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‘A bit friendly’: New book analyzes common Midwestern phrases, patterns

Author of 'A Guide to Midwestern Conversation' breaks down classic quips

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Retail stores in downtown Middleton, Wis. on Oct. 26, 2021.
Retail stores in downtown Middleton, Wis. on Oct. 26, 2021. Bill Martens/WPR

From the view of author and comedian Taylor Kay Phillips, the arrival of Midwest folk typically brings a series of inquiries, starting with, “How was the drive in?”

Everyone in the Midwest drives, and even more quintessentially Midwestern, everyone wants to know about driving conditions.

The next question in a Midwestern person’s arrival: “Hey there, how’s it going?”

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“If you say, ‘Oh, can’t complain,’ and you want to move on, that’s fine,” Phillips said. “But also, if you’re in the deep throes of an inheritance battle with your formerly estranged brother … we want to hear about that, too.”

The arrival ends with shoes. “Leave them on or take them off?” Even with a pile of shoes by the door, the question must be asked.

Phillips explores popular regional quips and quirks in her new book, “A Guide to Midwestern Conversation.” She recently joined Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Larry Meiller Show” to discuss the book and her roots in Kansas City, Missouri.

“I have described (the book) as doing an impression of your mom,” Phillips said. “It is to show that you see and that you love and that you appreciate. But it is all done in love and recognition. It’s fun to read if it’s fun to write, and it feels loving to read if you’re full of love when you write it. That is 100 percent how I felt.”

Phillips lives in New York City and has worked for “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” She said there was no way she could have written the new book without first living outside of the Midwest. The project started when she heard someone call another person a “character,” which in the Midwest means “off-the-wall bonkers,” she said.

Here are a few Midwestern phrases as defined by Phillips in her book.

  • Not as far along: When you don’t want to say a kid is really bad at sports.
  • I could go for some (type of cuisine): I want that food and have been thinking about it all day.
  • Those kids have a lot of energy: Those kids are monsters, but I will babysit them for free.
  • A bit friendly: They won’t shut up.
  • They’ll just let anybody in here now, won’t they?: How Midwestern men share their affection.
  • Have you met them yet?: I want to gossip, but I want to hear your unfettered, unfiltered opinions first.

Beyond phrases, Phillips’ book examines topics of Midwest interest, such as a guide to finished basements and an ode to the garage refrigerator. Every state in the region gets its own profile, too.

“I wrote it for, more than anything, Midwesterners who are proud of who and what they are and how they behave no matter where they are,” Phillips said. “Whether they’re still there happily, whether they have happily moved to other places, whether they have unhappily moved to other places and are missing home.”

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