I came across this in the Wikipedia entry on Batavia NY this morning:

In 2006, a national magazine ranked Batavia third among the nation’s micropolitans based on economic development.

The link takes us to an entry on micropolitan areas. The adjective micropolitan is based on the adjective metropolitan, with the combining form micro- ‘small’ replacing the combining form metro- in metropolitan; in these usages, both metropolitan and micropolitan are technical terms (defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget). And then micropolitan has been nouned, by truncation from micropolitan area, so that it can be pluralized: micropolitans. (The adjective metropolitan has been nouned by truncation in the same way.)

[Why, you might be wondering, was I checking out Batavia NY? It came up in a vivid long-running dream I had last night, a murder mystery (never solved) involving art shows in the San Francisco Bay Area, my neighbors in Cambridge MA 50 years ago, the Cape Cod National Seashore, and, yes, Batavia NY. I’ve been having a lot of these dreams in recent weeks, mostly involving blog postings I “work on” in my sleep — on topics that turn out to be entirely illusory, though I can’t help checking the details out when I wake up.]

Wikipedia on micropolitan areas:

United States Micropolitan Statistical Areas (µSA, where the initial Greek letter mu represents “micro-“), as defined by the Office of Management and Budget, are urban areas in the United States based around an urban cluster (urban area) with a population of 10,000 to 49,999. The micropolitan area designation was created in 2003. Like the better-known metropolitan area, a micropolitan area is a geographic entity used for statistical purposes based on counties and county-equivalents. The OMB has identified 576 micropolitan areas in the United States.

The term “micropolitan” was created by author G. Scott Thomas for a 1989 article in American Demographics magazine, and was expanded in his 1990 book, The Rating Guide to Life in America’s Small Cities. It gained currency in the 1990s to describe growing population centers in the United States that are removed from larger cities, in some cases by 100 miles (160 km) or more. Lower land and labor costs have led some micropolitan areas to develop many housing subdivisions and suburban cultures similar to those found in larger metropolitan areas.

Micropolitan cities do not have the economic or political importance of large cities, but are nevertheless significant centers of population and production, drawing workers and shoppers from a wide local area. Because the designation is based on the core town’s population and not on that of the whole area, some micropolitan areas are actually larger than some metropolitan areas. The largest of the areas, centered around Torrington, Connecticut, had a population in excess of 180,000 in 2000; Torrington’s population in that year’s census was only 35,202.

That last paragraph introduces a complexity in the technical term, that the smallness in question hinges on the smallness of the city the area is centered on, not the entire area

Then there’s the nouning by truncation (for general discussion, see this posting, which has a small selection of examples from a large set).

The adjective and noun micropolitan haven’t yet made it into the OED (there are entries for micropolitics and micropolitical, but these are unrelated to micropolitan). But their use has been spread by the annal “top micropolitan” rankings by Site Selection magazine, as here:

A decade of dominance culminates in another Top Micropolitan ranking for Statesville-Mooresville, N.C.
… This marks the eighth time in the last 10 years that Statesville-Mooresville has earned the title of Top Micropolitan Area in the country. (link)

Dyersburg [TN] named one of top micropolitans in the country (link)

Meanwhile, the adjective metropolitan (related to metropolis) has been attested since 1640:

Inhabiting a metropolis; characteristic of or influenced by the metropolis, its way of life, etc. In early use freq. in negative sense: †over-sophisticated, sexually promiscuous, corrupt (obs.). Now usually in positive sense: urbane, sophisticated, excitingly varied, cosmopolitan. (OED3)

But the nouning of this adjective to refer to a metropolitan area is not yet in the OED (although the dictionary has entries for now-obsolete uses of metropolitan as a synonym for metropolis). A few cites for this noun:

Greater Phoenix is composed of 20 distinct cities cooperating as one region. In a state that’s just 100 years old, Greater Phoenix is among the nation’s largest metropolitans and offers a chance to witness change before your eyes. (link)

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s failed recall election wasn’t the only big election news to break this week. In California, voters in two of the state’s largest metropolitans approved massive changes to their city’s respective public pension plans. (link)

Ten largest metropolitans in India [Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Ahmedabad, Kanpur, and Surat, in case you were wondering] (link)

Now, as a bonus, some remarks on the combining form metro- in metropolitan. From Michael Quinion’s affixes site (2008):

A capital city or other large urban area.

[The first part of metropolis, from Greek mētēr, mētr-, mother, plus polis, city.]

Someone or something metrocentric is biased towards the affairs or interests of the capital city; and a metroplex (see -plex) is a very large metropolitan area, especially one which is an aggregation of two or more cities. The form has become a word in its own right, metro (originally as French métro), to describe an underground or light railway system in a large urban area.

The surprise here is the etymological connection to the Greek ‘mother’ word. A metropolis was metaphorically the “mother city” of some area, and then in English the combining form metro- was extracted from the word to denote urban centrality, and eventually mere connection to cities and cosmopolitan life, as in metrosexual (here).


3 Responses to “micropolitans”

  1. Dream works « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] a recent posting, I wrote about a vivid long-running dream I’d had, a murder mystery (never solved) involving […]

  2. This Week’s Language Blog Roundup: Political speech, feck, Shakespeare, and more | Wordnik Says:

    […] Yiddish word that comes from a root meaning ‘to bore, to pester.’” Arnold Zwicky posted about micropolitans, “cities [that] do not have the economic or political importance of large cities, but are […]

  3. Truncated lame duck « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] by truncation”, like micropolitan/metropolitan for micropolitan/metropolitan area (here) and primary for primary care physician (here), but sometimes the source is a N + N compound, like […]

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