Talk:Contiguous United States

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Question on "CONUS"; I've never heard of this acronym in my life. Is it specific to the telecommunications industry? --Brion 17:39 Sep 10, 2002 (UTC)

Yes, it is used in the telecomminications industry, where everything is an acronym. I do not know if it is used anywhere else b/c this is where I encountered it. --Michael 17:43 Sep 10, 2002 (UTC)
Actually, CONUS is frequently used in government discussions as well. I would have no qualms about using the term in discussions including defense/homeland security/foreign policy. It's probably prevalent in other sorts of circles as well, but I can't speak to that from personal experience.
Figures. :) Out of curiosity how's it pronounced? "Cone-us" or "Con-you-ess" or what? --Brion
"Cone-us" --Michael 18:05 Sep 10, 2002 (UTC)

Yes, "CONUS" is--or at least was--found in another context, namely the military one. I don't know if it still exists, but in the 1950s and 1960s CONARC ("cone-ark") was the "Continental Army Command," which included all the troops 'at home,' but not in occupation forces in Germany, etc. I don't know if troops in Hawaii and Alaska came under CONARC or not. CONUS (cone us) was used the same way by the Army, to distinguish the area under CONARC's command. Terry J. Carter (talk) 23:58, 17 August 2010 (UTC)

Continental vs. Contiguous[edit]

After doing a little Google research, i find:

  • The relavent gist of the Alaska Omnibus Act (and i think of law since the Hawaii Omnibus Act as well) is that
    • for most legal purposes, continental United States means the states and the District of Columbia, but
    • at least for a while after Alaska statehood, it left Alaska out when used in IRS tax law, and
    • the term originated in Federal law before Alaska statehood, (contrary to our article)
  • Administratively, Federal agencies including the military generally mean by it the contiguous (conterminous) US, i.e. 48 plus DC; AFAIK this sense is always meant when CONUS is used.
  • Private bodies may be more inclined to include AK but omit HI, as the term logically suggests.

It also appears that "non-continental" is much less used than "continental United States". ("Outside continental United States" may be more used instead.) The contexts i found seemed to be mostly or all ones where it was not restricted to states, but included other US territories, notably PR and Guam.

IMO, contiguous is clear (and non-contiguous may be depending on context), but continental and non-continental introduce pointless confusion when used in articles. I would suggest that the few dozen articles linking to Continental United States would profit from being editted to replace them with Contiguous United States, which would link to Continental United States, and that Continental United States link back, but restrict itself almost exclusively to documenting the ambiguity of the term.

While i am calling Continental United States ambiguous, i don't think it should be a disamb page, bcz i think there is little need to link to it once we have a Contiguous United States article, and probably only Contiguous United States needs an outgoing link; the other two IMO need to be discussed only to document the ambiguity, and articles on the other two senses are unlikely to be useful.

--Jerzy 07:31, 2004 Feb 20 (UTC)

  • In personal experience, I've heard "contiguous" used far more often than "continental" in everyday speech. Given that it also seems more logical, I am in favor of a name change.Funnyhat 19:02, 22 Mar 2005 (UTC)

How can anyone say that "coterminous U.S. and conterminous U.S. have the same precise meaning as contiguous USA", or even purport to give precise definitions to these terms? The terms are modern inventions of bureaucrats - they mean whatever the bureaucrat intends them to mean. The traditional term is continental. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 22:02, 27 November 2010 (UTC)

Alaska Omnibus Act[edit]

I've moved this text out, as the act in question shows it is surely mistaken:

This rhetorical distinction originated in the Alaska Omnibus Act of 1959 in light of the state's admission into the Union and had to do with IRS legalities.

I'm not satisfied with my substitute, and the hints this deleted text gives may aid further research. --Jerzy(t) 06:05, 2004 Mar 3 (UTC)

North Pacific[edit]

I've restored the cap N in

North Pacific Ocean

even tho we lack an article for North Pacific Ocean.

