Those of us who live in Colorado have somewhat of an identity crisis. We know where we live: Colorado. We probably know why we live here, and those reasons are too varied to put at the end of a sentence. But we may not know what to call ourselves.
Some of us think we are Coloradans. But others, including the newspaper from Fort Collins, believe us to be Coloradoans. This seems to be the minority variant (although favored by Wikipedia, which is always accurate), but it’s a debate unsettled in 160 years.
[Why, I have just realized that 2019 is the 160th anniversary of the white discovery of gold in Cherry Creek, which touched off the rush of 1859, 10 years after the more famous California gold rush. It’s what brought the city of Denver into being and laid the groundwork for entry into statehood in 1876. Happy anniversary, us! Although this might not be celebrated with such joy by the Arapaho and Ute peoples.]
We can’t even agree on a nickname. We generally think of ourselves as “The Centennial State,” for achieving statehood 100 years after the Declaration of Independence, but when I was a kid (a long, long time ago), there were still a lot of references to us as “The Silver State,” although I really think that better suits Nevada. And, lest you get confused, “gold in them thar hills” is what brought white people on the run to Colorado, but they stayed for the silver. And lead. And molybdenum. We have a lot of rocks, and rocks beget minerals.
There’s also “Colorful Colorado,” which could get us to yet another point of contention: what does colorado even mean? Schoolkids learn that it’s Spanish for “red” or “color red,” but that doesn’t explain why if you ask a Spanish-speaking native what color that is they will answer “Rojas.” (Correct pronunciation: ro-hahss.) Or maybe “rojo.” Either way, it doesn’t sound much like “Colorado.”
If you try a quick internet search for a definitive answer, the “quick” part fails you. And if you try to find the column you’re sure you once read by the inestimable Ed Quillen about this very subject, well, good luck — the man was way too prolific and you would have to remember a lot more about what he said to whittle your search down.
So, falling back on the internet, we get a notion that “colorado” is nuanced, like it might mean “red” in the sense of your face turning that color during a blush, or maybe it means “off-color” like some jokes. My last effort got to “ruddy or reddish” . . . short of finding Ed Quillen’s thoughts on the matter, which I always take to be definitive, we’re going to have to go with: no one can really explain it.
At least we can agree on the pronunciation. Wait, what?
I do recall my fourth-grade social studies book — because back then, and maybe still today, fourth grade is when you study all about your state — assuring us readers that if you wanted to sound like a native, you said Colo-RAH-do, but I don’t really know too many state natives who say it that way. A lot of visitors from the South do pronounce it like that, but who in their right mind in Colorado would want to sound like a Texan?
At Pat’s Screen Printing, we sell souvenir shirts that say Colo-“RAD”-o, because it’s such a rad place, and that’s my pronunciation of choice: col-uh-rad-oh. I freely admit that this is not a particularly Spanish version of a Spanish word, and maybe that’s what my fourth-grade textbook was going for, but it still doesn’t sound particularly Spanish when a Texan says it, either.
Which brings us to — and I’ll bet you didn’t see this coming — the Democrats’ 2020 presidential race.
Colorado has two horses and counting in this race, which boasts a field broader than any you’ve seen for any Kentucky Derby, ever. (Quick research says 23 Derby horses in 1974.)
The first Coloradan (let’s just go with that) to enter was John Hickenlooper, former mayor of Denver and fresh off eight years as governor. His name, while a bit quirky, is not hard to pronounce, just long: Hick-en-loop-er. While he jumped into the race fairly early, he seems to have come off as quirkily as his name, and I am not holding out much hope for his campaign.
This former oilman-turned-brewer, who used to like to drink fracking fluid to show the rest of us just how safe it is, stumbled in an early interview when he was asked about capitalism, unable to decide if he was capitalist or socialist. On another stage he veered into complete weirdness by volunteering, apparently at no one’s request, a story about how he took his mother to the movie Deep Throat, not realizing it was porn. He amplified his weirdness by further confiding that they remained at the movie through its conclusion.
So there’s that, and then there’s our current senator Michael Bennett, also easy to pronounce. While his name had been mentioned in previous years as a possibility, because of his moderate political stances and ability to craft bi-partisan legislation, he waited until the current race had devolved to the any-white-boy-can-grow-up-to-be-president-so-why-don’t-I-run place it is now.
I’m not sure any media outlet other than Denver stations took note of Bennett’s announcement of entry into the presidential race, and even they gave it relatively short shrift. If I were him, which clearly I’m not, particularly on the heels of a cancer scare, I would just stay in my senate seat for the next five years and avoid the ignominy of anonymity at the back of the packed presidential pack.
There are some candidates in the crowded field with pronouncements of a difficult nature, many of whom seem to stand a better chance at gaining the nomination than Messrs. Hickenlooper and Bennett. For instance, it’s Betto, not Bay-to like I thought when I first read it. Buttigieg is much, much harder: you have to take a run from the first vowel, which is “oo” rather than “uh,” and I’m still not sure I’ve been given a clear pronunciation: I’ve seen Boot-edge-edge or Boo-ti-judge. But this is not the name giving me the most fits.
No, that honor belongs to Senator Harris of California, who, despite her non-white, non-male status seems to be the odds-on-favorite at the Washington Post. I even heard her say her first name last night, and yet I still feel adrift: is it KAM-e-la? Like Pamela? Kahm-a-la? Kuh-MAH-lah?
I guess I don’t have to get too worked up over anyone’s pronouncement yet, since since early primaries are still a human pregnancy away. And, since white men are still tumbling into the fray at the rate of one or two a week, we don’t even know how many choices there will be.
But I’m kind of with Christine Emba, a columnist for the Post who suggested many of these candidates could serve their agenda better in places other than the presidency: Senator Bennett ought to stay put and save himself the expense and footnote of historical embarrassment of a failed run for president. He already has a job where he can attempt to effect change.
It’s a little tougher for Hickenlooper, having exhausted many prominent positions in the state. But current money feels Cory Gardner is vulnerable in his re-run for the U.S. Senate next year. We here in Colorado seem like we value quirky — at least in the form of the many-times-elected Hickenlooper — so he might stand a better chance of some win if all his voters hail from Colorado. Although I don’t know about that self-told Deep Throat story.
The advice for both men is the same: no matter how you pronounce it, you ought to rather be in Colorado.