La Reine Misère (lareinemisere) wrote in linguaphiles,

US English usage question: "Upstate"

As a British English speaker, I've seen a lot of references to 'upstate New York' over the years, and had never bothered myself  too much about the precise definition, as it generally seemed fairly clear from context. And then, this week, I came across a reference to 'upstate Washington'.

So, I did a bit of Googling, and confirmed that my idea of what 'upstate' meant wasn't too far off. The first entry I found with a search for 'upstate definition', for example, was "of, in, or to a part of a state remote from its large cities, especially the northern part." I also came across more references to upstate New York in particular, which  appear to confirm that my (also British) friend in Rochester, NY, counts as living in upstate New York.

My question to US speakers of English is this:
Is the phrase 'upstate + [state name]' often (or ever?) used for states which don't share their name with a major American city?

[Edited for typo]
Tags: american english
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  • 26 comments

artkouros

February 3 2014, 13:06:30 UTC 2 months ago

It's never used in Texas. I've only ever heard it said about NY.

mamculuna

February 3 2014, 13:23:01 UTC 2 months ago Edited:  February 3 2014, 13:25:13 UTC

We use it in South Carolina with a different meaning. Here, the southeastern part of the state along the coast is called the Low Country, and the northwestern part is called the upstate, more with the sense of moving toward the mountains. One of the local campuses of the state university is called University of South Carolina Upstate.

rheasilvia

February 3 2014, 13:31:42 UTC 2 months ago

Sorry, but I can't help but respond to your icon:

...and #10 has been chosen by lot to be killed? *g*

hoyland54

February 3 2014, 13:38:03 UTC 2 months ago

Until someone mentioned South Carolina, I would have said no one says 'upstate [state]' for anywhere but New York (I've never heard it for Washington). There is 'outstate Minnesota' to refer to anything outside the major metropolitan area, but I seriously doubt anyone outside of Minnesota says it.

muckefuck

February 3 2014, 13:48:24 UTC 2 months ago

I was going to say that, here in Illinois, we have "downstate" but no "upstate", since the major metropolitan area (Chicago) is located in the north. But "upstate Illinois" gets 13,500 Ghits. Still, this is a tenth the number for "downstate Illinois".

blue_sky_day

February 3 2014, 13:54:30 UTC 2 months ago

I don't see it often, but recently I used "upstate Michigan" to communicate to someone out-of-state that I was talking about something outside Metro Detroit.

blue_sky_day

February 3 2014, 14:03:06 UTC 2 months ago

(Oh, and by the way, I love your icon.)

stacyinthecity

February 3 2014, 14:04:41 UTC 2 months ago

As far as I know, it is a NY thing, and if it is used elsewhere, my guess is that it is part of NY influence on the rest of the country.

As someone who used to live in Washington, "Upstate Washington" makes absolutely no sense to me. I live in Idaho now and sometimes say "Upstate Idaho" as a joke to refer to the northern skinny part of the state. I lived in NYC for almost 8 years.

tekiclutch

February 3 2014, 23:55:28 UTC 2 months ago

Just out of curiosity: is the skinny bit of Idaho seriously called a panhandle?

stacyinthecity

February 4 2014, 00:26:35 UTC 2 months ago

Yes, though I don't hear that very much. It is normally just northern Idaho.

Lots of states have panhandles. Alaska, Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, etc.

wasureneba

February 3 2014, 14:23:57 UTC 2 months ago

I'm an upstate NY transplant to CA and have definitely never heard it used for anything other than NY. We also have, of course, the corresponding "downstate" for Westchester/NYC/LI.

darchildre

February 3 2014, 14:31:53 UTC 2 months ago

When I lived in Delaware, I occasionally heard people refer to "upper" and "lower" Delaware, meaning northern and southern, but never "upstate".

