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Opinion >  Column

Paul Turner: Defending the ‘Empire’ against the ‘Northwest’

Maybe you think you have encountered intransigence.

Perhaps discussing the regulation of assault rifles with your heavily armed Uncle Bob gave you the impression you know what an unyielding position is. Or maybe you have lived in parts of the country where it’s said certain social attitudes will finally fade away only after a lot more funerals.

But I’m here to tell you. One need not leave Spokane to encounter a refusal to compromise.

At least that has been my experience since moving here 30 years ago. You see, there are good people in our midst who will go to their graves saying this is the Inland Empire, not the Inland Northwest.

Literally. Back in the spring of 2011, I alluded to a local guy who supposedly had indicated he wanted “Always Said ‘Inland Empire,’ Never ‘Inland Northwest’” on his headstone.

But I’ve been writing about this a lot longer than that. On Jan. 17, 1995, I asked in print when “Inland Northwest” would totally vanquish “Inland Empire” in the battle of the monikers.

Some of the answers were of the “When you pry my cold, dead tongue …” variety.

Others noted that the famous passenger train is called the Empire Builder, not the Northwest Builder.

That should have been a clue. But I used to think it would change. I believed “Empire” would give way in a peaceful transition to “Inland Northwest.”

I was wrong. I freely admit it. I no longer expect the “Empire” holdouts to give an inch. At least not in my lifetime.

As I have noted, they have declared this area a Place Name Redoubt.

That, despite there being a decent case to be made for “Inland Northwest.”

Let’s review.

Local desire to benefit from the cultural cachet of the word and image of “Northwest.”

A wish to avoid confusion with the more populous “Inland Empire” east of Los Angeles.

A sense in some quarters that, as a regional nickname, the old label sounded like silly boosterism and had a whiff of snake oil about it.

Also, as has been noted before, West Siders’ longtime fondness for “Ingrown Empire” might have played a small role.

Here’s the thing, though.

There is tradition. The practice of describing our area as the Inland Empire goes back more than 100 years.

S-R reader Greg Staples, a dedicated Empire man, noted that the Spokane and Inland Empire Railroad Company incorporated in 1904.

“I’m sure The Spokesman-Review archives would provide a rich history of the use of the ‘Inland Empire’ to mean HERE. Not some God-forsaken desert.”

Which brings up another point.

There are those in the Spokane area who have issues with California and Californians.

No need to raise your hand. And certainly it’s not a universal attitude.

But the notion of relinquishing the right to call our area the Inland Empire because the Californians using that expression outnumber us is, well, a bitter pill for some to swallow.

So here’s what I suspect is going to happen.

As years go by, fewer and fewer area residents will say “Inland Empire.” To many ears, it will continue to sound like an anachronism.

Most will go with “Inland Northwest” or something else cooked up by Spokane tourism promoters.

But always, there will be some who prefer “Empire.”

The Empire always strikes back.

Because that’s what their grandparents used to say.

Because that’s what their parents used to say.

Because that is what this special place was called, and is called (by some).

Sometimes, when you hear an old-timer advocate the use of “Empire,” it’s almost as if you are hearing Winston Churchill’s “We will defend our island” speech.

We will defend our Empire.

Whatever the cost may be.

Some hear “Empire” and think of a different time, a different West.

Some hear it and think of home.

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