The Minnesota Phrase That Pays

The Minnesota Phrase That Pays

Which signature Minnesota catchphrase moves the most merchandise?

Minnesota has a lot of lingo and catchphrases—from “uff da” to “hot dish,” “you betcha” to “Minnesota Nice,” to name a few. These terms are slapped on mugs, T-shirts, mittens, and other items in stores across the state, but is one Minnesota mantra more beloved (and bought) than the rest?

The unanimous choice is “uff da,” which is used as a reaction word in an array of contexts, like “Uff da, I’m tired,” or “Uff da, that’s hot,” and so on, says Janet Miller, creative director for Love From Companies, which operates the “Love From” souvenir stores. “People will laugh for like five minutes, [saying] ‘I don’t get the “uff da” thing, but this is great,’ ” says Miller, noting the word is more unusual than any other phrase.

Sarah Sweet, co-owner of retailer I Like You, agrees, saying, “It’s a conversation starter; a lot of people have no idea what they’re saying or why their grandma said it.”

Miller and Jenny Putnam, buyer for the General Store of Minnetonka, say the next most popular Minnesota phrase is “you betcha,” but Sweet and co-owner Angela Lessman say for their store, it’s “Minnesota Nice.” Putnam has observed a recent surge in “Minnesota Nice” sales.

Sweet suggests that’s because there’s been more debate lately over whether the phrase is simply an ironic moniker for a native brand of passive-aggressiveness. In fact, playing off the debate, Putnam says the General Store just debuted a new line of mugs featuring “sorta nice” and “nice enough.” Uff da!

While mugs are the hottest phrase-bearing item, some phrases pair better with different products. At General Store, Putnam says “you betcha” T-shirts are a hit. At I Like You, “uff da” dominates mugs, towels, and other “gifty” items, says Sweet, but the top-selling shirt is “gray duck.”

Retailers say the products sell year-round, to visitors and proud locals alike. But “the real souvenir buyer, the person who comes from out of state,” says Miller, “they find our way of speaking hilarious.”