The hidden lies behind 5 state slogans

State slogans range from official Latin mottos to long-lasting tourist campaigns, and every state has at least a couple. But just because slogans are famous doesn’t mean they’re true. These five famous slogans are a shade misleading or misunderstood—and that makes them more interesting.

1. Virginia: Virginia is for Lovers

Virginia Is For Lovers

The Lie: The slogan is about honeymooners and romantics.

The Truth: It’s actually about people who love stuff (like history).

The slogan Virginia Is For Lovers is one of the most successful ever, and it continues to be used 45 years after it was created. Part of the appeal is the kitschy, slightly risqué idea of a state appealing to lovers. The only problem is that it’s not meant to be used that way at all.

The state’s tourism site has the full story. In 1969, copywriter Robin McLaughlin proposed a tagline that played off a Lovers theme. For a beach ad, it would read “Virginia is for beach lovers,” while for a historical attraction ad it might say, “Virginia is for history lovers.” The approach would extend to all of Virginia’s attractions. Later, higher-ups shortened it to “Virginia is for Lovers.”

Virginia hasn’t shied away from the more romantic interpretation of its slogan—the first ad using it debuted in Modern Bride. However, the state’s brand style guide sticks to the original, general love rather than the popular romantic version. It explicitly says not to use “Virginia Is For Lovers” in conjunction with romance. Meanwhile, the “Virginia is for history lovers” and “Virginia is for wine lovers” versions are still OK. That’s probably news to most lovers who’ve seen the slogan.

2. Texas: Don’t mess with Texas

Don't Mess With Texas

The Lie: The slogan is all about how tough Texans are.

The Truth: The slogan is about not making a mess.

Don’t Mess With Texas has become a catchphrase for tough Texans, but it isn’t about rugged independence in the lone star state. In fact, it’s about littering.

The Texas Department of Transportation began using the slogan in 1985 as part of an anti-littering campaign. According to CNN, admen Mike Blair and Tim McClure came up with it to appeal to “bubbas in pickup trucks.” The campaign is widely credited with reducing litter in the state.

It quickly took on a meaning beyond litter, of course. The Texas Department of Transportation doesn’t mind—they have a trademark on the slogan and make a commission off every piece of merchandise sold.

3. Minnesota: The Land of 10,000 Lakes

The Land of 10,000 Lakes

The Lie: Minnesota has 10,000 lakes and the most of any state.

The Truth: They have more than 10,000 (but not the most of any state).

Minnesota has a lot of lakes. But the 10,000 number is a marketing fiction. 11,842 lakes In Minnesota have been counted. But that’s just the beginning, because other states should hold the lake title.

Alaska has three million lakes (yes, 3 million), Wisconsin has 15,000 lakes, and Michigan has 62,000 lakes, at least 26,000 of which are larger than an acre. Disputes about the definition of a lake may shift the contiguous U.S. title between Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, but Alaska is definitely the overall winner, despite Minnesota’s slogan.

4. Georgia: Georgia On My Mind

Georgia On My Mind

The Lie: It’s from the Ray Charles song about the state.

The Truth: Before Ray sang it, it was a Hoagy Carmichael song about a person.

Georgia On My Mind is such a classic standard that the state adopted it for a slogan. While most of us are familiar with the Ray Charles version, it was actually written by Hoagy Carmichael and Stuart Gorrell. And it may not have been about the state at all.

If you listen to the lyrics, it’s clear the song could be about a state or a woman—they’re ambiguous. And it doesn’t hurt that Stuart Gorrell’s lyrics—the only lyrics he ever wrote—work well with Hoagy’s sister, Georgia Carmichael. Even if the song was about the state instead of the girl, Gorrell and Carmichael weren’t authentic Georgia boys like Georgia-born Ray Charles. They were both born and raised in Indiana, and the song was written at a party in Jackson Heights, Queens.

5. North Carolina: First in Flight/Ohio: Birthplace of Aviation

North Carolina Vs. Ohio

The Lie: One of these states was first to fly.

The Truth: Connecticut may have beat them to it.

The dueling slogans of North Carolina and Ohio mean one of the states is wrong. The debate centers on whether unpowered or powered flight should count as first (along with a few other quibbles). If you take the side of one state, the other must be wrong. But there’s a chance that neither can claim the title.

In 1901, Gustave Whitehead may have flown for a half-mile, two years before the Wright brothers. Gustave wasn’t in Ohio or North Carolina—he was in Connecticut. The claim is far from settled, and many historians take the side of the Wright brothers. Regardless, either North Carolina or Ohio has a slogan they shouldn’t use, and if Gustave Whitehead flew first, both states are overstepping history.

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