I lucked out when I landed in Anaconda, Mont. I didn’t have to tell my friends I was a Helen or a Malted. I became an Anacondan.
Newspaper folks like to find shortcuts when writing news stories, and one of the best ones around is the ability to describe the people in a town with a single word. Thus, instead of having to write "the residents of Anaconda," we at the paper I used to put out could just scribble "Anacondans," a savings of three words, though it does conjure up a hungry snake.
They aren’t so lucky in other places in Montana.
The residents of Helena, for instance, are referred to as Helenans, which is not only unpronounceable, but makes the residents of Helena sound like members of one of the barbarian tribes that sacked Rome. Add in some Missoulians, and you could probably state that "the Goths, Vandals, Helenans and Missoulians overran ancient Rome" without anyone blinking an eye.
The only thing I can come up with to solve the Helenan problem is to call the residents of the Capital City Helens, which comes with some problems of its own. But it gets worse.
Consider the plight of our friends in Whitefish, Mont. They could be called Whitefishermen, but that cuts Whitefisherwomen out of the picture. Angler is commonly used instead of fishermen because it is a "gender-neutral word," that leaves room for men, women and gender-bendable. But "White-anglers" sounds too silly, and it might run afoul of the politically correct police when used to refer to a town full of folks of various shades (though it is true that most are white).
Just down the road in Butte there is a less politically sensitive situation. Calling everyone in Butte a Butte-ician would be a stylish way to go, although it might make a little hair fly when used as a snide label by, say, a Helen. Then we have a whole list of Montana town names that don’t lend themselves to shorthand.
Malta? Are they Malteds or Maltans? Hopefully neither.
Billings? Billers? Not even close.
Great Falls? Great Fallers? I wouldn’t know for sure, but I doubt it.
Dillon? They would have to be Marshall Dillons, wouldn’t they? Then we have Glendivers, Kalispell-ringers, and Bozemen and Bozewomen living in Bozeman.
Rocker, on the other hand, presents some interesting possibilities. Rockettes just might work, since I’ve been told there is a honky tonk in Rocker that features the dancing of scantily clad women. Right about now, some folks might be asking why this guy spends so much time even thinking about, much less worrying about, the names of towns in Montana. That’s a good question, and I have a good answer.
I happen to have spent my impressionable teenage years in a small, western Colorado town named Basalt. The most charitable and most recent nickname for folks in Basalt is to label them Basaltines, which isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But when I was growing up, the folks from neighboring towns would look down their pointy little noses and declare that I was a Ba-splatter.
Obviously, I have remained somewhat stained by the experience. Not long ago, I moved to Bishop, Calif., which might make me virtuous by association. Residents don’t seem to be called Bishoppers, perhaps because there aren’t that many places to shop, and nobody seems to prefer traveling on the diagonal, and Bishoprics carries some Catholic baggage.
I don’t seem constituted to touch down at any place for long. Maybe my next stop in California could be another town with a religious resonance — Mecca — though tiny Rough and Ready arouses my investigative bent. Rough and ready for what? Maybe I’ll move there, upping the population by one to 141, and find out.
Jon Klusmire is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado. The former editor of The Anaconda Leader in Montana, he lives now in Bishop, California.
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