© 2024 WVIK
Listen at 90.3 FM and 98.3 FM in the Quad Cities, 95.9 FM in Dubuque, or on the WVIK app!
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations


This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Consider this an advanced warning should you decide to invite a Rock Islander into your home for dinner. Like most Midwesterners, we inhabitants of the Upper Mississippi Valley speak a dialect that may need translating.

Take that word dinner. If you invite us for dinner, we'll be there promptly at eleven. If you mean an evening meal, say supper. Lunch comes at ten in the morning and four in the afternoon. A continental breakfast doesn’t exist in our language; it is against our religion.

We don't have many clothes in our word closet. A suit for Sundays and funerals and three shirts and overalls so we can go the whole week. Let me give you an example.

You've slaved over that meal you just served for us two days, the vichyssoise alone has taken a whole morning, and you ask us how we liked it. Don't be crestfallen when you hear us say "It was O.K." That is high praise indeed from a Rock Islander, and t is rich with meaning.

Suppose we say "It was O.K." That means, in your language, "I never had cold soup before, but it was actually pretty good."

Suppose we say "It was O.K." That means that my wife made me come to this, but now I'm glad she did.

Suppose we say "It was O.K." That's the best of all. It means that the merest hint of tarragon in the pork chop and dried fruit stew was daring, but you really pulled it off, and that the flan was a perfect end to the meal.

We treat words like they cost money. That's why Carl Sandburg's poem reads "The fog comes on little cat feet," rather than "The vapors arrive shoreward on miniature feline digits."

Some outsiders say we talk this way because so many of us are immigrant Scandinavians who don't let feelings show. You've heard about the Norwegian who loved his wife so much he almost told her once. Others say the flat Midwest land itself shapes our words. "Where land is flat," the poet Henry Rago wrote, "words are far apart, each word is seen, coming from far off, a calm storm, almost familiar, across the plain."

Whatever, I look forward to your invitation. I'm sure it will be O.K.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.