Why do Wisconsinites use the word bubbler

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Take the quiz to see what your language says about you. | Photo via NYT

If you’ve ever taken the New York Times’ Dialect Quiz, you know that Midwesterners — and Wisconsinites — have their own special lingo.

In fact, the quiz askes a question that pinpoints Wisconsin heritage — “What do you call the thing from which you might drink water in a school?” If you answered bubbler, your Midwestern side is showing.

Bubblers, if you haven’t caught on by now, are water fountains, drinking fountains, water bubblers, or whatever other phrase you might’ve grown up with.

How it started: Kohler was originally credited with the word’s inception, with a reported trademark in 1888. However, Kohler was not established until 1900 so that theory has been debunked. Another train of thought stems from the German habit of representing objects with words they sound like.

Research from the Sheboygan County Historical Research Center points to a water container made by the Red Wing company. This new technology looked like modern water coolers but had an attachment like modern bubblers.

The evolution: Regardless of the origins, the original water fountain was designed to shoot water straight up, and bubbled a lot more than modern-day ones. While the design was changed due to public health concernsthink drooling right back into the spout — the name stuck.


An original Kohler bubbler outside the State Capitol | Photo via Wiki Commons

Other bubblers: Our friends at BOStoday might also call the water dispensing devices bubblers, but with a slight accent, making it “bubblahs.” And Australians have been calling drinking fountains “water bubblers” for quite some time. We’ll leave those origins up to their local experts.

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