February 09, 2004

The Side that Loses Gets Pittsburgh

Allan Hazlett has a map of the Midwest here--suggesting, perhaps, that vague terms can be defined as "terms that start an argument whenever you try to specify them." He's done it state-by-state, thus papering over the whole Pittsburgh question--everyone knows most of Pennsylvania isn't Midwest, but Pittsburgh is, as Allan says, definitely penumbral. I have a friend who says he didn't realize he was from the Midwest until he moved to New York--but if he'd moved to Omaha maybe he'd have a different reaction.

Anyway, I agree with the people who said that Kentucky should be out and Kansas/Nebraska in. The folks I know from Kentucky insist they're Southern, though maybe the parts near Cincinnati would disagree. If Pittsburgh is definitely penumbral, is Wheeling WV too? I think a lot of folks would be surprised to be told that any of WV is in the midwest, but they might also be surprised to learn that any of WV is on the Ohio river, so forget 'em.

(The title comes from an old Society of Creative Anachronism I think it is story--there was a battle between the East and Midwest regions, and Pittsburgh happened to be switched from the one to the other the year after the other had lost. On something unrelated--does anyone remember which league won the world series the year before the Brewers traded themselves to the NL?)

Posted by Matt Weiner at February 9, 2004 01:06 PM

This is a pretty fierce debate among folks living in Lincoln, Nebraska, not split evenly among locals and non-locals. I wrote this into a story recently:

Neither is smoking. He sips intermittently from a glass of carrot juice.
He says, “So where are you from?”
“Oh....” She cultivates a reponse. “The Great Plains.”
He says, “Where?”
She says, “Nebraska.”
“Oh,” he says. “The Midwest.”

For the record, I'm with her. Separating the Great or the Northern Plains from the Midwest and the West is important.

Posted by: David C. Madden at February 10, 2004 11:07 AM

I did wonder about whether it really made sense to extend the Midwest as far west as western Nebraska. No one seems to live west of Kearney, though, so you may not get many complaints no matter where you classify it. (Observations gleaned while driving ~1800 miles on I-80.)

Posted by: Matt Weiner at February 10, 2004 07:36 PM

Way too late, but what the hell.

As an easterner (mostly NY & NJ, with strong cultural affinity to NYC) who has moved to Pgh, I'm always surprised that anyone considers Pgh Midwestern. My Chicagoan father agrees. Culturally, at least, Pittsburghers pay no mind to the Midwest, and the pace of life is absolutely not Midwestern (not definitive, I know). On the other hand, people are nice to strangers, in a suspiciously Midwestern way. Back on the first hand, we've got hills, and if the Midwest isn't defined by its flatness, I don't know how you define it (for this reason, the idea of WVA as Midwestern is enough to make me blow milk through my nose).

Penumbral is probably an accurate description, but to me that tends too much to make it realistic to call Pgh Midwestern. "Pop" aside, it simply isn't. It may be Appalachian, it certainly is Rust Belt, but I just don't see how it could get lumped with, say, Iowa.

I think we really need to insist on people using Appalachia. It resolves the following areas of contention: SW PA, WVA, and KY. The only flaw is that no state, save WVA, is entirely Appalachian. But it's a far sight better than placing KY and Pgh in the Midwest.

Posted by: JRoth at March 6, 2004 10:37 AM