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West, not western, and other necessary corrections

By Staff | Nov 23, 2009

I’m really surprised that West Virginians aren’t a surly bunch of malcontents. Considering all the snarky one-liners we have to endure from people when they find out where we’re from, it sometimes seems like we’d all be best staying within our borders (and they might like it better too).

But we can’t. I myself work in Maryland and strain my eyes rolling them so frequently. So I thought you might indulge me as I review some frustrating stereotypes for the benefit of the poorly informed who live elsewhere.

We all have an irredeemable twang in our voice —Many West Virginians do have a regional flair in the way they speak and spin phrases—and it’s great. It adds a lot to our cultural patchwork. And you know what? Go miles and miles in any direction beyond our borders and you’ll find the same thing. Go to New England (a lovely place, mind you) and listen to the peculiar argle-bargle rolling out of people’s mouths there. It’s all a matter of dialect and should never be used as some sort of educational barometer. I couldn’t say “ya’ll” if my life depended on it, but many West Virginians can, and who cares.

We’re all hillbillies and love being called that —OK, a “billy” is an amiable person, therefore a hillbilly is a amiable person living in the hills. But it’s really a dismissive label that implies West Virginians should work a little harder to master the intricacies of indoor plumbing and book readin’. At worst, it’s a socially acceptable slur. At the very least it’s a loaded term, so don’t make the assumption that it’s folksy and cute. West Virginians can be from the state and love it very much without reducing themselves to crass characterizations.

West Virginia is a red state —It’s red, it’s blue… It’s a great big purple blob in a state of flux. As our economy and local culture shift, so too do our political tastes. This whole red state/blue state business is a national media sensation, and we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be labeled so shallowly by those who would otherwise just refer to us as a “flyover” state. West Virginia’s electoral votes have gone to Republican presidential candidates in the last few elections, but hey—our governor’s a Democrat and so are both U.S. Senators and two out of three Representatives. West Virginia has a long history of traditional values and progressivism; they don’t take turns each election cycle.

West Virginia is a southern state —It’s a fluke of our geography, but the state doesn’t seem to go in any particular direction. Ask someone in Wheeling and they’ll tell you the state has a northern feel, then go south to Bluefield and hear the opposite. The Eastern Panhandle’s been invaded by metro DC and barely notices much in common with the Ohio River Valley. West Virginians should delight in being so geographically indeterminate. It’s given our state a great deal of cultural and historical diversity.

Actually, we aren’t really a state at all —This isn’t a stereotype so much as a wild misconception. How often do you tell someone you’re from West Virginia and immediately get asked how close you are to their family in Richmond? If West Virginia deals with an overall negative reputation among other states, it would probably help to get everyone else to recognize that it’s West Virginia the state, not West Virginia the western part of Virginia. Maybe it’s not even us. Maybe no one can tell the difference between the noun “west” and the adjective “western.” Maybe there’s a conspiracy among cartographers and English teachers. But we went through a pretty big war to get here, and that must count for something.

Contact Mike at letters@graffitiwv.com