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“Missourah” and “Missouree” by the numbers in Nixon's state of the state address

2011 State of the State Address
File Photo

A notorious flip-flopper in the age-old "Missourah"/"Missouri" debate, democratic Governor Jay Nixon has been known to switch from one to the other in a single sentence.  In speeches, he tends to favor "Missourah."  At this year's State of the State address, he leaned on "Missourah" 1.7 times for each "Missouri."

It's a marked decline from last year, when "Missourah" outnumbered "Missouri" by more than a 3-to-1 margin. 

The numbers come from management consultant Casey Millburg.  In an unscientific (but probably pretty accurate) survey, Millburg tallied up all the "Missourahs" and "Missouris" in Nixon's speech on Monday.  Millburg is a self proclaimed "speech junkie" and told me that her interest in the pronunciation debate was merely casual: "I'm from Illinois," she said, "and there's only one way to pronounce Illinois."  

We can't pretend to know for sure what Nixon's flip-flop means, if anything at all.  But it's worth thinking about, if you consider the "Missourah" tag as a nod to the more rural, republican leaning districts in the state.  Of course, some have argued that "Missourah" covers just about anywhere that's not St. Louis.  And some think the semantic debate exaggerates the geographical divide (suggesting, perhaps, that Missourah is more a state of mind?).  

The old debate was brought up again--though certainly not laid to rest--in this recent New York Times story.  The Times suggested that the pronunciation is part of reaching a wider, perhaps more rural, constituency:

"The debate serves as a low-stakes case study for the age-old art of political pandering — that alternately endearing and condescending process of cultivating the “just like you” appeal that remains a central part of running for office. Other linguistic examples include presidential candidates dropping g’s before Southern audiences or changing the cadence of their speech before black audiences."

Could it be that by reducing his "Missourah" usage so heavily this year, Nixon signals a shift to his urban base?  In this year's address, Nixon dwelled for eight minutes on Medicaid expansion and drove a hard line on ethics reform--both issues that will make him no friends in the Republican controlled house and senate.  Could it be that like President Obama's inauguration speech, Nixon signals an end to conciliatory "reaching across the aisle" politics, and prepares us for an aggressive, agenda-driven year?  

Or maybe it's just potato/potahto.  What do you think?  Let us know in the comments!