The States Mis-Stated

Published on Sunday, May 18, 2008 in , , , , ,

USAIt was a little over a year ago that I last focused on the states, so it's time to visit them again (so to speak).

During a recent speech in Oregon, US Presidential candidate Barack Obama recently made a newsworthy mistake when stating that there were 60 states total (57 visited states + 1 unvisited state + 2 states, Alaska and Hawaii, that won't be visited):

Also, when asked why he's losing to Hillary Clinton in Kentucky, this story mentions that Obama replied:

What it says is that I'm not very well known in that part of the country," Obama said. "Sen. Clinton, I think, is much better known, coming from a nearby state of Arkansas. So it's not surprising that she would have an advantage in some of those states in the middle.

Being an Illinois senator, you'd think he'd realize that not only is Illinois closer to Kentucky than Arkansas is, but that Illinois shares part of its border with Kentucky. Hopefully, this will not develop into a meme for him. Now, if you wish to make political hay over this, there's plenty of forums and sites that will let you comment on it (Any comments of a political nature here will not be posted).

My focus is on the fact that a mistake like this is surprisingly common. It might be the number of states, or forgetting the name of some of the states (much easier to do), but there a number of mistakes to be made about the states.

Not long before the above speech, Stacy Kate of the Hello...This Is Me blog had mentioned an episode of Friends I'd never seen or heard about. It was a Thanksgiving episode where Chandler challenges everyone to name all 50 states, and it becomes torture for Ross who can't remember all 50. It was called The One Where Chandler Doesn't Lie Dogs, and you can see it online, with Part 1 here and Part 2 here. Note that most of the characters miss one or two, and Joey gets 56!

Naturally, I'm always on the look out for ways to help others improve their memory about the states. One of my favorite tools for this has always been, of course, Wakko's 50 State Capitals song from Animaniacs (and even he makes a mistake at the end!).

A newer way to remember the states is the rather ingenious 50 States of Mind website. In the opening graphic, you can click on any state, and you'll see an unusual graphic in the shape of that state. While they are unusual, the graphics are mnemonics for facts about that state. For example, Pennslyvania is shown as a bag full of pens and pencils, with a star on the bag marking the capital, Harrisburg, and the store logo on the bag being from a company called William's Pens and Pencils, to help you remember Pennsylvania's founder, William Penn.

Some of the state pages, like the one for Colorado, have a starred button next to the state. If you roll your cursor over those stars, you will see a state map imposed over the graphic. At least there's no mistakes on this si . . . wait . . . the rollover graphic shows the correct capital, Denver, but the caption above the state says the capital is Boulder!

So far, these state links are proving to be good reason to double check your geography knowledge before presenting it.

As long as we're having fun with state mistakes, I'd like to wind up with a few of my favorites. The first one comes from a news story about the state of Georgia's first execution in 7 months. As it is now, there's nothing wrong with the story, but when it was originally posted, the story looked like this:

The included map, if you can't tell, is of the country of Georgia, not the US state.

Of course, if you're wondering why so many Americans have trouble with their geography skills, there's really only one person to ask – Lauren Caitlin Upton, better known as Miss South Carolina Teen USA 2007:

To be fair, she has played off her unfortunate fame from this in, what I think, is one of the smartest moves she could have made. She paired with People Magazine to create this interactive geography quiz. It's interesting to laugh at her goof one minute, then have her best you in geography knowledge the next.

So, how confident are you in your knowledge of all 52 states? (Yeah, I had to make at one mistake in this article on purpose.)

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