Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Kelly's Book 10.13: Michigan: A History of the Great Lakes State

Dear Jenny,

I have finally finished Little, Big but... yeah. It was such a slog to get through, it's even more of a slog to write about. Maybe this weekend? We'll see. 

In the meantime, I am on a mission to finish and I have 3 books to go, so I have started Michigan: A History of the Great Lakes State.

From the start, I will tell you I have a problem with the very name of this book, although... further research indicates that I need to let this problem go because I am apparently the only one having this problem?

Ugh. Let me explain...

I have always thought that the nickname for Michigan was "The Great Lakes State." You know, cause it's made of two peninsulas that are created by... The Great Lakes! (Fun fact: if you are in Michigan, you cannot be more than 85 miles from a Great Lake.) 

A few months ago, I saw a dishtowel identifying Michigan as "The Great Lake State." Notice: "Lake" is singular right there. I was all "Ooops! That's not right!" Or... is it? So I looked into it. Omigod! It's not at all clear!

Michigan.gov says "Great Lake State" and so do old license plates. AND a quick Google search finds 1.2 million hits for "Great Lake State" and only about half a million for the plural.

So that's it, right? It's singular and these authors have their heads up their butts and I cannot possibly trust anything that they write!

BUT WAIT! The plot thickens! The state quarter for Michigan says "Great Lakes State." WHAAAA---? Aaaand... most Michiganders (and that nickname is a whole other topic, believe it or not) have said "Of course it's Great Lakes State" (plural) when I have asked (including, clearly, the authors of this book).

Sooo... what the what, Michigan? I mean...

More importantly than any of this, there seems to be zero discussion/debate about this on the Internet anywhere! In a world where the abbreviation "Gd" for "Grand" (still bizarre!) gets thoroughly examined... where are the nerds speculating about plural vs. singular "Lake" in our state nickname?

All this to say... I hope the authors address this question in the book and give a very good and clear reason for going with the plural in the book title.

Also... yes, yes. I have thought about this way too much, including spending valuable reading time creating that stupid graphic.



  1. I just don't see the problem here: It MUST be Lakes plural, right? Michigan is a product of multiple lakes! How can it be Great Lake? That's just...bizarre. I mean, the only thing I can think of (but it's stupid) is that the lakes together are actually one big body of water because they're all connected. Maybe it is more accurate to refer to them as the Great Lake? Stupid.

    Keep me updated on this!

    I should write a preview post for Lark & Termite, but I'm going to just write about it all at once. I'm almost done with it. I promise to return to the preview post with my next one!

  2. I think it's like... "The Buckeye State" or "The Prairie State" (side note: never knew until just now that was an Illinois nickname... always just thought "Land of Lincoln") (License plate advertising -- It works!) Obviously, many buckeyes and many prairies are contained in those states and others (Peach State, Volunteer State, Hoosier State, to name a few more off the top of my head...) but the state nickname is singular.

    Sooooo... following that construction "Great Lake State" actually does work, right?

    Still amazed that I have been unable to find anyone else navel gazing over this topic.... and then realized... it's *me*! If anyone googles this situation in the future... they are going to find *this* post! Well, I should really do more research now --- gotta get to the bottom of this! (Hopefully this book will address it, but I doubt it. They have used the term "Michiganian" already without any reference to *that* confusion!) (Note this: spellcheck squawks at "Michiganian" but not "Michigander." I *do* however, have more details on that issue, which I will cover in my book's review.)

    Bottom line: How can the state's website directly contradict what is on the state quarter?! That's weird, right?

  3. I don't know, I mean...I guess...and your explanation seems like the logical proof of how it came to be singular. My problem is that there are only FIVE LAKES and we ALWAYS refer to them collectively as The Great Lakes. Always. Buckeyes, peaches, Hoosiers, prairies....there are thousands and thousands of items for each of those categories, they're not individually named. (the Hoosier exception, but no one's last name is Hoosier.) It's strange. I'm struggling with it.

    Anyways, I hope to hear more about Michigander vs. Michiganian. I say Michigander, usually, and want to hear your thoughts. I also hope it covers Yooper, my favorite geographical place name. Is there a common noun for the geographical place name, by the way?

    As for the State's website? I mean, I don't know. Isn't Michigan run by a bunch of Tea Party nutballs right now? Maybe they cut the budget?! This Great Lake vs Great Lakes thing might just shape up to be your thing the way quotation marks are mine! If you google, for example-----> Louise Erdrich quotation marks my little rant comes right up. Oh well.

  4. Well, it's possible to refer to one Great Lake, right? I mean, the one you're on: "That's a lovely Great Lake right there!" Yeah, no one says that. I guess it's that the proper noun thing that throws a wrench into this mess. And to be clear, I was always a "Great Lakes State" person myself, so I'm also struggling! I was just trying to find the basis for this nonsense.

    A Yooper is a resident of the UP -- I'm not sure what you mean by the common noun for that... for the Upper Peninsula? It's a geographical region, so I guess it's a proper noun, right? I wonder why "Elpers" has never really caught on for us Lower Peninsula residents. (Ha! I just totally made that up -- and it's kind of making me laugh right now.)

    Funny you should mention the dubious reliability of the MI website... When I cited it in my initial quest, Bill also said, "Well... it's the government..." and rolled his eyes. I mostly brought it up in my comment there because I would assume it's the same state government maintaining that website as *approving* the damned state quarter. Right?!

    BUT... going back to my earlier point... it's not just the website. "Great Lake State" (singular) was on the Michigan license plate for *years* spelled *exactly* like that. From 1962-1982 (with a break in 1976 for a Bicentennial plate) -- before the current "Tea Party nutballs" were in office (although Michiganders have always been a kind of wacky bunch...)

    Given my earlier comment about knowing that IL is the "Land of Lincoln" because of the plates, you would thing Michigan residents would remember the singular "Lake" on the plates for all that time! It's almost like someone thinking the IL plates said "Land of Lincoln" their whole life, and then looking at it one day and discovering it actually says "Lands of Lincoln." (But, you know... the opposite... I think you get the point though.)

    Inexplicably, in 1982, the plate was changed to just say the words "Great Lakes" (it looks pretty weird -- you can see one here... perhaps that was a sort or "Our bad -- we've had a typo on the plates for all of these years!" move? In the late 90s, that was changed to a cheesy "Great Lakes Splendor" slogan.

    Today, the plates don't say anything at all about the Lake/s -- My own plate just has the Michigan website on it. Bill's says "Spectacular Peninsulas" so I guess they're trying to shift the focus from the water to the land? Well... our state motto is, "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you." (Which kind of makes me laugh... it's so understated.)

    Oh, man. I have talked about this waaaaay too much. And it's not even in the book! (As far as I know...)

  5. Ohmigod! I apparently cannot stop digging into this and, in my quest, I found the "Pledge of allegiance to the Michigan flag." (This is a thing?!)

    It's kind of killing me:

    "I pledge allegiance to the flag of Michigan, and to the state for which it stands, 2 beautiful peninsulas united by a bridge of steel, where equal opportunity and justice to all is our ideal."

    I don't know why, but that is cracking me up. The weird rhythm, the specificity of the construction material of the Mackinac Bridge... and isn't it "justice *for* all? Mostly, it's the weak finish of what starts out as a good idea (equal opportunity and justice -- hell yeah!) with: "is our ideal." Like, "we sorta want that... that would be good...."