Melodic "Michigander" preferred by readers over highfalutin' "Michiganian"

Last issue, we asked an unbiased question and stood back disinterestedly to see the results:

  • Did readers prefer the term Michigander and its melodic, friendly, open, harmonious ring?
  • Or did they favor the term Michiganian, thus aligning themselves with nonnative, highbrow, overeducated socially sheltered wimps?

That story traced the term “Michigander” to Abraham Lincoln, who used it disparagingly in referring to Michigan territorial governor and presidential candidate Lewis Cass during Lincoln’s speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1848.

By contrast, it traced the term “Michiganian” to a crew of overeducated polo shirt-wearing swells who invented the term while giggling and sipping drinks with umbrellas in them on a yacht in Bay Harbor. (You know who you are, Skippy!)

To our delight, and to the credit of salt-of-the-earth workaday Michigan residents everywhere, Michigander was preferred by a 3 to 1 margin of respondents. (OK, there were only about a dozen. And we rounded up.) This reaffirms our faith in our state, our nation, and our readership.

Here’s a sampling of the feedback:

State Sen. Tom George, R-Kalamazoo, wrote that the term “Michigander,” coined by Abraham Lincoln in reference to Cass, is part of Michigan’s unique heritage: “As I write this, I am seated at my desk on the Senate floor, below a painting of that “great Michigander,” Lewis Cass. In 1848, Cass, one of Michigan’s U.S. Senators, was the Democratic candidate for the Presidency. Cass would lose the presidential election, but he would eventually see his advocacy for popular sovereignty (allowing new states to choose whether they would be slave or free) come to fruition...(which) then spurred disparate anti-slavery activists to meet and form a new political party (the Republican Party), which four years later would nominate Lincoln for the Presidency. His election in turn, was followed by succession of Southern states and the Civil War. The term ‘Michigander,’ coined by Lincoln in referring to Cass, is a reminder of Michigan’s special role in this chain of events. Just as our unique Native American and French place names are part of the fabric of our past, the etymology of ‘Michigander’ is a piece of our heritage. We should embrace it and use it as part of the lexicon of our great state.”

Jack Dempsey, a member of the Michigan Historical Commission, noted that he is the “older and much wiser” brother of Great Lakes historian Dave Dempsey, a staunch defender (apologist?) for the term Michiganian. “Michiganian is less colorful, less soulful, more an admission of thin-skin-ness. It should be consigned to the trash heap of history—as an export to an Ontario landfill, of course. Michigander links us to the greatest American president, who enlisted Michigan in the great task of saving the Union. Although a jocular put-down, Lincoln’s gentle use of the term is clever, endearing and not derisive. It was Lincoln, after all, who exclaimed ‘Thank God for Michigan’ when our troops arrived to safeguard the nation’s capital at the Civil War’s inception.”

Gail Gruenwald, executive director of the Tip of the Mitt Watershed Council in Petoskey said she was born a Michigander and has no plans to change: “I see the Michiganian term used by people who want to be like everyone else. Floridian, Bostonian, Washingtonian, yuck.”

Author Mel Visser said he’s old enough to remember when we were all Michiganders, and proud of it. Michiganders helped provide the Arsenal of Democracy in WW II, and then put the nation on wheels in the 50s and 60s: “Now we are infested with cerebral elite Michi-gha-nians, Michi-gay-nians, and Michi-gan-ians who cannot even decide how to state their name. Is it any wonder why we lack focus and fill our highways with a modern version of light tanks and armored personnel carriers instead of satisfying the real need for fuel efficient transportation? I suggest a ballot check off that would send the votes of anyone identifying themselves as a Michiganian to the land of hanging chads.”

Former MEC intern Katie Coleman, now living in Chicago, weighed in with a vote for Michigander despite noting it “sounds like a goose-human hybrid spawned from the depths of Lake Michigan.” But she agreed that Michigander is one more way Michigan is unique (in addition to the hand-map, “Michigan left” turns and weird car insurance rules).

Michiganian did get token support. Pam Frucci from Grosse Isle noted that her dictionary defined “Gander” as a male goose, with a second definition “meaning ‘is stupid or silly fellow.’”

So, based on this exhaustive study of reader preferences, we declare “Michigander” the preferred term of the Michigan Environmental Report.

However, should the term “Michiganian” continue to appear occasionally in print, it will be attributed to one of the following exceptions:

  • It is used in MEC President Lana Pollack’s column (Lana, inexplicably, prefers Michiganian), and the editor is afraid to tangle with her.
  • It is used in a story written by Great Lakes historian Dave Dempsey, and we accede out of respect for his institutional knowledge even though he is so, SOOO wrong (plus, we want him to keep feuding with his brother).
  • We intentionally left it in to portray persons as foolishly as they deserve (“State Sen. Blowhard said Michiganians should continue relying on coal-fired power” or “Goliath Chemical Co. said Michiganians aren’t at risk from the highest levels of dioxin ever detected in North America).
  • Crummy copy editing.

-- Hugh McDiarmid, Jr.

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