Tag Archives: minnesota

Uff da

Context: EC is a white graduate student at USC studying linguistics. Up until attending USC, she lived in Pasadena, California. That being said, her dad is from Iowa, and her mom is from Indiana. I asked EC if there were any sayings that she learned as a kid from her family or community, and she responded with this folk saying. The word is used in casual conversation as an exclamation.

Text: One is from my dad’s side, which I always thought of is one word but apparently it’s two words, and it’s called uuf da. It comes from I think Norway or Scandinavia because my dad’s grandfather was from Sweden. It’s funny because my mom says phew, so when I was little I combined then, so now I say phewfda. Uff da, it’s kind of like… if you go to Minnesota, there will be merchandise with uff da on it because there are so many Scandinavian people in Minnesota. Basically uff da, you just kind of say it when something not big has happened. But it’s like “oh man uff da, that was really hard.” It doesn’t have a negative context, but you wouldn’t say “uff da that was so exciting!” It’s always like “ugh, uff da, that was a difficult test,” or “uff da, that was a workout.” It’s never for anything super bad, or at least how my family uses it, and honestly I’m not really sure what it translates to, but I think it’s one of those things like “ugh.”

“Uff da”

Thoughts/Analysis: From what I can gather, there’s no direct translation for uff da: it’s onomatopoeia like “oof” in English. It’s really an exclamation to express and release tension. Being onomatopoeia, different languages have different spellings for similar noises. I’ve used oof before, but it seems as though uff da is very specific to Scandinavians and those from that ancestry. EC’s combination of phew and uff da is especially interesting, exemplifying how the blending of cultures can impact the folklore that people spread. She’s the first to use it in her family, but as she ages and has children, her new version may spread as a fusion: an example of polygenesis in real time.

Minnesota Loon Folk Belief


Although Informant AA has lived in Alabama for most of their lifetime, they frequently return to their hometown in Minnesota to visit their family that still lives there. AA’s family live on one of the many lakes in Minnesota and they frequently take their boat out on the water.

When speaking with AA, they told me of a superstition that is shared between many boaters in Minnesota. The Minnesota state bird is the Common Loon. Loons can swim underwater in search of food for up to five minutes.


The belief is that if your boat hits and kills a Loon while it is swimming underwater your boat becomes cursed.

I asked AA how boaters would respond if they were to kill a Loon while boating or if there were any ways to reverse this curse. AA did not have any answers to these questions, but they did say that their family is careful to avoid any Loons while they are boating.


Since the Loon is recognized as the state bird, it serves as a symbol for Minnesota. After hearing this folk belief, I am led to believe that it not only functions to protect the Loons themselves but also the identity of Minnesota. With increased boat activity comes an increased risk of damaging the native Loon population. In accepting the belief that a boat becomes cursed once it kills a Loon, citizens are simultaneously supporting and sustaining a facet of their Minnesota identity.

The Legend of the Lady Slipper

Many years ago, the Ojibwe tribe thrived in the forests of Northern Minnesota, close to the shore of the Great Lake. One harsh winter, a terrible fever struck the tribe. Many fell ill and the tribe leaders grew worried, wondering how they would find a cure. One day, word reached the tribe that there was a great and knowledgeable medicine woman in the tribe across the lake, who had found an herb that would break the fever. Unfortunately, the weather was frigid and the snow was many feet deep. The journey across the deemed impossible. However, one young woman, who’s mother and younger brother had taken ill came to the elders and volunteered to make the trek. They warned her against it, stating it was far too treacherous. But she insisted. 

