Art Beat: Yooper Talk
Joseph Heywood is the author of two mystery series set in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula – the “Woods Cop” and “Lute Bapcat” series. He spends the winter at his home in Portage. But come spring, Heywood heads north to the U.P. and doesn’t return until the snow flies. He rides along with state conservation officers, collecting the colorful experiences of real “woods cops,” and then weaves them into his books. His newest is something different, a kind of glossary of “Yooper” dialect. It’s called Limpy’s Adult Lexicon: Raw, Politically Incorrect, Improper and Unexpurgated, As Overheard and Noodled by Joseph Heywood (Lyons Press, 2023).
“I was actually born in New York State and grew up in an Air Force family,” Heywood says. “We lived all around the world. Our last station was in the Upper Peninsula. My dad was sent up here in what was then Kinross Air Force Base, so that’s how I ended up in the U.P.”
Heywood’s latest book is not a story but more of a glossary of the speech he hears in the Upper Peninsula. Heywood attributes it to one of his best-known characters—Limpy Allerdyce, who first appeared in his novel Ice Hunter.
“One of the very first officers I worked with told me about a family of really extreme poachers and violators that was generational,” Heywood says. “Every generation was worse than the one before. And they were all bad. It’s based on that kind of family. Those kinds of families exist all around the state. This is a rural phenomenon. You have these people who are full-time outlaws, not murderers, not that extreme, but basically stealing everything they can.”
The Limpy character is the patriarch of his outlaw family, and his language is rich with local dialect with a few invented words for spice. Heywood says putting together the glossary of this lexicon became a huge project, one that he had been gathering over the years of riding along with the officers, taking notes, and tossing them into a box. When it filled up, he decided to do something with all those notes.
“Whenever I heard something, I scribbled it on a note and threw it in the box,” he says. “Finally, I looked at it and thought, that thing is getting kind of full. I ought to do something with it.”
The resulting book, Heywood says, is something he calls a “fictionary,” not quite a dictionary, but a listing of words with a bit of fiction thrown in. He will give a talk based on the book at the Willard Library in Battle Creek on November 8, 2023.
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