Tag Archives: Northern Michigan University

Slang and the College Student

Every collection is different. Some are good remedies for insomnia, while others are interesting and have some really blog worthy items hidden within the folders. My current processing project is the Dr. Stewart Kingsbury papers (MSS-329). Kingsbury was an English professor at Northern Michigan University (NMU), 1969-1991. One of his interests was in dialects of English. In the late 1960s, Kingsbury became active in a computerized dialect survey of Upper Michigan English.

  The ‘gem’ I unearthed is a paper, entitled Campus Slang; A Survey, written by L. K. Wirtanen of the class of 1973 for EN404: The English Language,  taught by Dr. Zacharias Thundy in 1972 (course description: “(t)he background of both the grammar of present-day English and the historical development of the language. The definition of and status of language; the sounds, inflections, and syntax of modern English; the historical development of grammatical signals; usage; dialect geography; and the position of English among world languages”).  Wirtanen first provides some background to the topic and then asserts that the “off-hand jargon of virtually any standard garden-variety college student might well be incomprehensible to a Gulliver’s traveler from the outer world.” Wirtanen goes on to detail the methodology behind the survey, composed of 75 questions pertaining to “grades, student-teacher relationships, sex, drugs, social relationships and extra-curricular activities.” Each question lists a number of responses, along with a space for ‘other’ responses. Each student also included demographic information; gender, birthdate and place, and college status.


  Twenty five students filled out the survey, sixteen females and nine males. Most were from Michigan, but there was one graduate student, a male, from Dieberg, Germany.

 I was particularly interested in the paper, because I attended and graduated from NMU in the late 1970’s, so I wondered if I could recognize the slang terms identified in the report.

 Wirtanen includes a glossary/dictionary of certain slang words, gathered from the responses to the questionnaire. Some are probably still in use today, such as blast – defined as a noun meaning an enjoyable time or as a verb meaning to give vent to anger. Book it – a verb meaning to study diligently and usually the night preceding an important exam was not at all familiar, while another term with the same meaning cram is still probably used today.

 Brown-up – a verb meaning to play up or flatter a teacher was unfamiliar, but we have all heard its synonym, brown nose. Cut out, a verb meaning to leave a place, person or situation was also unfamiliar. Wirtanen did leave an editorial comment that this term was used less frequently.

 Creep, which Wirtanen defined as a noun, was a derogatory term for a bothersome male and is still in use today, as is gross – an adjective meaning crude, crass or vulgar. Grubs a noun meaning old, near to rags, but extremely comfortable clothes; may have fallen out of favor, but everyone still has their ”grubbies” and we’ve all had our share of ”Mickey Mouse” classes.

 Burned out is a mainstream term these days as is one of the definitions of bear – meaning an angered or hostile person. In determining its contemporary status, I used an online dictionary.


 I remember far out being used, while rap has changed from meaning ‘to talk, converse, usually about some deep subject’ to a form of music.

 In the paper, Wirtanen also includes the survey, the response rate for some of the choices in the survey and lastly, additional slang responses recorded on the survey. To be included in the alternate slang responses, a term had to be used at least four times. Some of those responses are interesting, who has ever heard of the phrase turn ralph, meaning make a right turn or zanked to mean drunk?

 I’m sure that if I were to administer the survey to my college age colleagues, some of their responses would be totally different from the ones in this paper. I confess to still using some of these terms, especially ‘boogie’ (to leave or go), much to the dismay and eye rolling of my children.

 This collection is still being processed, but once it is on the shelves anyone can come in and look at the slang paper for themselves.

This post was written by Karen Kasper.


The Summer Musings of a Student Archivist

Summer is finally here, with the weather in Marquette beginning to move away from the 40’s and 50’s and toward the beautiful 60’s, 70’s and even 80’s. Although most of us have to work during the height of the heat, I know many still take their free time and spend it outside as much as possible.

While trying to come up with an idea for this blog post, I ran across the “Student Life” category in the Archives’ photographic file. I found one folder containing a handful of photos labeled “recreation- on the beach”. These pictures had no specific date on them, though I assume they were taken in the 1970’s (mostly based on the fashion and hairstyles of the students).


For those who do not know, the Archives has  four file cabinets full of photographs covering numerous historical topics and events on this campus. Mock GOP Convention of 1948? Check. Winterfest 1980? Check. All Mens Dinner 1931? Check. Although fascinating,most of the photographs do not identify the pictured individuals. Hundreds and hundreds of photographs of previous Northern students remain anonymous.

summer 1

Sure, I work in an office, and maybe I was escaping the mid-day blues with these photographs; a daydream of the beach to be squandered with the next task. However, the more I tried to move on from the file, and look for something else to feature, I soon returned to the file with a realization.

summer 2

summer 3

Today, we live in the world of technology, full of facial-recognition, automatic-tagging, and algorithms that will continuously work to categorize our social groups and peers to perfection. This is a stark contrast to the anonymity of the past and it gives people who stumble across these photographs a reason to stop and think. Constantly, we are bombarded by images and media, scrolling through our friends and family — double-tapping and liking without thought. With these photographs look and find our own memories reflected in the smiles and flipped canoes; giggle at the style of the past (looking at you– man in shortie-shorts and tall socks!); or appreciate the couples holding hands or friends singing and playing guitar on the beach. None of the people on the photographs are performing for a Facebook or Twitter following, hoping to get likes.

summer 4

Don’t take me wrong, I like social media and participate daily. I would never want to push the idea that somehow we – as a society – need to return to the “greatness” of the past. Though I like these photographs, I think technology and modern forms of socialization are fine but should be judged within a contemporary context.

Let’s just hope that in the future, whether near or far, another person may stumble upon this article on a summer afternoon and think about all of the little snapshots and memories that exist, immortalizing our lives — whether the names are included or not.

This post was written by Kyleigh Sapp.

Tsu Ming Han: Man of Two Different Worlds

Tsu Ming Han

Dr. Magnaghi and James Shefchik recently published a book that they had been working on for some time. Tsu Ming Han: Man of Two Different Worlds is the title, and it details the incredible life of Tsu-Ming Han. Here is the synopsis:

“Over the centuries the Upper Peninsula has grown and developed due to many immigrants who arrived. Some of their stories are known but most have been lost to time. One of these stories belongs to Tsu-Ming Han, a Chinese immigrant, a geologist and senior research laboratory scientist at Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company (now Cliffs Natural Resources). He came to the Upper Peninsula in the 1950s and was instrumental in the development of lower grade iron ore refinement processes and pelletization, which had a direct impact on the region and its people. In his spare time as a geologist, he identified an ancient fossil, Grypania Spiralis. Additionally important to the story was his family: Joy his wife and his children; Dennis, Timothy, and Lisa. This is another major effort of Northern Michigan University’s Center for Upper Peninsula Studies to shed new light and ideas on the history of the U.P.”

This little known U.P. star is finally getting his time to shine. For more information on Tsu-Ming Han, check out our former blog post about him. The finding aid for Tsu Ming Han’s papers is also online.

If you’re interested in reading the book, it is available on amazon, google books, and LuLu.com in an ebook format. The NMU archives also has the Tsu-Ming Han papers available. Come stop by to check them out!

Written by Grace Menter