Public Editor

Meaning of ‘Border War’ doesn’t reach far outside Missouri, Kansas

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon ASSOCIATED PRESS

I received email today from Dennis C. Myers, news editor of the Reno News & Review. He pointed me to a story from earlier this year, when Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon was expected to sign legislation that would “prohibit the use of incentives for border-jumping businesses in Douglas, Johnson, Miami or Wyandotte counties in Kansas, and Cass, Clay, Jackson or Platte counties in Missouri.”

Myers wrote:

You mention a ‘border war,’ but except for some passing references you never explain or describe it. You assume the knowledge of your readers, which is crazy in 2014 when people all across the nation can read newspapers online. I’m writing from Sparks, Nevada and would have liked some background in the story.

It’s a point well taken. Much of’s readership is from outside the Kansas City area. And while it’s possible to infer its probable meaning in context, it’s not crystal clear. Things are further confused by the fact that the term is capitalized.

Another somewhat-related topic: I have heard from various readers through the years who object to using that term to describe the dispute over state line incentives at all. Their problem is that it’s of course also a reference to Bleeding Kansas, the series of often-violent clashes over slavery in the 19th century.

There’s no question that many people use “Border War” to refer to the business dispute, and it is a constant in describing sports rivalries, particularly back when KU and MU’s teams used to face off.

But The Star shouldn’t follow suit because of its historical connections, these readers contend. That’s a fair argument, though I don’t think everyone would agree it’s offensive. We use metaphor dealing with violence in many situations, and there’s a strong counter-argument that too much word policing leads to bland language.