Al Batt: What part of “uffda” don’t you understand?

Published 8:45 pm Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

Boy, howdy!

I’d been contentedly looking at myself from the inside.

Then my alarm exploded at 4 a.m. I usually wake up before my alarm sounds, but not this morning. First, I thought the disruption was part of a nightmare.

I couldn’t find a crevice to shove the shrieking alarm, so I got out of bed. I can sleep through anything that doesn’t wake me, but the alarm gave me escape velocity. I’ve often stumbled out of bed before I’ve ceased sleeping, but not this time. The alarm clock had a sound that could pierce concrete.

I said, “Uffda!” It’s sometimes spelled uff da, huffda, uff-da, oof-da, uff-dah, oofda, ufda, oof-dah, ufdah, oofta or ufta. Uffda means everything and nothing in Minnesota and other parts of the Upper Midwest where it’s a stereotypical expression. The phrase is used to express surprise, annoyance, relief, exhaustion, disappointment, astonishment, exasperation and dismay. People use the word when things are good and when things are bad. We say “uffda” to emphasize a point or to remark upon strange occurrences or frivolous news. To comment on a tasty meal or to signify approval or disapproval of a tall story. I often use it to express befuddlement as I did after my alarming attack. Oh, for not fun. I told myself, it could be worse, you betcha. Those encouraging words are verbal caffeine. 

Some claim uffda was invented to give one something to say after having ingested lutefisk. Everyone agrees it’s a magical and powerful word, even if it cannot be used to defray medical costs or in lieu of taxes.

Do you think Rip Van Winkle had bad morning breath? No, yeah (meaning yes) or yeah, no (meaning no)? I’m going to say, “No, yeah.” If there had been anyone prone to uffdaisms near him, they’d have been uttered. 

I say “uffda” when I can’t find the hour of sleep I’d lost due to daylight saving time’s insistence we spring forward.

I remember getting a temporary tattoo as one of the “prize in every box” Cracker Jack giveaways. I wet the paper and transferred an image to my arm. Voila! It wasn’t rocket science or even good use of my time. Those tattoos didn’t last long. I smudged one. It was grotesque. I showed it to a neighbor girl a few years my senior. I expected her to say, “Oh, for cute,” but she said “Uffda!” instead.

A genuine Norwegian from Norway told me that “uff” is an exclamation similar to “ouch” “oops” or “oh, no” in English and I have no reason to doubt him. “Da” in Norwegian means “then.” He denied saying “Uffda,” and said I’d have to search a long time to find a Norwegian who used it regularly. A reference book attributes the word’s origin to Norwegian settlements in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

When is it appropriate to use this powerful word? Anytime you feel like it, for crying out loud.

When you hear Ole and Lena jokes.

When your snoring wakes you in church.

When the repair on your car was pretty spendy.

When trying to get out of a beanbag chair.

When you lose at duck, duck, gray duck because they called the game duck, duck, goose.

When you encounter a foul odor.

When you empty your pocket and find something you’d needed a month ago.

When you discover the sandwich spread you used was cat food.

When you are unable to find a relative’s grave because you’re at the wrong St. Olaf’s Cemetery.

When a farm tractor holds up traffic.

When you contemplate the day they stopped putting toys in breakfast cereal boxes.

When you reach under the table to pick something off the floor and smash your head on the way back up.

When you work at the front desk of a Best Western hotel and whenever you answer the phone, “Best Western,” the caller says, “Gunsmoke.”

When you put both contacts in the same eye.

When cars drive by your home with their music so loud it affects the weather.

When you pull up to the gas pumps and don’t realize you’re on the wrong side until you get out of your car.

When your tater tot hotdish has potato chips instead of tater tots.

And when you’re too tired to say, “Uffda!” just say “Uff.” We’ll know what you mean, dontcha know.

Well, I’d better letcha go.

Al Batt’s columns appear in the Tribune every Wednesday.