In My Mind I'm Going to [North or South?] Carolina
October 1, 2008 12:54 PM   Subscribe

Does "Carolina" used by itself mean North Carolina, South Carolina, or both?

In "Chattanooga Choo Choo," "Nothing could be finer/Than to have your ham an' eggs in Carolina." James Taylor sings "In my mind I'm going to Carolina" (I know he grew up in North Carolina). The Carolina Panthers play in Charlotte but officially represent both states.

So what does "Carolina" mean? I've usually heard "the Carolinas" used to refer to the two states together.
posted by kirkaracha to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: It means "lyricists take liberties to make their song sound better".
posted by smackfu at 12:59 PM on October 1, 2008

Best answer: FWIW, I have heard the University of North Carolina referred to as "Carolina," as in Carolina Blue.

I knew you were going to say that, ND¢ -- I consulted my notebook.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:02 PM on October 1, 2008

If someone referred to a university as "Carolina," I would assume they meant the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Wikipedia says that the University of South Carolina also claims the moniker as its own, but this is the first I've heard of it.
posted by grouse at 1:03 PM on October 1, 2008

My past wisdom aside, I have lived in both North and South Carolina and no resident of either state that I have ever spoken to has ever referred to their state as "Carolina." I think that lyricists do it to sound good, as stated above, and the Panthers did it to try and make South Carolinians care about pro football, which we do not.

On preview, "Carolina" when referring to a school means the University of South Carolina when said in South Carolina grouse.
posted by ND¢ at 1:08 PM on October 1, 2008

Speaking as a former North Carolinian, I can say with 100% certainty that all songs about "Carolina" mean North Carolina. Except for the ones that suck or are derogatory. Those are about South Carolina.

I'm sure someone from SC would disagree, but they're wrong and probably jealous.

On preview: ND¢, them's fightin' words.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:09 PM on October 1, 2008 [5 favorites]

I live in Charlotte. A stand-alone "Carolina" is rare to hear except in those songs, and I think in the songs it's just for the sake of the meter. I think the "Carolina Panthers" could refer to both, since they play right on the border... but I have no idea if folks down in Charleston are Panthers fans to the same extent people in Charlotte are. People do say "the Carolinas" for both.

There's an amusement park here called "Carowinds" which has parts on each side of the border. I just looked at their website, and while they say "North and South Carolina's Amusement Park" as their banner headline, there are several instances on the website of a stand-alone "Carolina", such as "Gather friends and family in the Carolina Boardwalk area...reflecting some of the best known themes of the Carolina coast." That would imply that it means both. I think this may be just ad-speak though, people around here don't say they're going to "the Carolina coast" but rather to "Myrtle Beach" or "the Outer Banks" or wherever.
posted by Daily Alice at 1:12 PM on October 1, 2008

I have lived in South Carolina almost my whole life Daily Alice, and I have never met a Panthers fan. Southerners follow college football.
posted by ND¢ at 1:21 PM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Wikipedia says this song is ambiguous but we grew up singing it in S.C.*
That said, I think when you say say "Carolina" it changes meaning depending on if you are near Chapel Hill or Columbia.

* to the distress of girls named Caroline, natch
posted by pointystick at 1:31 PM on October 1, 2008

Ben's First Law of Southern Imagery: Use of the word "Carolina" used in a song or poem is limited solely to shorthand for a coastal state on the ocean in the south the US which isn't Florida. Said land is not the Chesapeake, and it's not the gulf, nor the gulf stream, it's that weird middle part which contains North and South Carolina and Georgia. It is a state of the mind alone, like how the state of Franklin encompasses the whole of the Southern Appalachians or New England is any place with rocky beaches and maple trees or California is a land of endless beaches.

Ben's Second Law of Southern Imagery: The above law is utterly null and void if the writer is from one of the two Carolinas, in which case they are referring to that specific one.

I will not argue which state is better. It should be obvious. Come on, we have three awesome types of barbecue in SC. Seriously. No contest.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 1:47 PM on October 1, 2008

I was born and raised in North Carolina, have family in South Carolina, and I attended the University of North Carolina.

"Carolina" typically refers to UNC if you are in North Carolina and USC if you are in South Carolina. If you are outside of the Carolinas, it can refer to either state or either school. It all depends on context and who is speeking.

Songs like "Carolina on my Mind" by James Taylor usually refer to North Carolina.
posted by cc5alive at 1:54 PM on October 1, 2008

Historically, although the colonies of North and South Carolina existed separately from the early 18th century on, originally there was a Province of Carolina that incorporated significantly more territory than both comprise today. I think there's some precedent for considering it as a region. But I think it's much more common to hear "the Carolinas".
Disclaimer: Damn Yankee.
posted by dhartung at 2:15 PM on October 1, 2008

Carolina On My Mind is about North Carolina (James Taylor went to UNC-Chapel Hill).
Carolina Girls, however, is a shag song, and everyone knows shag was invented in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

I grew up 15 minutes from Chapel Hill, and graduated from the University of South Carolina. Both student populations refer to their alma mater as Carolina. We South Carolina graduates get doubly screwed, since if we say USC, people think we mean Southern California.
posted by kidsleepy at 2:26 PM on October 1, 2008

Just to agree with everybody else...As a native North Carolinian, the only people I ever hear refer to either state simply as "Carolina" are people not from around here. "Carolina" refers to the universities, mostly in terms of their sports teams. We say "the Carolinas" to refer to the states.

