The lower 48
Posted: 24 October 2012 11:01 AM   [ Ignore ]
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A friend of mine used this expression (referring to the contiguous United States) recently, and now I’m curious about its origin.  A search shows that it was briefly discussed on the old forum, where the possibility was mentioned that it arose during the period in which Alaska was a US state but Hawaii was not.  At that time, the expression would have been accurate in terms of latitude, but this theory about its origin was viewed as unlikely, since that period lasted only about 7 1/2 months.  I agree with this, but I’d love to know more, if more information is actually out there.  Have there been any exciting new developments on this front in the last few years or so?

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Posted: 24 October 2012 02:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Using Googlebooks, I found the phrase in the June 16, 1961 issue of Life magazine; that’s the earliest I could come up with (about 22 months after Hawaii became a state).

It’s possible the phrase might have been used among Alaskans even before Alaska became a state.

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Posted: 24 October 2012 02:19 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I saw that same citation and found it a nice coincidence that it appears just ahead of a brief column discussing “new” words (which are old words with new definitions for the most part, although I will admit that ekistics was completely new to me).

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Posted: 24 October 2012 03:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I always assumed that the “lower” referred to lower numbers (49 and 50 being the highest numbers).

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Posted: 25 October 2012 04:03 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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It’s in DARE, which marks the phrase as “chiefly Alaskan.” They’ve got a newspaper citation from 29 August 1959 (eight days after Hawaii became a state), but it was certainly in oral use prior to that. DARE also has a couple of cites for “lower forty-nine,” although that one is clearly not very common.

Back in my Army days in the 80s, CONUS, or “continental United States,” did not include Alaska, which was considered an “overseas” posting.

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Posted: 25 October 2012 01:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Continental US or Contiguous US.

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Posted: 26 October 2012 04:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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The DoD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms says CONUS stands for “continental United States.” http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/dod_dictionary/

And I found an online copy of the 1983 edition (which covers the period I served) of AR310-25, Dictionary of United States Army Terms, and while it does not specifically define CONUS, terms like “CONUS armies” are defined with “continental.”

And even if interpreted as “continguous,” that still leaves Alaska as “overseas.”

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Posted: 26 October 2012 07:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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While I fully recognize the incongruity of calling Alaska “overseas”, I suppose one could construct an argument that an area that can be reached by land only by passing through foreign territory should be considered “overseas” from the military standpoint, since there is always the possibility that relations with Canada could go sour and they could prevent overland access.

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Posted: 26 October 2012 07:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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I think it has more to do with distance and the logistics of moving service members there and back than any actual operational or strategic military considerations. Hawaii is also “overseas,” although in that case it’s literally true.

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