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'heartland' -- A Mystical, Culturally Diverse Area

Curiosities: We Ask The Experts Your Questions About Our World.

Wisconsin State Journal :: LOCAL :: B1

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Q: Where did the term heartland' come from? What part of the country does it refer to?

A: Linguists usually don't have a precise answer to when or how a particular word was created, but "heartland" is an exception, says Joseph Salmons, a UW-Madison German professor and co-director of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures.

Sources agree it was coined in 1904 by British geographer Sir Halford Mackinder, Salmons says.

Mackinder used it with negative connotations to describe the north-central interior of Eurasia, an area he saw as a threat to the west.

The neutral meaning of "central area" has generalized to regions around the world. It now has a positive association in the Midwest.

"There's no simple answer on what specific region is considered the heartland,'" Salmons adds. "Geographers often note that regions are socially constructed,' and boundaries are always fuzzy."

The preface to Timothy Frazer's book, "Heartland' English: Variation and Transition in the American Midwest," notes how popular culture uses the word to paint the Midwest as "an interior Eden, unglamorous but home to simple virtues."

Frazer laments that this propaganda belies a very complex and culturally diverse region, "seen by many only from thirty thousand feet as they jet from one coast to another."

Frazer's final word on the heartland?

"It describes a place that does not exist, save in the popular imagination."

-- Produced in cooperation with University Communications