Accessibility links

Breaking News

May 2, 2002 - 'Lower 48 States' and 'Synergy' Explained - 2002-05-01

Broadcast on "Coast to Coast": May 2, 2002
Rebroadcast on VOA News Now: May 5, 2002

AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster -- the "lower 48 states" and "synergy" have something in common. Now what could it be ...

RS: They're both terms that Walter Wang, a listener in the Xinjiang autonomous region of northwestern China, would like us to explain. As for "the lower 48 states," a term he came across in a magazine, Walter says by e-mail: "I guess it means the US states except Alaska and the Pacific state. Is this true?"

JIM EVANS: "Yeah, that's true."

RS: That's Jim Evans of the United States Geological Survey.

EVANS: "I think the term 'lower' refers to the fact that the so-called lower 48 states are lower in latitude than, say, Alaska, although that wouldn't exclude Hawaii. It's out in the middle of the Pacific, so it doesn't get included."

AA: The term is also imprecise in another way: referring to the "lower 48 states" might suggest that there's an "upper 48 states," which -- as every Canadian knows -- there isn't.

RS: Well, here is a way to avoid any confusion: Americans also refer to the "48 contiguous states." Not continuous, but contiguous -- meaning connected.

RS: OK, on to Walter's other question. His dictionary doesn't have the word "synergy," but he writes, "I infer it means a combination of various qualities among different people. In other words, it can take the place of fusion, among others."

RS: Once again, Walter, you infer correctly! All we would add is that the word "synergy" has roots in an ancient Greek word meaning "working together."


AA: Now what do you say we go on the Internet and type in "," just to see what we find.

MAXWELL: "My name is Barbara Maxwell and my company is Synergy Software. We are probably one of the last remaining small, private, independent software companies in the United States. The company, essentially, is like a partnership between several groups of people -- our software developers and my husband and myself, and I'm a teacher by trade.

"So the reason that we used the word synergy was because it goes a little bit beyond what I connote the word 'partnership' to mean. Partnership might not necessarily be a cooperative effort. You can have two partners who function together in a business and they don't really like each other, or sometimes even talk to each other.

"But in our case the synergy in our company is the fact that our engineering talent is free to do what they do best, which is develop software, and then my husband and I take care of the marketing and the sales and all the other stuff, finding the people and paying the people. So together our synergy is that we have created this product and managed to stay alive for better than 15 years in a really tough market."

RS: Synergy makes a data analysis and graphing program used in such places as big laboratories and universities. Little did the dozen employees know that the name they chose back in the early nineteen-nineties would become hot business jargon.

MAXWELL: "There are now thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of people who use the word 'synergy' somewhere in their name. We just have had a horrible problem because of all the other additional synergies and we get some very strange e-mail. (Laughter)"

AA: "And no plans to change your name?"

MAXWELL: "No ... no, not at this point."

RS: Barbara Maxwell at Synergy Software in Pennsylvania.

AA: If you've got a question for Rosanne and me, you can do what Walter Wang in far northwestern China did -- send it to Our postal address is VOA Wordmaster, Washington DC 20237 USA.

RS: And we're on the Web at With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC: "Synergy"/Holy Modal Rounders

HOST: Some American roots music by the group Holy Modal Rounders, going back to 1972.