” I looked up from my grading, surprised, trying to see what was going on before I scolded him.

The girl he was sitting by answered the question for me. She tossed her hair and replied, “I can too. It’s a creek, not a crick. Isn’t that right, Miss D.?”

The kid turned on me in anger. “Miss D., tell her it is a crick and not a creek!”

I tried to diffuse the situation. “Actually, it depends on where you’re from. Some people just pronounce things like this differently. But I’m from Bismarck, and I actually say creek.”

The kid rolled his eyes and repeated, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s a crick!”

Some of my other favorite language issues that have come up recently:

  • Coyote (no e sound at the end) vs. Coyotee (long e at the end). If you pronounce the long e at the end, you are definitely not from the area.
  • Syrup (pronounced seer-up) vs. Syrup (pronounced sirr-up) vs. Syrup (pronounced surp). Since when is syrup one syllable? But for some around here, it is.
  • Crayon (pronounced cray-on) vs. Crayon (pronounced cran). Ok, so I am guilty of shortening this one to one syllable. But it just seems so much easier to color with “crans” when you are six! I guess some habits die hard.
  • Pop vs. Soda. I had to calm a Southern transplant kid down for this one too. “Pop” is North Dakota speak.
  • And my all time favorite: Slushburgers. This is a northwestern North Dakota thing. I have never been able to find any other location that uses this term, not even slightly farther east or south in North Dakota.

What is a slushburger, you may ask? You probably know it by one of its more common names: a sloppy joe or a barbeque. A gooey, amazing sandwich of beefy, tangy goodness. (Yes, I may have a thing for sloppy joes.) It wasn’t until I attended a summer baseball game in Watford City when I was in high school that I had ever seen the term “slushburger.” When I was in college, my Watford City boyfriend and I made this item for lunch one day, and we got into an argument in the grocery store over what our concoction should be called. Apparently he won, because I found our recipe a few months ago, and it was titled “Slushburgers” – in my handwriting. I did NOT remember losing that argument. (Drat.)

Then, I came to work in northwestern North Dakota, and there it was. Slushburger. Right there on the high school lunch menu. Now, when I take lunch count in the morning, I ask my homeroom kids if they want “slushburgers” or salad bar. Yes, I’ve succumbed. It’s just easier that way. It gets me out of several-minute-long arguments with all of the local kids who would be outraged at my lack of respect for the term. But I still grin a little inside when some new kid from Washington yells out, “What in God’s name is a slushburger?!”

9 thoughts on “I Say Creek, You Say Crick”

  1. Teaching in China this is compounded by foreign teachers coming from different states and students who have a background with British English and with American English! Also, I just had a very similar conversation at three am in the Bangkok airport with a Texan and a random gentleman from North Dakota who happened to be sitting on the plane behind me and saw my Hazen shirt.

    1. Funny! It’s amazing where these kinds of conversations take place! I would love to hear more about your teaching experience – maybe you should do some blogging too 🙂

  2. Too funny. The term pious used In Michigan as well. There was a good show on history channel talking about the northern plains dialect. So what part of Michigan am I from, eh. Holy waa, don’t you be knowin?

  3. I LOVE me some slushburgers,. I, personally, was corrected the moment I moved into Beulah that it was a sloppyjoe. Whatever.

  4. Loved this blog! I actually grew up in Watford City, and now live in Wyoming, but the slushburger will always remain the slushburger! When I first mentioned slushburger to my husband he was like “what in the heck is that?” He got a kick out of this blog as well. Although down here they pronounce kindergarten as kindeeegarten and wash as wersh. Thanks for the laughs and memories of wonderful North Dakota!

  5. Good Morning Rachel,

    I’ve lived in Bismarck for the past 33 years and it’s definately crick, Miss D. Then again, I grew up in Jersey, the only “New” state that does not require or benefit from the new. Enough said …

    You are an amazing writer. I hope you will always find the time in this ever more complex and demanding world to share your stories.

    Bill Bicknell

    1. Ha ha, that is interesting– I guess you are right, we wouldn’t say “York” instead of New York or Mexico instead of New Mexico. I love all those linguistic nuances! Thanks Bill, for reading and for the wonderful compliment! 🙂

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