When people refer to New York by its nickname, everybody invariably calls it the EMPIRE state, with emphasis on the first word. This is a very normal way to refer to places: we all also say OCEAN state for Rhode Island and PEACH state for Georgia, for instance. However, something really interesting happens when people use the phrase in the name of the famous art deco building on 34th street. If you're from New York, you're much more likely to refer to it as the Empire STATE building, and if you're not, you'll say the EMPIRE state building. This is particularly unusual because, when the word building typically comes after a compound, then the emphasis goes on what would be normally emphasized in the compound (like in New York LIFE insurance building or LEHMAN brothers building). The most plausible explanation for this is that when people from outside the state refer to the building, they think of it in the context of being in the Empire State, while people from New York learn the phrase as a unit and thus say it in a way which enables quicker, easier pronunciation. They don't think about it in relation to the rest of the state; it's just a part of their daily lives. Next time you see your New York friends, ask them about this and see what they think!
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.