Don’t Call Utahns Utahans!

Conservative group’s attack on Orrin Hatch as out-of-touch backfires with obscure misspelling.

In a combative column for Politico today, the CEO of the ultraconservative group FreedomWorks, Matt Kibbe, made the case against Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, who his organization is spending heavily to beat in the Republican primary — arguing that the politician’s long Washington career has put him out of touch with his constituents’ concerns.

Kibbe’s rallying cry: “Utahans are calling his bluff.”

One problem, though: As one particularly valiant Twitter crusader has pointed out, residents of Utah don’t refer to themselves as “Utahans” with the extra -uh syllable. They almost universally prefer “Utahns.”

It’s actually a rather touchy subject among the state’s more literate denizens, as evidenced by this 1993 rant published in Salt Lake City’s Deseret News.

A customer support representative from WordPerfect called us to comment on last week’s write-up on an Esquire article. The magazine called residents of the state “Utahans.” We said Esquire had it wrong.Even WordPerfect’s spell checker lists it as “Utahans,” the caller said.

We decided to join the latest Utahn vs. Utahan battle by taking the matter straight to the top. We called the governor’s office.

According to legal counsel Robin Riggs, there is no law defining what a person from Utah is called; it’s just a matter of tradition. And, the tradition is Utahn, Riggs said.

We went to another expert - Susan Hermance, assistant copy chief at the Deseret News. It’s Utahns, she said. Why? “That’s just the way we’ve always done it. It’s easier to pronounce. Utahans is a mouthful.

“I’ve never seen it the other way except in obscure things that don’t come out of Utah,” Hermance said.

Yeah, like Esquire.

At least one Hatch supporter in Utah has spent the afternoon taking advantage of Kibbe’s outsider’s spelling to prove that he’s a “carpetbagger.” And apparently Hatch’s staff thinks the point is valid: the second Tweet in the list below earned an RT from the Senator’s press secretary, Matt Harakal.

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