Everyone knows we're Michiganians. Or not

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

Here at The Detroit News, we say "Michiganians." You might prefer "Michiganders," and history tells us that you might reach out to let us know what dunces we are for not sharing your view — especially now.

As dependably as the sun rises over Port Huron and sets over Muskegon, we get complaints and catcalls from readers insisting we've used an incorrect term.

We haven't. The proper word is Michiganians.

The other proper word is Michiganders.

See how easy that was? It's like the state motto says: "If you seek a pleasant word for someone who lives in Michigan, look about you."

At The News, Michiganians "goes back to our original stylebook in the late 1800s," said editorial page editor Nolan Finley.

Except that on this topic, nothing is easy. Passions run high. As high as Mt. Arvon in Baraga County, the highest point in Michigan at 1,979 feet. Or Mount Arvon, if you prefer. Or the pile of mining waste near Ishpeming that rose past 2,000 feet late last year.

A majority of states use something similar to Michiganians: Oregonians, Oklahomans, Mississippians. In Massachusetts, where an "ans" ending wouldn't fit, they go with "Bay Staters," while in Ohio, the term is "Baja Michiganians."

Michiganders is more distinctive; no other state uses "der." But it stems from an insult, not invented but most famously propagated by native Kentuckian Abraham Lincoln.

At The News, Michiganians "goes back to our original stylebook in the late 1800s," said editorial page editor Nolan Finley.

On the other hand, the Detroit Free Press uses Michiganders, as dictated by a narrow majority of reader responses to a survey in the mid-1980s.

Michiganians is the older term. Education director Bob Myers of the Historical Society of Michigan has seen Michiganian in newspapers dating to 1826, and other sources track it back to 1805-15.

Michiganders, first reported from 1825-35, is more popular. A Google search turns up 696,000 hits, compared to a meager 51,400 for Michiganians.

The last two governors, Gretchen Whitmer and Rick Snyder, say Michigander. The three before that — Jennifer Granholm, John Engler and Jim Blanchard — said Michiganian.

"My feeling," said Finley, "and I've told Gov. Snyder this, is that nobody with a Michigan accent should ever say 'Michigeaander.'"

But Myers likes it, and it's also the term preferred by the Historical Society.

"Michiganian somehow seems a little awkward," Myers said. "Michigander falls a little more trippingly off the tongue, as Shakespeare would say," particularly if he'd been an alumnus of the Stratford-upon-Avondale School District.

Nancy Feldbush, editor of the Historical Society's magazines, conceded that some find Michigander to be dismissive of women, being that ganders are male.

"You also get people who say, 'I'm not a goose,'" she said. She prefers to tweak the meaning of the term, as in, "We think of 'gander' more as a look at something — 'Take a gander at this.'"

In the mid-19th century, however, goose was an insult, according to Myers, the rough equivalent of "ninny." When U.S. Rep. Lincoln called senator and presidential candidate Lewis Cass "the great Michigander" in 1848, accounts say he was also suggesting that Cass was but a goose-like follower in a campaign against a true leader, Gen. Zachary Taylor.

In modern day Kalamazoo, musician Jason Singer, performs under the name Michigander. "You know where I stand on it," he said.

A unanimous adjustment to an old law in 2017 also involved the word, though few noticed. While the action mostly dealt with historical markers, it deliberately replaced the term Michiganians with Michigander.

"We are Michiganders," said co-sponsoring Sen. Goeff Hansen, R-Hart. Or not, since that was more of a jab than an official designation.

Michigan, it should be noted, is not the only state with multiple options for what to call its loyal residents. Demonyms in Connecticut, for instance, include Connecticuters, Nutmeggers, Connecticutensians and Connecticotians.

The best option there, clearly, would be to change the name of the state. As for Michigan, several other names have appeared over the years, including Michiganese and Michiganites.

They are best never heard again, as any sensible Michiganian or Michigander can agree.