Michigander or Michiganian?

Dear Reader:

Upon inheriting responsibility for this newsletter two years ago, I vowed to use it as an advocacy tool, but also to maintain fairness, respect and openness to all opinions.

But I’ve grown weary over two years of infighting, name-calling and backbiting over a particularly polarizing and divisive issue here at the Michigan Environmental Council.

I need your help.

Let me present this as fairly and impartially as I can. Do you prefer:

  • The term Michigander and its melodic, friendly, open, harmonious and sensible aura?
  • Or Michiganian, the term favored by nonnative, highbrow, overeducated, socially sheltered wimps?

Like I said, I’m trying to be fair.

The issue was first raised when editorship of the Report transferred to me from Dave Dempsey. Now Dave is a regional treasure. A Great Lakes historian, respected author, former advisor to Gov. Milliken and a generally reasonable and agreeable fellow.

But when he changed ‘Gander to ‘Ganian while editing copy for my first newsletter, I was appalled.

“‘Michigander' is a term of derision; therefore, one should use it only to describe one's self in a self-deprecating, humorous way,” Dempsey wrote from his home in Minnesota (a state where the college sports teams refer to themselves as Golden Gophers). 'Michiganian' has dignity and power and command and I always prefer it.”

I carefully considered his opinion, before kicking it to the curb where it belonged.

I thought perhaps the controversy had subsided until Barbara Hustoles blindsided me with an e-mail recently, adding a new twist on the argument:

“I contend that there is no such thing as a Michigander,” wrote Hustoles, who works for the State of Michigan’s Department of Human Services. Her family has “always been Michiganians and the term Michigander only came about when Michelle Engler who is not native to Michigan (the wife of former Governor John Engler) started her campaign to immunize your little Michigander.  The use of the term was wrong then and it is still wrong now.”

Now, I admit the Michelle Engler reference rattled me a bit.

That is until I discovered that Richard Bailey, a University of Michigan professor of English Language and Literature had researched the term, and traced it  – not Michelle Engler but to Abraham Lincoln during an 1848 speech in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Lincoln did not mean “Michigander” as a compliment, of course,” Bailey wrote me in an e-mail. “He was attacking Lewis Cass, an officer in the War of 1812 and territorial governor (of Michigan).

But Bailey continued, adding that he prefers Michigander: “I think of ‘Michiganian’ as used by people from elsewhere who think they know better than we do how we should speak English.”

Even with the backing of academia, Michigander still has plenty of high profile detractors.

MEC President Lana Pollack, for one, prefers Michiganian. Lana’s a brilliant woman and a staunch defender of all things Michigan. But I’ve watched her search frantically for her eyeglasses while they were still on her face far too many times to believe she’s infallible.

Gov. Jennifer Granholm also prefers Michiganian, according to her press secretary, Liz Boyd. As we know, the Gov. was born in Canada, where they have a hockey team nicknamed the Canucks. ‘Nuff said.

So, dear reader, I’m inviting you to e-mail me your opinions.

I hope to print some of the best rationale for each term in the next newsletter.

-- Hugh McDiarmid, Jr.

Michigan Environmental Report Editor and proud Michigander

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