Friday, October 11, 2013

Revising the Postal Abbreviations

There are other reasons to hate postal abbreviations, but here's a new one: It's easy to get some of them mixed up.

For instance, the website NotAlwaysRight used to list its Minnesota stories as being from MI (Michigan) until I disabused them of that notion. And yesterday I saw this from a friend on Facebook:

Since when is Michigan (MI) contiguous with Missouri, Louisiana and Oklahoma? Oh, I see. You meant Mississippi (MS). [Hint: don't ask why they've omitted Arkansas.]

Clearly, the postal service didn't think hard enough, back in 1963, about how the abbreviations would differentiate from each other in cases where the states' names start with the same two letters. (And they call this a system.)

Without further ado, a reworked set of postal abbreviations.

Taking a hint from the way they abbreviated Tennessee vs. Texas, the primary rule is that no state gets to have the second letter of its name in the abbreviation if there is another state that shares that same second letter. So it's TN vs. TX -- neither state was labeled TE.

Alabama / Alaska -- I'll bet there are lots of people who think AL is Alaska. The solution would be to make Alabama's abbreviation AM (since AB is already in use by Alberta, Canada). Result: AM vs. AK.

Arizona / Arkansas / Alaska -- Currently, we use AZ vs. AR vs. AK. I wonder how many folks think AK is Arkansas instead of Alaska? It would be better to differentiate Arkansas with a letter it doesn't share with Alaska; I propose AN. Though Arizona does also have an N, the Z is so prominent that I don't think people would confuse AZ and AN. Result: AZ vs. AN vs. AK (vs. AM for Alabama).

Colorado / Connecticut -- CO vs. CT. Probably not easily confused, but don't Connecticutters resent the fact that Colorado owns their second letter? If it were 1963 all over again, I would have suggested CR or CD vs. CN.

Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa -- These four all happen to have distinct second letters, so it's not a problem. Though why they went with IA instead of IO for Iowa is beyond me.

Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts -- This is a hard one. MD for Maryland is fine, but ME for Maine is probably the worst one on the list of 50. I can see why they chose it, though: there were no good options after Minnesota ran off with MN. And why does Masschusetts, with so many letters, get to grab MA? I would suggest ME / MD / MC.

Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri (Montana) -- The one that got me thinking about it all. I would go with MG / MN / MS / and MR, leaving Montana with MT and no conflict with the current MO abbreviation for Missouri. Sorry, Missouri, I understand you used that abbreviation before the post office got ahold of it, but not being confused with Montana takes precedence. Final result: MG vs. MN vs. MS vs. MR vs MT.

Nebraska / Nevada -- NK and NV (NB isn't possible for Nebraska because of New Brunswick, Canada).

Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon -- Another series that has good differentiation in its second letters (OH vs. OK vs. OR) and doesn't need changing.

I know my suggestions sound weird right now, but we could get used to them pretty quickly. What do you think, USPS?

Never let it be said that Daughter Number Three doesn't offer solutions to problems that no one has ever noticed.


Daughter Number Three said...

Come to think of it, it might be better to switch Alaska to AS to avoid any possibility of confusion with Arkansas.

Michael Leddy said...

I was going to say that I would still confuse AK with Arkansas. The old abbrevations — Conn., Minn., I can’t recall many others — look pretty good in retrospect.

David Steinlicht said...

Michael, I agree. Two letters is really just not enough to get the job done.

Daughter Number Three said...

I agree -- I never use any of these abbreviations except in addresses with zip codes. Googling the subject, I found an Andy Rooney column from 25 years ago where he made the same point.

Mechanization makes the world a silly place.