Now that our HaikUff-da contest has come to an end (the winners will be announced soon) perhaps it is a good time to review the Norwegian phrase most used in the United States.
interj. \ oof \ – \ da \
It’s what your dad said after a hard day at work when he sat down in his recliner with a beer and the newspaper. It’s what your grandma said when she dropped a stitch on the sweater she was knitting. It’s what you say when you are named St. Olaf’s woman of the year:
Uff da! (sometimes also spelled huffda, uff-da, uffda, uff-dah, oofda, ufda, ufdah, oofta, or uf daa) is common in the Upper Midwestern states. The Swedish exclamation ojdå is similar in meaning and usage.
When immigrants came to the United States from Norway one of the ways they endeavored to become “Americans” was to speak only English in the presence of children. Well almost only English. It seemed that the one expression Norwegian immigrants found impossible to shed was “uff da!”
Uff da can be used to express surprise, relief, exhaustion, astonishment, and dismay. It kind of means “drats!,” “oops!,” “ouch!,” “Oh no!,” or “Okay!.” It has become a mark of Scandinavian roots or an indication that you have lived in Minnesota for quite a long time.
In fact, “uff da” is probably the best, if not only, Norwegian expression known to Norwegian Americans. It is the linguistic sibling of “ay carumba” or “oy vey” or “good grief.”
University of Minnesota Etymologist Anatoly Liberman explained in on NPR:
[Please note, I have found the information below in a number of articles about the meaning of uff da, but I have not been able to find the page/blog where it is said to have come from. Nevertheless, here is what the internet is saying about Dr. Shunji Yasaki and his introduction to Minnesota’s foreign language.]
“Uff da!” is no longer an expression cognizable only by Norwegians and those of Norwegian extraction. Evidence of that is “Uff Da” page in English posted by a Japanese neurologist, “Dr. Y” (Shunji Yasaki). The website has no relation to Norway except for its inspiration: while in Minnesota, Dr. Yasaki befriended some Norwegian Americans and encountered the expression “uff da.”
The opening of the joke page reads:
Uff Da is — discovering that your male dog is pregnant!
Uff Da is — forgetting your mother-in-law’s first name.
Uff Da is — dropping your only egg on the floor!
Uff Da is — eating hot soup when you’ve got a runny nose!
Even though Uff da has many meanings, it all comes back to one thing, it’s purely Norwegian! Now let’s all do the Uff da Polka!