I now live in Washington and hearing someone talk about "upstate" Washington seems really weird to me.

frenchroast

February 3 2014, 15:05:40 UTC 2 months ago

I can tell you it's never used in Alabama or Georgia. And like someone else said, until someone mentioned South Carolina, I would've said it's specific to New York. I think if/when "upstate" does get used outside of New York state, it's probably only used by residents in the state, and wouldn't be recognized by people out-of-state. Though it's obviously understandable to other people when used that way, it just sounds odd.

bluebirdbaby

February 3 2014, 15:10:08 UTC 2 months ago

I grew up in upstate NY and haven't heard it anywhere else. I have heard downstate in other locations - Illinois for example.

delacruz

February 3 2014, 16:08:24 UTC 2 months ago

Grew up in NYC and now live upstate. I've only heard it in reference to New York and always assumed that it was to distinguish everything above NYC since it's such a major hub and is what people generally think of when they hear NY.

dellaran

February 3 2014, 18:10:18 UTC 2 months ago

I'm from Georgia, but I spent a couple years in Syracuse, NY in graduate school. I noticed something odd about the use of "upstate" in New York: it always seemed to refer to parts of the state north and west of the speaker, wherever he/she might be. People from New York City, it seemed to me, would refer to Albany as "upstate", but to someone in Albany or Syracuse, only places like Watertown or Massena were "upstate". It didn't seem to be a pejorative term, but it was always clearly exclusionary; no one would say "here in upstate New York".

Also, Syracusans seemed to prefer "Central New York" to refer to their part of the state, and I think Buffalo residents often preferred "Western New York".

Maybe the use of "upstate" comes from the fact that both South Carolina and New York each have their demographic "center of gravity" on their coasts, and the rest of the state is upriver, and thus at higher elevation. I can't think of any other examples offhand, except maybe Louisiana?

phurbur

February 3 2014, 18:39:14 UTC 2 months ago Edited:  February 3 2014, 18:43:24 UTC

It's not too odd! People in NYC refer to anything above them as "upstate", as they consider themselves to be the hub of the state. The rest of NY generally view the state as a geographic whole, and therefore consider the Syracuse area to be "Central New York" and anything above that "Upstate". And of course, Buffalo is "Western".

HOWEVER, it's usually impossible to tell someone outside of NY that you are from "Central New York" or even "New York" without them assuming you're from the city, so I tend to use "Upstate" in conversation with non-NYers anyway.

muckefuck

February 3 2014, 20:43:13 UTC 2 months ago

An Illinois politician once remarked "The South always begins ten miles south of wherever you happen to be standing." For some people, "downstate" begins at Joliet. (For others, I'm sure Joliet is already "downstate"!)

dustthouart

2 months ago

fiddlingfrog

February 3 2014, 18:30:43 UTC 2 months ago

"Upstate New York" refers to different areas depending on what part of the state you're from. In NYC/Long Island area upstate refers to the rest of the state. If you're from Western New York, Buffalo for instance, upstate refers to everything north of the line from Syracuse to Albany.

coranglaisman

February 3 2014, 18:32:09 UTC 2 months ago

Originally from Washington (the state) and I have never heard anyone use "upstate" in reference to anything besides New York. Here in Minnesota, like mentioned above, there's "outstate" for places outside the Minneapolis-Saint Paul metro area, and there's also "up North" specifically for Northern Minnesota.

rirakkumiru

February 3 2014, 18:41:27 UTC 2 months ago

I'm from Arkansas and we definitely only use it for NY. Don't know about other places though. We use geological terms like "river valley area" or "the hills" to describe places in our state.

tekiclutch

February 3 2014, 23:56:33 UTC 2 months ago Edited:  February 3 2014, 23:56:54 UTC

I lived in Washington state most of my life - 'upstate' wouldn't be all that relevant to us. The east-west distinction is more important here than north-south.

mack_the_spoon

February 4 2014, 03:37:52 UTC 2 months ago

Another long-time Washington state resident who would find anyone using the word "upstate" for anything but NY very, very odd.

nagasvoice

February 4 2014, 08:36:54 UTC 2 months ago

As somebody who's lived several places along California and Oregon, I agree that "northern" would be used relative to wherever you are, but not "upstate."
If a tourist said the word "upstate" it would probably be understood, but it's not used by the locals.
Geography out here would be confusing on what the speaker meant by "up", which could refer to "map north" or to "uphill," as uphill means *eastward* into bigger, taller mountains such as the Sierra. I seem to recall hearing "upstate Washington" once or twice from news reporters who might have been New Yorkers adapting their term.

bunney

February 5 2014, 03:23:57 UTC 2 months ago

It's never used here in Indiana. We refer to the northern third of the state as, well, northern Indiana :D