East is back (was: /or/ distinctions: TOUR)

Joseph Carson samizdata at EARTHLINK.NET
Sat Apr 15 07:57:31 UTC 2000

Peter A. McGraw wrote: "To a westerner, "out east" sounds really bizarre.
Except for "Down East," which I've always understood as a specific region and
its culturee rather than a direction, the only way to describe any place east of
the Mississippi (roughly) is "BACK east" (as opposed to "out here").  At some
point, of course--roughly the Mason-Dixon line, I suppose--"back east" gives way
to "down south." *

Speaking as a westerner (transplanted from Minnesota and now living in the SF
Bay Area) who hears "out east" used as often as "back east," and reports they
both sound about equally "natural" to me (but grant that some who came West from
the Bosnywash corridor along the Atlantic Coast take offense at the suggestion
that they might be "out"-side of anything, which by definition flies in the face
of Easterners' presumption of New England centrality which persists in spite of
the demographic realities of our ongoing westward shift in national population
trendlines, and out of habit still regard anything west of the Alleghenies as
"out," with the east representing the "back" not only of their personal
birthplaces, but also by implication of our collective memory as a nation.) For
all the rest of us who grew up elsewhere, though, saying "out east" for someone
who has lived there and returned home makes just as much sense, conversely, as
saying "back west" does for those from the "frontier" who are describing their
physical and psychic homeland to "Yankees" from states settled in the colonial
period. Usages change more slowly than the people who are using them do, but in
time the rough edges on expressions like "out east" and the less common yet
equally appropriate "back west" will smooth out, and no one will feel there were
ever any "archaisms" implied. - With warm regards, Joseph Carson

* On Fri, Apr 14, 2000, "Steve K." <stevek at SHORE.NET> wrote: "For a Michigander,
Boston is out east. "Down East" is, I believe, New Englandese--most of the DARE
quotes (but not all) are from New England sources. I actually haven't heard the
phrase since I've moved out here 3 years ago, either. - Steve K.

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