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by Jay Gallagher

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Big Apple State

After some exhaustive research, which included Google and Wikipedia, I am here to shed some light on why New York is the "Empire State.''

But not too much, since the answer seems murky.

The question came to mind this week when we were losers in the federal government’s “race to the top’’ for about $700 million in education aid. How could anyone not think the “Empire State’’ is the best.

But upon further reflection, I thought, what does it mean to be the Empire State?

And for that matter, why can’t we be named after something simpler, like gardens (New Jersey), mountains (Vermont) rocks (New Hampshire), a tree (Maine), the ocean (Rhode Island) or a part thereof (the Bay State, Massachusetts)?

I also understand why Michigan, say, would rather be known as the Great Lakes State rather than say, the heart of the rust belt.

Here’s the New York story.

At some point in the 1780s, George Washington may have (nobody caught it on tape) made a reference to New York being the "seat of Empire.'' In those days, "empire'' apparently carried the connotation since lots of economic growth and progress, and not necessarily a system where one group dominates another. Back in those days (this was a long time ago) New York seemed to fit the bill.

It must have seemed apt back in the days when we were building the Erie Canal, taming Niagara Falls and becoming an economic powerhouse. All that, of course, was a while ago now.

More recently, the nickname has given critics of the state a chance to have some fun over the years. Herb London, who was interested in running for governor in 1994, referred to it as the "Vampire State'' because, as he saw it, the state was sucking the life blood out of its citizens in the form of taxes. And this was even before the MTA surcharge and the plan to tax soda!

Among suggestions from readers today included "Union State,'' since they seem to be piloting the ship of state these days, and "Umpire State,'' since then we would at least know to expect some bad calls, and we wouldn't be so stunned each time Albany screws up.

My vote would go with "Big Apple State,'' since it is already the nickname of New York City (a sportswriter coined it, referring to big payoffs at tracks) and we're one of the leading apple producers in the country.

But nobody asked me.

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