Sunday, May 31, 2009

May 31, 2009
The Arizona Republic led off their editorial pages this morning with two guys in cowboy hats. That would be Marshall Trimble and me.

Marshall gave a historical insight into how Phoenix became the center of the Arizona universe and I was asked to do a piece on state nicknames. Actually I was asked to do a piece on state mottos, which was a total gas to do, but at the last minute a copy editor insisted that it was nicknames, not mottos they wanted me to talk about. So I redid the entire piece.

Here, for your eyes only is the combined piece that didn't run in this morning's paper:

What's In A Nickname? A Motto Trying To Break out

While researching a query regarding Arizona’s official nickname, state historian Marshall Trimble was surprised to learn there was none. So, through his efforts the state House voted last week to make “The Grand Canyon State” our official nickname. It still awaits Senate approval.

Even though it has appeared on our license plates for a long time, “The Grand Canyon State” has always seemed a little too obvious as far as nicknames go. It's like a “duh” statement to those of us who grew up here.

But, recently I was visiting with residents of the Big Apple, when one of them said, “The Grand Canyon, isn't that in Nevada?”

“Yes,” I replied, “right next to the New York New York Casino.”

So maybe we do need to state the obvious.

I decided to check out some of the other 49 states and see what they had to offer up in the way of mottos and nicknames. First, the official mottos:

Connecticut — “He who transplanted sustains.” I'm not making this up. Of course, it's translated from the Latin (many of the early states have Latin mottos): “Qui transtulit sustinet.”

Texas — “Friendship.” That's it. Perhaps it's some sort of Lone Star haiku?

Idaho — “Let it be perpetual” (Esto Perpetua). This sounds like somebody in the Idaho statehouse is high on something besides potatoes.

Actually, several states have stoner-style mottos. Can you even guess who has this one? “To the stars through adversity” Why, that's like the Kansas motto, man.

Our sibling rival, New Mexico, has “It goes as it grows.” Another suspiciously hemp-related motto.

Oregon — “She flies with her own wings.” I'm sorry, but that is so weak. These are either poached ABBA lyrics, or someone in their statehouse is also smoking something besides those Idaho potatoes.

South Carolina has two slogans: “While I breathe, I hope.” And, “Ready in soul and resource.” I'm sorry, but both are limp.

The state of Washington claims to utilize Chinook jargon: “By and by.” When you think about it, that would look mighty weird on a license plate. Well, “bye bye to you too!”

Wyoming is evidently bragging, or hopeful: “Equal rights.” That's it. That's their motto. Granted, it's a bumper sticker, but does it fly on a license plate?

West Virginia — “Mountaineers are always free.” Perhaps as an answer to Virginia's “Flatlanders never are.” Just kidding.

Virginia's is actually “Thus always to tyrants.” Which, now that I think about it, may be an answer to West Virginia's motto after all.

Michigan has a straight ahead motto: “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”

Maine has perhaps the oddest motto: “Manly deeds, womanly words.” Isn't that sexist and backwards? Shouldn't it be, “Manly words, but women actually do most deeds”? Makes more sexist sense to me.

Meanwhile, here's some of the nicknames for the other 49 states:

Of course California is “The Golden State” and Colorado is “The Centennial State” and Missouri is “The Show Me State.” These are pretty solid. Others are kind of weird.

For example, because of slang for a style of Confederate uniform, Alabama is known as “The Yellowhammer State.”

Some states have more than one nickname. For example Connecticut is known as “The Constit ution State,” but they evidently also answer to “The Nutmeg State” and “The Land of Steady Habits.” Heroin, perhaps?

New Jersey got “The Garden State” nickname when a local compared New Jersey to a huge barrel, with both ends open, one of which is plucked by New York and the other by Pennsylvania. So, shouldn’t that make it “The Bottomless Poaching Barrel State”?

Tennessee goes by “The Volunteer State,” but for a time it was known as the “Hog and Hominy State,” because pork and corn were real popular in the 1840s.

I guess we should be thankful Arizona became a state so late in the game. If we had to choose a nickname in the 1840s it probably would have been “The Arrow Through The Head State.” [The Republic edited this to "The Arrow Through The Hat State"]

Even though we’re neighbors, I never knew Utah is the “Behive State.” But it makes perfect sense. If you’ve ever been to Provo you know that is the preferred hairstyle even to this day.

All in all, it appears state nicknames and mottos are meant to be obtuse, and yet obvious. And, when you place “The Grand Canyon State” in that mess, it looks pretty damned grand.

Thanks, Marshall for making it official.

—Bob Boze Bell
Executive Editor, True West magazine

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