In Minnesota we have an epic “rural-urban” divide. Most epic about it is the degree to which it is oversimplified. Our “rural” area is incredibly diverse. A big chunk of it consists of a gazillion acres of corn, and among the corn, the farmsteads and small villages that serve the corn. A somewhat larger area consists of a the very large wet spot left behind by the receding glaciers, also known as the “lakes region” but that is more marsh than lake, and within which we find a gazillion “cabins” ranging in size and fanciness from actual cabin to small castle. I would include in this zone the large state and national parks and preserves and other lands, and good portions of Native American lands. A somewhat smaller area is the mining zone which some call “the range” (but there are many “ranges” and even rangers are usually not in agreement on the exact geography, and by the way, this is not a mountain range … no mountains at all.)
Now, here’s the thing. The above paragraph will enrage many. Others will not be so enraged but they will quietly pull me aside and explain how everything I just said is wrong. Why? I don’t know. Third base!
What about the urban side of the divide? Non city folks use terms like “the inner city” to describe the urban zone, but not one person who lives there ever uses that term. Sometimes, “downtown” which actually only refers to a tiny portion of the urban zone. And of course, all this forgets the suburbs. Which, in Minnesota, are very very urban. Except the very rural suburbs.
All this is to say that we have problems in Minnesota understanding our own geography, and we we tend to get mad about the terms people use. One of those terms, that was used for years to refer to the parts of Minnesota that were not the “Twin Cities” urban and suburban zone, is “Out State.” I myself come from “Upstate” (New York) and we were proud of our Upness. But in Minnesota, rural folks decided that “Out State” is insulting. Why? One reason: It was a term adopted by urban people.
Anyway, the way to fix this has been to use the term “Greater Minnesota.” I suppose this is supposed to be ironic. Instead of the deeply insulting term “out” we shall use the equally insulting term “greater” but where the insult is punching up. Which of course is an admission by the purveyors of this term that the urban zone is superior to the rural zone, otherwise it would be punching down.
A stupid irony wrapped in ironic stupidity.
But even worse is the actual meaning of the word “greater” in the term “Greater wherever.” Here in Minnesota, “greater” is meant to mean the parts of Minnesota that are, well, within Minnesota but not part of the downtown-inner city aka where non white people are numerous. But that is an entirely new use of the word. Normally, and in many other cases, “greater” means something entirely different. And, I can’t find any exceptions.
Greater X, where X is a place, means X proper PLUS a larger region outside of X.
In ancient world studies and archaeology, “greater” usually means the maximally delineated zone some major power has occupied or colonized at various times in the past, the sort of high water mark of some huge power. Greater Egypt, or Greater Syria. Here for example is a map I found on the Internet of Greater Syria:
When people ask, I sometimes say that I lived in Boston. But everyone who has ever “lived in Boston” knows that almost nobody actually lives in Boston. They live in the “GBA” aka the Greater Boston Area. About a half a million people live in Boston Proper (where proper means more than one thing) while about 5 million people live in Greater Boston. Like this, which is only
a slight exaggeration:
And, of course, Greater New York (city) aka the Greater Metro:
You know what I’m talking about. Roughly half of Americans live in a Greater This or That and many use that term.
So, what gives, Minnesota? Did you not know that? Probably not. I don’t hear “Greater Twin Cities” or similar terms here. I think Minnesotans think they thought this up from scratch, and don’t know that they have bumped into a terminological realty that already exists, and stepped on its toes.
Or, maybe, they have big plans. Maybe I’m misunderstanding. Maybe, someday, historians will be using the term “Greater Minnesota” to mean something like this:
That would be great!