It’s grading time up here in the chilly North; we’ve got midterms we’re plowing through, and finals will come up in less than a month, and the students are all getting anxious. This is Minnesota, though, where we greatly value our emotional equilibrium, and our language emphasizes subtle distinctions that would more typically provoke a greater range of expression than you might find in New York or the South. This is also true of our practice of giving grades.
Perhaps you are visiting Minnesota, or are newly enrolled in one of the schools here, or are perusing a transcript from a Minnesota student, and you find yourself confused by our traditional folkways. Here then is a useful translation table from standard academic A-F grades to the more nuanced expressions we use around here.
|A||Not too bad.||You’ve done excellent work, but we wouldn’t want you to get too cocky now.|
|B||You betcha.||I am vaguely happy about your progress.|
|C||That’s nice.||I am not at all impressed, but I’m not about to say that to your face.|
|D||That’s interesting.||Are you from Iowa, perhaps? Or maybe Wisconsin? We don’t do things like that around here.|
|F||That’s different.||I am struggling to express my profound revulsion in a way that won’t immediately incite conflict.|
(Note: C, D, and F grades may be emphasized with the modifier “sure”. “That’s sure different,” for instance, is a much stronger statement. It is not a good thing.)
Just as a general rule, Minnesotans value an affect as flat as the prairies up around Fargo/Moorhead, and must be read with an appreciation of delicate motor skills. A slightly raised eyebrow, for instance, has the same emotional impact as a Brooklynite screaming obscenities at you and making rude gestures.
This can sometimes have a devastating retroactive effect on visitors, once they realize how Minnesotan minds work. You know that nice little lady at the Mall of America who gave you cookie samples and greeted you with that lovely sing-song accent and smiled at you? The tightness of that smile, once you know how to read a Minnesotan, may have actually meant “I will make you dance the blood eagle and drape your bowels from the rafters, foreign scum!”
I am not a native Minnesotan, but my mother was born here. And let me tell you, it’s only many years after the fact that I realized how angry I’d sometimes made her when I was a child.