Many years ago, when the creeks ran clear and deer roamed free in the wooded groves of downtown Springfield, I was leaving Lanphier Park after watching the Springfield Redbirds play a ball game. I ran into IT colleague Ruth Knack and her husband, Bill Knack. Baseball, as its fans will insist on telling you, is a game that invites or at least allows contemplation of deeper things. Bill proceeded to prove it. “We say ‘left fielder’ and ‘center fielder,’” he remarked. “Why not ‘Springfielder?’”
Why not indeed? Ask anyone who lives in the shadow of the Statehouse, “What do you call someone who lives in Springfield?” and she is going to say Springfieldian. Ask out-of-towners, including recent transplants to the capital, and you might be told, Springfielder.
That “-er” is the problem. “-er” is the most common way of ending a word for someone carrying out an action, while “-ian” is a word ending used to form nouns and modifiers that show something belongs to a group or place. An “-er” does, an “-ian” is. One is a librarian, not a libraryer; ditto a magician, a musician, a Christian, a politician, an electrician, a mathematician. Matt Holliday is the Cardinal left fielder during a game; were he to set up a tent and take up permanent residence there, as so many wish he could, he would have to be called a right fieldian.
That settles that – except it doesn’t. Barack Obama is a Hyde Parker, not a Hyde Parkian or (to be geographically more precise) a Kenwoodian and not a Kenwooder. I’ve never heard anyone locally called a Chathamian (although residents of that town’s English namesake do answer to that term); Chathamite is the preferred local term, even though it sounds like one of the naughty tribes from the Old Testament. Similarly, it is Decaturite and not Decaturian.
Residents of the United States have the same problem, even if most of us don’t realize it. “American,” is the most popular term denoting residents of the United States, but like most popular things it is suspect. It is inaccurate – all the people of all the nations of the Western Hemisphere are Americans – and because it appropriates a name that belongs to millions of others by right, it is arrogant. I am happy enough to identify myself as a “Yankee” in Britain, but my Southern-fried cousins wouldn’t be. “Usonian” and “United-Statesian” have been suggested as alternatives. “Usamerican” is good. I rather like “Usanian” too. I am told that some Canadians refer to us as “Staters.” At least they have a name for us. Ask most Usanians what one calls people who live in Canada and they will reply, “Where?”
Back to Springfield. You’d think the problem of accurately denoting residents of Springfield would be a matter of some moment to writers on Lincoln. Interestingly, such writers are the most consistent users of “Springfielder.” In 1996, Doug Finke quoted an unnamed Lincoln scholar who predicted (inaccurately) that the Abraham Lincoln Association would degenerate into nothing more than a “social organization among...Springfielders.” Here’s another example from a 2000 article by Allen C. Guelzo: “Herndon recollected that Springfielders tripped over each other to help and assist Lincoln.”
Lincoln biographer Michael Burlingame, at present at least a nominal Springfieldian thanks to his appointment in 2009 to the faculty of UIS, uses it too. One example from his Abraham Lincoln: A Life: “One Springfielder joked about Mrs. Lincoln’s ambition, speculating that if Lincoln died before inauguration day, she, like another Boadicea, will repair to the ‘White House’ and assume the reins of government!”
This is not merely an eccentricity of that guild, however. John O. Norquist, the soon-to-be-retired president and CEO of the Congress for a New Urbanism who graduated from Springfield High School in 1967, identified himself as “a former Springfielder” in a 2007 letter to the SJ-R.
Since I have one, I’ve always assumed that an education at SHS prepares you to be an expert in all fields, so Norquist’s use of “Springfielder” prompted a reappraisal of my own position. Then I remembered that the young Norquist was just passing through Springfield on his way to a career as (among other things) a 16-year mayor of Milwaukee and thus seeing things with blinkered eyes. I have seen Springfielder used in the Vermont and Oregon cities of that name. A newsletter for residents and businesses of Springfield, Mich., is titled “The Springfielder.” If you want to know what movies are playing or where to buy firewood in Springfield, Ohio, you click on http://springfielder.com/.
Me, I’m a teach-the-world-to-sing kinda guy, and in the future I intend to refer to folks who live in the Land of Shoppin’ as Springfieldiers. Or maybe Capital Citians. Or, better yet, Capitalists.
Contact James Krohe Jr. at KroJnr@gmail.com.