Pennsyltucky is a slang portmanteau of the state names Pennsylvania and Kentucky. It is used to characterize—usually humorously, but sometimes deprecatingly—the rural part of the U.S. state of Pennsylvania outside the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia metropolitan areas, more specifically applied to the local people and culture of its mountainous central Appalachian region.

The term is used more generally to refer to the Appalachian region, particularly its central core, which runs from Pennsylvania to Kentucky, and its people. An actual connection between the two regions was formed after numbers of Western Pennsylvanians left the state for Kentucky following the Whiskey Rebellion.

This term is interchangeable with the slang term ‘The T,’ used primarily in political circles (e.g., ‘Winning the T’), because of the shape of the area of Pennsylvania when excluding the Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh Metro areas. ‘The T’ is considered a more politically correct term than ‘Pennsyltucky’ when referring to potential voters without so openly insulting them.

The regions of Philadelphia in the southeast corner and Pittsburgh in the southwest area are urban manufacturing centers, with the ‘t-shaped’ remainder of the state being much more rural; this dichotomy affects state politics and culture as well as the state economy.

Much of the term’s history evolved from the Appalachian area of Pennsylvania, which includes most of ‘The T’ and most of the Pittsburgh area. Since the early 1800s, Pittsburgh has been one of America’s major cities with a distinct association to the Midwest. Its geographic proximity to Ohio and West Virginia yields an Ohio River Valley feel in contrast to the near coastal metropolis of Philadelphia surrounded by Delaware and New Jersey.

The unique topography of the Pittsburgh urban area also contributes to its sometimes ‘rural’ character in that it is on a bisected plateau that features steep and still very wild bluffs, cliffs, and hollows that, although just yards from an intensely dense urban area, have the mixing of deer, turkey, and other wildlife right on major city streets.

Pittsburgh did not grow radially as most other major American cities but resembled a miles long ‘spider’ of urbanity down river valleys such as the Monongahela, Allegheny, Chartiers, and Beaveramong others. For much of the 20th century the result was a major sprawling metropolis that just a mile on either side of the valley was as wild and natural as the most remote parts of the state. Even with today’s suburban sprawl, very wild bluffs and hollows remain as a web of ‘green belts’ throughout the Pittsburgh metro area.

The term ‘Pennsyltucky’ can be traced back over a century. Many of the earlier uses appear to be humorous references to a fictitious state. For example, Pennsyltucky is the name of the ship in the 1942 Popeye cartoon ‘Baby Wants a Bottleship.’ By the 1970s, the term clearly referred to rural Pennsylvania, as evidenced by country music star Jeannie Seely’s 1972 single, ‘A Farm in Pennsyltucky’ about her childhood home in northwestern Pennsylvania. Also in 1972, novelist Richard Elman writes in his semi-autobiographical ‘Fredi & Shirl & The Kids’ that the character Fredi refers to all of Appalachia as Pennsyltucky.

The modern popularization of the term is commonly associated with Democratic political consultant James Carville, who worked on President Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign. In 1986, while working on Robert Casey, Sr.’s successful gubernatorial campaign, he said: ‘Between Paoli and Penn Hills, Pennsylvania is Alabama without the blacks. They didn’t film ‘The Deer Hunter’ there for nothing – the state has the second-highest concentration of NRA members, behind Texas. This quote is often paraphrased as ‘Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Alabama in the middle.’

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