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Sunday, March 19, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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James Vesely

SayWA, the sound of one hand clapping

Seattle Times staff columnist

As a former resident of the Tall State, the Last Frontier, the Golden State, the Great Lakes State, and even the Land of Lincoln, I believe I have something to offer in the way of slogans and monikers. They are often silly and sound contrived and too often duck the real sense of a place.

People know better than any sloganeer where they live, and why. The Rose City, the Emerald City, the Windy City, the Motor City, the Glass City, the Forest City, the River City, the Iron City all come from embellishments of the past — not too many people would recognize Cleveland, Ohio, as the Forest City or Toledo, Ohio, as the Glass City.

Now comes one of the most beautiful states of the Union, a place of such geographic pulchritude it makes Ohio look like, well, Ohio. With names that evoke both lingering Indian myths and the dash of the British Royal Navy during the age of exploration, coastal and interior Washington are two cymbals that give punctuation to the natural orchestral landscape that is the American West.

SayWA?

SayNo.

Here in Washington, the new tourist slogan doesn't seem to have much traction based on a few street interviews conducted in Seattle by The Associated Press.

It's true, the state's former tourist tag — Experience Washington — seemed a bit musty, without the punch of a crunchy apple, absent the shocking glow of a twilight sky over Elliott Bay, missing the gables of forest paths that smell with the freshness of fir and Pacific red cedar.

It's true, Experience Washington doesn't catch the emotion of the great Columbia River at a majestic bend just as the Corps of Discovery saw it, or the sweep of high desert going on forever east, east to Old America.

It's true, Experience Washington seemed an IMAX title instead of the moonlit Cascades and the blue-ribbon Yakima River during the spring melt, or the forever-starshine on a triple 7.

It's true, Experience Washington hasn't the magic touch of the flow of salmon or the inventive migration of ideas that surge from this state. It's true, Experience Washington seemed like the name of a small town that would figure in a television series.

But what to say about SayWA?

It's a bit like the name of a vegetable oil, which may evoke the idea of biofuel research.

It has the catchy street slang that seems to defy the best intentions of the English portion of the WASL. It has the unintended consequence of always being an unanswered question.

According to the AP, the state's office of tourism says SayWA is intended to escape traditional tourism advertising. That being the criterion, SayWA is an unqualified success. "I'm going to Disneyland" was a sure miss — and so was "It's Better in the Bahamas." Those two slogans actually mention the destination without relying on the U.S. Postal Service abbreviations. They don't escape the traditional.

I'm being too hard on a slogan that is less than the place it represents. Sloganeering is an art form that brought us "Baseball, hot dogs and Chevrolet" and "Fly the Friendly Skies." SayWA came from the honest attempts of a 32-person committee. You have to wonder what slogans they turned down.

Say what you will about SayWA, it will endure in the annals of sloganeering, just as "Just outside Chicago, there's a place called IL," and "VA is for lovers."

James F. Vesely's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: jvesely@seattletimes.com

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