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Attention, Twin Cities residents: You live in Lesser Minnesota.

At least, that’s how Jim Conn sees it.

“Where did the terms ‘Outstate’ and ‘Greater Minnesota’ originate?” Conn wrote to Curious Minnesota, the Star Tribune’s community-driven reporting project that tackles questions readers want answered. “Where is ‘Instate’ and ‘Lesser Minnesota’ located?”

Conn, of Alexandria, Minn., said he’s been rankled for some time now about the terms often used to describe the parts of the state outside the Twin Cities metro area.

“The argument is emotional,” he said. “I’ve always been befuddled by the use of the term Greater Minnesota. I don’t really like the label. I can’t explain why.”

It’s a moniker that dates back more than a century. A search of Minnesota newspapers on newspapers.com found the first use of the term “Greater Minnesota” in the Minneapolis Sunday Tribune on Aug. 22, 1897.

A railroad company advertised train excursions to see “Greater Minnesota and Its Wonderland.” The wonderland in question was the Dalles of the St. Croix River, located all of 50 miles from downtown Minneapolis.

Over the years, the term caught on. In 1913, a group of newspaper editors held a gathering in the Bemidji area.

“The instruction gained in seeing Northern Minnesota — or we might call it Greater Minnesota — was invaluable,” the group’s leader told the Bemidji Pioneer.

During the first half of the 20th century, the phrase “Greater Minnesota” became widely used in promotions by business organizations throughout the state. One group, the Ten Thousand Lakes-Greater Minnesota Association was quite influential, its activities and statements covered by news media throughout the state.

The genesis of “outstate Minnesota” is more recent. The first reference was in a 1936 Minneapolis Tribune report on the Resorters golf tournament — ironically, held in Conn’s hometown of Alexandria. The runner-up, from Redwood Falls, was described as a “sterling performer of the outstate Minnesota golf.”

Many government agencies long ago adopted “Greater Minnesota” for their reports on the economy, natural resources and social issues, finding the term a useful way of distinguishing between the metro area and more rural parts of the state.

Just last week, for example, the Minnesota House of Representatives announced passage of a $30 million aid package for small businesses in “greater Minnesota.”

The Star Tribune’s style guide discourages the use of both “greater” and “outstate,” recommending that stories use more specific descriptions, such as, “The storms swept across the southern third of the state.”

But Conn has his own suggestion.

“People in Greater Minnesota,” he said with a chuckle, “would like you to start referring to other areas of the state as Lesser Minnesota.”

John Reinan • 612-673-7402

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