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Paul Turner: I’m giving up on ‘Washington state’

December 4, 2018

I’m throwing in the towel.

For decades I have railed against the national media’s tendency to unnecessarily add “state” to “Washington” in contexts where there was no reasonable risk of confusion with the District of Columbia. But I give up. I’m tired of spitting into the wind.

No more emailing National Public Radio after hearing a report on fires in “California, Oregon and Washington state.”

No more ranting about The New York Times feeling the need to specify that a scene of deep mountain snow and avalanche risk was set in “Washington state.”

No more impotently protesting this state of affairs by affixing the unneeded qualifier to the names of the other 49 when they appeared in my column. You know, “Virginia State,” “Nevada State,” et cetera.

(When I actually tried that briefly years ago it simply confused readers who had not seen my original declaration of intention.)

I’m not sure why I resented this practice so. But I suspect it had something to do with my suspicion that it was a way of designating the Evergreen State the “other” Washington. Doesn’t that seem like a form of diminishment? Of course it does.

Our nation’s capital has “D.C.” as part of its official name, but out here in the Northwest we are the ones who have to be described in a way that says “No, not that one – the other one.” At least in the minds of some.

To me, it always seemed like a way of stipulating that our state was the second best Washington.

Who wouldn’t be offended?

Call it a pet peeve, if you must. But someone has to stand up for logic and reason.

In addition, I never thought the media had a special obligation to those millions of Americans who are utter morons when it comes to U.S. geography.

I’m sorry. If you need to be told that industrial-scale apple growing and Grand Coulee Dam are not fixtures of life in the Washington back East, well, I feel sorry for you.

But as I said, I’m giving up the fight. This one at least.

Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

I was in the Midwest recently. A loquacious cab driver was talking about parents not letting their sons play high school football because of concerns about head injuries. (I know it’s the ultimate journalistic cliché to quote a cab driver. Sue me.) I wanted to tell him that parents worried about this out where I live. But I was not in the mood for explaining that Spokane is nowhere near Seattle, so I said my home was in “Washington state.”

And you know what? I sort of liked the way it sounded.

I could easily see coming to view the “state” affix as a point of pride, especially when visiting the eastern half of the United States. Making it a special emphasis could be a way of expressing one’s unspoken desire to not be associated with the District of Columbia.

Instead of regarding “state” as some sort of backwoods stigma, it could be thought of as a badge of honor.

I imagined being introduced as hailing from Washington state and sort of dug it.

OK, I might not make it my policy to say that each and every time with strangers when far from home. I usually prefer to play the Spokane card. It’s amazing how often that prompts unexpected associations or entertaining anecdotes. You name it – the Air Force, college basketball, Uncle Cletus, et cetera.

Besides, getting myself in a twist about the silly addition of “state” to “Washington” isn’t the only way I have tilted at windmills.

Years ago, I went on a tear of querying editors at newspapers that included Spokane in their list of cities’ high and low temperatures on the weather page.

If the newspapers in question insisted that Spokane appear as “Spokane, Washington,” even if a few other cities of similar size stood alone without the state qualifier, I demanded to know why.

One senior editor at the Washington Post answered me in a weekly questions-from-readers column. The explanation, she wrote, had to do with the fact there are several Spokanes in the United States.

I wrote back and told her I found that argument unpersuasive as the other Spokanes are tiny communities, some not even incorporated. But I thanked her for the courtesy of a reply.

Looking back, I probably should have been happy that at least we weren’t listed in her paper as “Spokane, Washington state.”

Contact the writer at srpaulturner@gmail.com.

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