In the May 11 issue of this year's New Yorker, the ever-excellent Atul Gawande wrote (emphasis mine):

Among those which caught my eye: a British case report on the first 3-D-printed hip implanted in a human being, a Canadian analysis of the rising volume of emergency-room visits by children who have ingested magnets, and a Colorado study finding that the percentage of fatal motor-vehicle accidents involving marijuana had doubled since its commercial distribution became legal.

British and Canadian (as opposed to Britain or Canada) match, but why isn't an adjective (Coloradan, Coloradoan) used instead of Colorado? I'll admit it sounds correct this way, but was he (and the copy-editors) wrong to leave it as is?

  • 2
    You're right: Colorado's demonym is either Coloradan or Coloradoan. You're also right that it sounds correct as Colorado. I imagine they opted for style and readability over grammatical correctness — so they're both right and wrong. Jul 24, 2015 at 20:08
  • 1
    @Jack Regier I imagine they opted for style and readability as well as grammatical correctness. Jul 24, 2015 at 20:33
  • 1
    Relevant: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_demonyms_for_U.S._states
    – Exal
    Jul 24, 2015 at 21:00
  • 1
    @HotLicks The fact that some states have demonyms (Californian) and others don't (Idaho) is perhaps unsurprising. Similarly the counties of Great Britain follow no regular pattern either. One hears Cumbrian, Northumbrian, Kentish, Lancastrian(sometimes), used. After those I am struggling to think of any others which have demonyms.
    – WS2
    Jul 24, 2015 at 21:30
  • 3
    @LittleEva - Donald Trump was born in Mexico. His birth certificate is a fake. (He's actually Joe Arpaio's brother -- also born in Mexico.)
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 25, 2015 at 12:03

3 Answers 3


Objectively, the inconsistency between rendering national proper names as adjectives (British and Canadian) and using a state proper name (Colorado) as is in the same syntactical position is difficult to justify. But in the United States, there is a very strong tendency to reserve use of the adjective form of a state name for situations specifically ivolving inhabitants of the state and to use the state name itself as the adjective form in most other situations.

So, for example, you have Kentuckian, North Carolinian, Texan, and New Yorker as noun and adjective forms referring to denizens of four states, but you have Kentucky barbecue, Carolina barbecue, Texas barbecue and—well, New York doesn't have a legitimate barbecue style of its own, as far as I know.

A "Colorado study" implies "a study conducted in Colorado and/or under the auspices of the Colorado state government," whereas (to me, at least) "a Coloradoan study" implies "a study conducted by or of citizens or inhabitants of Colorado." Consistent with this usage, New Yorkers could conduct a Colorado study if they did the research or published the results in Colorado, but they couldn't conduct a Coloradoan study unless the study focused entirely on subjects who were Coloradoans. Similarly, a "Texas gathering" refers in general parlance to a gathering in Texas, but a "Texan gathering"—unless explicitly defined otherwise—is likely to be understood to mean a gathering of Texans, in the state or outside it.

I don't know how this handling of state names as adjectives came about, but I would guess that it arose in part as a reaction to the large number of state names involved and to the awkwardness of coming up with appropriate adjective forms for each one ("Mainer"? "Delawarean"? "New Hampshireite"?) at the drop of a hat. The same goes for city names as adjectives: it is much simpler to refer in passing to "a Terre Haute specialty" or "a Kalamazoo restaurant" than to try to figure out a suitable adjective form of the proper noun.

In any event, I think that Atul Gawande and the editorial staff at The New Yorker handled all three adjectives sensibly and (judged in terms of normal U.S. usage) correctly.

  • 4
    You do have New York cheesecake, the alternative to which is Italian cheesecake. Jul 24, 2015 at 22:31

Exal's useful reference to Wikipedia gives us a big clue:

[Demonyms are] unofficial terms used to designate the citizens of specific states and the District of Columbia.

A demonyn refers to a citizen of the state, which is distinct from the report's origin in Colorado. Although the report might have been produced by one or more Coloradans, the report itself is not a citizen of the Rocky Mountain state.

Also, it's worth remembering that The New Yorker prides itself on editorial perfection, so much so that they are the only publication that can afford to poke fun at errors in other periodicals. Their copy editing and fact checking is profound and thorough. I'm not saying they never make mistakes, but you're not likely to find one.

  • 1
    By the way, although British is the adjective form of Britain, a resident of that island is a Briton. Jul 24, 2015 at 21:27
  • As this NGram illustrates, there has been a decline over 200 years in use of the term Briton. Brit shows a steep decline since the 1960s. So what do we call ourselves? Perhaps, in the same way that we alone are exempt by postal convention from having to include the name of our country on our postage stamps, we call ourselves nothing, on the basis that we are unique and distinct.
    – WS2
    Jul 24, 2015 at 23:34
  • Well, they certainly pull off the diaeresis in a way that no one else can
    – Amory
    Jul 25, 2015 at 22:33
  • Also, I love Mary Norris: newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-curse-of-the-diaeresis
    – Amory
    Jul 25, 2015 at 22:35

According to Marriam-Webster's dictionary, Coloradan and Coloradoan are both real words.

Despite this, nouns can still be used as adjectives. So, it would be up to personal preference whether to use the noun or the adjective.

  • 1
    But there are restrictions. A '... Britain case report on the first 3-D-printed hip implanted in a human being' is unacceptable. Jul 24, 2015 at 20:52
  • That dictionary entry is for Colorado, not Coloradan. And I think these words would generally be used to refer to residents (e.g. He's a Coloradan), not as a more general adjective.
    – Barmar
    Jul 24, 2015 at 21:02
  • @Barmar At the bottom of the 4th definition, it says both words followed by adjective or noun. That is what I was looking at. Jul 24, 2015 at 21:08
  • Oops, my search of the page didn't find them because of the hyphens. But I still think they would primarily be used to qualify residents, not more generally.
    – Barmar
    Jul 24, 2015 at 21:12
  • @Barmar Well, it doesn't even mention citizens of the state; it only mentions the state, so IDK. Jul 24, 2015 at 21:15

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.