The Carolina Panthers are an anomaly--their practice facilities are actually in South Carolina while their stadium is in North Carolina. And most of their fans seem to be non-natives.

Growing up in Charlotte, there was a horrible tendency to refer to the metropolitan area which overlaps the border between the states as "Metrolina". I think that no longer happens, which is a good thing.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:31 PM on October 1, 2008

As the more popular/well-known school, Carolina usually refers to UNC-CH instead of USC. Overall though, most North and South Carolinians exist wholly without hatred of one another and "Carolina" can refer to both. If it's beach music, it's probably about South Carolina; if it's about mountains/trees/"down home" it's probably the Old North State.
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:35 PM on October 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

1f2frfbf, please. It's moot, thanks to the awesomeness of eastern NC barbeque.
posted by desuetude at 3:05 PM on October 1, 2008

I've also never heard anyone refer to Carolina except in reference to the college (UNC for me, because I went there and work there now, though I don't doubt that there are misguided souls who think that USC is "Carolina") or in song lyrics, and I have lived in North Carolina my whole life.

I think any rivalry between the two states is generally in good fun, though I have heard it said that "The only good thing about South Carolina is that if it fell into the ocean, we'd have more beach."
posted by solipsophistocracy at 3:18 PM on October 1, 2008

I agree with everyone above... locals call it with a North/South, and only use 'Carolina' depending if they went to UNC or USC. (Incidentally, basketball wasn't invented there, but it was perfected.)

Of course, if you want a little quick geo-political sketch of the South....

North Carlonians look down on South Carolinians.
Everyone looks down on Tennessee.
Virginia looks down on everyone. (See 'Tidewater Aristocracy')

The other states in the Old South don't much count. Kentucky ( a border state, is only included because they make bourbon, and in the Late Unpleasantness (i.e., the Civil War), they were kinda schizo.

As far as Texas is concerned, we fought a war with Mexico over who got to keep Texas, and we lost.

The distance from culture to agriculture is the exact distance from Chapel Hill to Clemson, SC.

I sure hope I didn't overlook anyone with all these insults. I am a mountaineer, from the region in NC where they raise preachers, teachers and liberals and where you can tell how poor a family is by how many dogs they have... the more dogs, the poorer the family.

Sorry for the derail. Can't help myself. I'm trapped up here in the North amongst the fine folks of Vermont and they don't get my humor, such as it is.
posted by FauxScot at 3:53 PM on October 1, 2008 [10 favorites]

Is there a South Cackalack?
posted by Stewriffic at 4:32 PM on October 1, 2008

One of my clients (Dynasty Soccer Gear) sells University of North Carolina women's soccer apparel. Several of the shirts just say "Carolina" on them. FWIW.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 4:59 PM on October 1, 2008

Response by poster: Crap, I should've mentioned that I used to live in Chapel Hill and knew "Carolina" referred to UNC. I was thinking of broader cultural references, anyways. Thanks, everyone.
posted by kirkaracha at 6:47 PM on October 1, 2008

Chuck Berry is pretty clearly talking about North Carolina when he uses "Caroline" for the distance between Raleigh and Charlotte in the lyrics to "Promised Land":

I left my home in Norfolk Virginia,
California on my mind.
Straddled that Greyhound, rode him past Raleigh,
On across Caroline.
Stopped in Charlotte and bypassed Rock Hill,
And we never was a minute late.
We was ninety miles out of Atlanta by sundown,
Rollin' 'cross the Georgia state.

And that is about as canonical as pop cult references to the term get. :P
posted by mediareport at 8:36 PM on October 1, 2008

Having spent some time in Greensboro, NC for college I would say that my favorite quote about the lesser Carolina I encountered was from a pre civil war Legislator James Louis Petigruonce stated;

"South Carolina is too small for a republic, and too large to be an insane asylum."

They tried to secede from the Union 11 times before they did it successfully in the civil war!

That answer was completely unhelpful regarding your question, but hopefully it can help illustrate how batshit that state is.

Also, NC is great and I miss it.
posted by BobbyDigital at 9:27 AM on October 2, 2008 [2 favorites]

In what I'm guessing is a completely bizarre coincidence, when James Taylor showed up on the Colbert Report earlier this week, Stephen Colbert said, "You know, we have something is common"--referencing their losing Emmy nominations in the same category--and Taylor, in a bit of confusion, replied, "We're both from...uh, Carolina?"

(As we all know, Taylor is from the North and Colbert from the South.)
posted by kittyprecious at 11:37 AM on October 2, 2008

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