This the penultimate week of the current semester of Miss Jenny’s Alphabe-Thursday. I’ve been posting most weeks since mid-June, enjoying the research necessary to craft posts around the theme of idioms, phrases, and colloquialisms. Friends and relatives have suggested a number of ideas (thanks!), and I am constantly on alert for sayings or expressions that might provide an interesting post.
I was naturally thrilled a few weeks ago when my husband said, “I know what you can use for “y”—how about ‘you can’t get theyah (there) from heyah (here)’?” It was a good suggestion, and I immediately framed a broad outline of my post—a jovial, but respectful discussion of Mainers’ (people who live in Maine) reaction to “from away” people who make their way to the forests and oceanside that most of us associate with the state.
Imagine my surprise when queries to my usually reliable sources resulted in little or no information. A search on tried-and-true Wikipedia referred me to Bert & I, a collection of humor stories about Maine. Another search yielded a link to a recording for a Bert & I skit about “Which Way to Millinocket?” that deals with the “you can’t get there from here” phenomenon.
One reasonable explanation is that travel in Maine is difficult because east-west roadways are much less developed than the state’s major north-south highways. According to this writer, the situation persists, aggravated these days by “paper roads” (roadways that are planned but not yet developed) that still, somehow, end up on GPS devices so that people sometimes do end up in places where “you can’t there from here!”
Additional searches ensued. The most comprehensive source I found was an early version of a scholarly piece that was published in the Journal of American Culture in 2004. The author, George H. Lewis, believes that vacationers to Maine, beginning in the late 19th century, were enticed to the state by a series of publicity campaigns promoting a romanticized vision of Maine as a place where they could reconnect with a simpler, more authentic lifestyle. Lewis contends that the “you can’t get there from here” concept evolved as visitors realized that the gap between their normal lifestyle and the one they perceived existed in Maine was so wide that they would never be able to achieve the ideal. Eventually, as the economic advantages of the phrase became obvious, Mainers adopted (and adapted) the idea into a public persona of sorts using it, for example, as the theme for festivals and celebrations.
So, what’s the reality here? With all due respect to Mr. Lewis, I’m willing to believe that the truth lies somewhere between the pragmatic explanation of insufficient (and sometimes imaginary) roadways and Lewis’ more critical explanation. Whatever the exact truth, it is clear that the phrase ‘you can’t there from here’ is “heyah” to stay.