One word the language police should ban immediately is "upstate" -- and "downstate," too, which I've heard on local TV news. When I first heard upstate, I was in elementary school. Born and raised in New York, and having learned my state geography, I guessed that upstate referred to everything north of Albany.
I was surprised to learn later that it refers to practically everything north of greater New York City, or maybe north of some of its adjacent counties. I suspect the expression was coined by exceedingly provincial residents of "the city," another snobbish term that should be banned. It, too, is dismissive: "You know, up there north of us in some barbaric place where there are no cities."
Although about half of the population of New York resides in New York City, and half is dispersed throughout the remainder of the state, geographically upstate covers such vast territory as to be meaningless. Yet the term is a favorite of the media.
Recently, Katie Couric reported that Jason Dunham, recipient of the Medal of Honor, was from upstate New York. How about "from the town of Scio in Western New York?" The media can thus be a force for teaching geography to a geography-challenged nation. People can choose to educate themselves by consulting an atlas or remain ignorant.
California presents a similar problem. One hears about "southern" California and "northern" California, but is there a "central" California? My brother, who has lived in the state a good number of years, says yes. An acquaintance of his says that southern California ends at the San Gabriel Mountains. (Now is a good time to get out your atlas.) This area occupies about one quarter of California's land. My brother would include the upper one quarter area as northern and the remaining middle one-half of the state as central. I suspect that when people say southern California, they really mean Los Angeles, and when they say northern California, they mean San Francisco.
But back to New York. I've learned that some people don't seem to know that New York is a state. When I attended a workshop in Washington, D.C., several years ago, I met a woman from Connecticut who asked me if Grand Island was near A, B or C -- all locations in the extreme southern part of the state. When I told her Grand Island was about 420 miles west at the other end of the state between Buffalo and Niagara Falls, she simply looked baffled.
Similarly, while reading some literature on a northeast conference sponsored by a book publisher, I was shocked to see on a map showing conference locations that Rochester had been placed in Canada. New York City, however, was correctly situated. I'm sure there are people who, listening to Frank Sinatra's song, think "New York, New York" is a redundancy.
It's not enlightening to hear, for example, a report that someone is missing and presumed dead in upstate New York. Good luck to the police in finding the body.
Downstate seems to be a throw-up-your-hands-in-capitulation to upstate, and therefore legitimizes it.
In the interest of clarity, we could agree never to use the terms again, but there may be a more effective way to solve the problem. New York City could revert to an earlier name, New Amsterdam, and be declared the 51st state.