Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Naming Connecticut


A rose by any other name, the poet says would smell as sweet. However, we should never forget that naming is essential. No one appreciates this more than journalists and philosophers who are in the business of correctly naming people, things and ideas.

The name “Connecticuter” (pronounced Connetta-cutter) has cropped up recently as a possible name for people who live in Connecticut.

The name Connecticut itself, like other native-American place names, presents unique difficulties because they are tongue twisters. The tongue trips over Quinnipiac College; some talking heads invariably mispronounce it.  Connecticut the place was named with reference to the river that flows through it, called by native-Americans Quinnehtukqut, which means "beside the long tidal river."

People who live in Connecticut have at various times been called nutmeggers and Connecticuters.  Research director for the nonprofit Public Religion Research Institute Natalie Jackson found this locution while searching through the U.S. Government Publishing Office Style Manual. The U.S. Government Printing Office conferred that title on Connecticut in 1945, and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary lists the definition of ‘Connecticuter’ as “a native or resident of the state of Connecticut.”

The chief objection to this designation, a sour-tongued cynic might say, is that the name might have been proper in 1945, but presently the state is knee-deep in debt to the tune of $60 something billion, and progressives in the state’s General Assembly are loathed to balance their accounts by cutting labor costs; therefore, any nickname that hints at cutting -- Connetta-cutter – would be highly misleading, however politically useful.

Connecticut State historian Walt Woodward has put the state on the psychiatrist’s couch and suggested that nutmeggers may have some difficulty naming themselves because of a longstanding identity and status problem: “For people who love Connecticut, and there are a lot of people who feel an intense connection to the state, they still have trouble coming up with — what is it that we love about Connecticut? What is our unique identity? Even though Connecticut has a definite identity and it is instinctively clear to people, it is hard for them to define. All that angst about identity sometimes gets focused on what we call ourselves.” Woodward prefers to call himself a Connectican.

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy has promised to have a chat with Courant writers about this perplexing issue. One can only hope he will not propose a bill in the Senate formally nicknaming the nutmeg state. That would only plunge in statutory cement the state’s angst, and most of us would still be wondering who we are. Actually, Connecticut had in the past defined itself rather modestly with respect to its contiguous states. We were less showy than Massachusetts, a haven from the angst ridden lifestyle of the average New Yorker, and we were comfortable with our non-notoriety, provided we could hang on to our wealth and dignity.  

Our sour cynic above might suggest “Conner’” as an appropriate nickname. Indeed, that is what the “nutmegger” designation initially suggested. In the good old colonial days, nutmegger vendors from Connecticut were known to spike their loads of nutmeg with wooden nuts cunningly fashioned in the form of nutmegs, a well known and underappreciated con. Those folk from Connecticut, traders thought, were too clever by half. So long as the people of Connecticut were clever, the name stuck. It has long since gone out of fashion, as have other Connecticut designations: “the constitution state” and “the provision state”, so called because Connecticut was a provider of military wares to the fledgling government of the revolutionary republic.

Connecticut’s identity crisis, it should be noted, is of recent vintage. We have during the last three decades shed our historical identity as prudent and watchful guardians of the public purse. We have leveled the political playing field between Connecticut and contiguous states, New York and Massachusetts, by instituting an income tax, thus negating our political advantage as a tax haven and cost-conscious spender in New England. And we have lost a good deal of our bad-boy cleverness, except in the anarchical-sections of our cultural political barracks, where disruptive innovation is encouraged. Public school kindergarteners in once Puritan Connecticut may now enjoy in their classrooms the company of cross-dressing males. Pretty much all business activity in the state is encumbered with regulations and taxation, and we continue to pester with crippling and punishing regulations women’s health centers that will not allow abortionists to cross their lintels.

On the other hand, there are some enduring positives. We are still a small state, relatively speaking, and no politician can through legislation alter the state’s geographical location between Boston and New York. Despite the Connecticut’s rapid political change, we may still depend upon the four seasons visiting us at their appointed times. Even though all’s not right in the world, God is still in his Heaven and, as Otto von Bismarck used to say, “God has a special providence for fools, drunkards, and the United States of America.” Despite the reductionism of modern times, the state's motto still is "Qui Transtulit Sustinet" -- He Who Transplanted Still Sustains.



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