Wrapped in furs and wearing moccasins on her feet, she set out into the daunting conditions. She walked for hours, freezing cold, until she at last arrived at the other tribe, just as the sun went down. The tribe took her in and warmed her by their fires. When she explained why she had come – to save her tribe, the medicine woman happily handed her herbs. They tribe asked her to stay the night and rest before returning home, but she insisted that she return that night, desperate to start healing those in her tribe. She set out once again, this time in the dead of night, into a raging storm that had started while she rested. As she walked, her moccasins fell off in the snow, but she did not want to take the time to stop and retrieve them. She continued on, the icy snow crystals cutting her feet. As she walked, she left a trail of bloody footprints in her wake. This journey back was much harder than her first and she grew weary, barely able to take another step. Just as the sun peaked over the horizon, she saw the wigwams of her tribe in the distance. She called out to her people, collapsing in the snow. They rushed to save her, carrying her inside, warming her and bandaging her torn feet. The tribe’s healer took the herbs from the girl and began to make a cure for those suffering from the fever.

Within a short time, the young girl died, but, because of her bravery, the rest of the tribe was saved. The next spring, when the snow had melted, her brother retraced her footsteps, searching for her lost moccasins, desperate for something to remember her by. Although he never found the shoes, in each place where the girl had left a bloody footprint sprouted a beautiful flower. Due to its unique shape, it was named the Ladyslipper.

My friend K told me this local legend. As a native Minnesotan, she has been heard Native American folklore since childhood. She recounts that she first heard this particular tale, “The Legend of the Ladyslipper,” when she was in third grade as a part of a school unit focusing on the history on Minnesota. The Ladyslipper is the official state flower, and this was a tale of how it came to be. K said she remembered this story in particular because she was impressed by the young woman’s bravery and dedication to her tribe and family.

For the definitive version of this legend, see The Legend of the Lady Slipper by Lise Lunge-Larsen

Dead Man’s Trail/Thief’s River Falls

Many years ago, a young Chippewa warrior was wanted for murder. He was exiled from his tribe and took up residency in the surrounding forest. One day, a young Chippewa mother was walking in the forest, carrying her baby, when the man appeared. The woman began to run and he followed suit. As the woman ran, she realized that carrying her child was slowing her down. She stopped by bend in the river and placed her baby nearby so that she could escape, vowing to return for her child. Once she had successfully escaped the warrior, she returned for her child, but found that the baby was gone, swept away by the river. 

She cursed the river, calling it “Thief’s River,” for it had stolen her child from her. She states that some even claim to hear the mother’s cries in the sound of the river and that there have been reports of hikers seeing a young Indian woman in the woods, walking along the river, in desperate search of her baby.

This story was related to me by my friend K, who has lived her entire life in Minnesota, where the Thief’s River is located. She and her family often go camping up near the river and have visited it many times. She remembers first learning the story when she stopped by the Visitor’s Center. One of the employees was giving a presentation on the Chippewa tribe and included this story as part of it. K likes the story, although she admits it is quite sad. I saw it as the ongoing hardship of motherhood, and how in nature survival of the fittest was a harsh reality for Native Americans back then. That’s why her ghost was reported near the river, because it would be a constant reminder for those alive not to do the same mistake she did.

Fossils in the Creek

The Informant GT lived in a house with a huge backyard in Minnesota for 6 years until he moved to California at the age of 11.

GT: There’s this creek in our backyard in Minnesota, and there’s fool’s gold and ammonite fossils in it, and a bunch of other fossils I didn’t know the names for back then. It was really cool, we used to collect them.

There’s a forest behind the creek, and behind that is farmland and undeveloped territory. One of the older kids told us that if you went past the creek into that territory, there’s a guy named Dead-Eye Pete or something like that who lives there, and if he catches you he’ll kill you and turn your body into rocks and that’s what the fossils were. Since the fossils all looked really organic and we were a bunch of dumb kids, we actually thought all the fossils were made of dead people who got lost and wandered into his territory.

This story exploits a child’s fear of the unknown. The older kids referenced in the story were not interested in actually protecting the younger children by warning them off from unmapped territory, but wanted to scare them into doing what they want them to. Scary stories often pique a child’s curiosity about its subject matter more than it does to dampen it with fear.