After research, i find that:

  • our map in Pacific Ocean has portions labelled "North Pacific Ocean" and "South Pacific Ocean";
  • 90% of our articles containing the phrase "north pacific" capitalize both words;
  • of the remaining 10%, none (i think, but certainly virtually none) use it to refer to the "North Pacific Ocean"; rather, they either
    • describe a limit on the range of a species, which is unlikely to fill the whole North Pacific Ocean, and might IMO be accurately described even it the range includes smaller portions of the South Pacific, or
    • refer to the northern half or third of the Pacific coast of something whose Pacific coast is probably entirely on the North Pacific, or entirely on the South Pacific;
  • two gazetteers at hand, and my preferred hard-copy atlas's map of the Pacific, all omit both "North Pacific Ocean" and "South Pacific Ocean".


  • this evidence need not close the discussion, but
  • it is unreasonable to go to the small N without first
    • challenging, on Talk:Pacific Ocean, the prevalent convention,
    • showing that the apparent consensus is not real, and
    • further discussion here should follow substantial discussion there.

--Jerzy(t) 07:29, 2004 Mar 9 (UTC)

Continental states vs Alaska and Hawaii[edit]

If the 48 continguous states are referred to as the continental US ... what are the other two states referred to as other than non-continental. It is a question on my granddaughters homework frankly. "These two states (Alaska and Hawaii) are in what part of the country?" Any suggestions? Smile

So what's wrong with "non-conterminous". Uhh, don't bother answering. [grin]
My objection to "non-continental" was intended to help tune up the article, and the young lady's needs may be different. If you search Google for non-continental, you will get some hits, so using it isn't just making up a word.
I think what makes "non-continental" distasteful to me is that "continental" is a compromise between accuracy and convenience, and talking about the states to which it doesn't apply should be seen as an opportunity to discard it, rather than trying to express the opposite of something so inherantly awkward. By analogy, as soon as i start to wonder whether i mean "state-boundary modification" or "state boundary-modification" (the hyphen being redundant and therefore incorrect in the 2nd), i try to remember to just say "modification of state boundary" or "boundary modification by a state", rather than potentially put the reader thru the same mental acrobatics.
If she doesn't like
Continental US
then how about
Continental US
which captures the reality better than trying to force AK & HI into an artificial category?
Hope that's some kind of help; if not, Wikipedia:Reference Desk might engage more minds than this specialized corner of WP. [smile] --Jerzy(t) 17:03, 2004 Mar 10 (UTC)

The actual term used by the Government applied to anything not CONUS, for purposes of paying things such as per diem to Government and Military personnel, is OCONUS. It means Outside Contiguous United States. -J

The Alaska problem[edit]

I removed this text:

it unambiguously excludes the remaining two states: it is clear that neither Hawaii (an archipelago in the North Pacific Ocean), nor Alaska (being separated from the "lower 48" by Canada), is either contiguous or conterminous with any other U.S. state.

That would make sense if the title of this article were "contiguous US" or "conterminous US", but it's not, it's "continental US". So this text is irrelevant. Alaska is not in the "continental US" because of common usage, not because of logic.

Axlrosen 23:28, 7 Aug 2004 (UTC)


What's the area? - Jerryseinfeld 21:23, 9 Dec 2004 (UTC)

"Refers to"[edit]

This article said the following:

The continental United States refers (except sometimes in U.S. federal law and regulations) to the

I changed it to this:

The continental United States refers (except sometimes in U.S. federal law and regulations) to the

The style manual at Wikipedia:Manual of Style, like many style manuals, says that when writing about a word or phrase rather than using the word to write about what it refers to, one should italicize it. See also use-mention distinction. But also, to say "The continental United States refers to..." with the word "the" OUTSIDE of the highlighted part is to imply that the word "the" is not part of the expression that "refers to" something, and that would mean that it's not the expression that refers to that thing, but rather it's the continental United States itself that refers to that thing. I becomes like all those articles that say "A dog refers to an animal that barks" instead of "A dog is an animal that barks". Michael Hardy 00:16, 30 Dec 2004 (UTC)

To add under "see also" section[edit]

I would like to add the following to the "see also" section.

*[[Kingdom of the Netherlands]]
*[[Mainland China]]
*[[Metropolitan France]] — Instantnood 20:51, Mar 11, 2005 (UTC)

So what? You'd like to. But unless you have a good reason to do so, it will be reverted. Gene Nygaard 22:18, 11 Mar 2005 (UTC)

"More correctly"[edit]

The original text read:

The continental United States is also used, more correctly, to refer to those 48 states plus Alaska.

I think this could say "more logically" instead of "more correctly", but "more correctly" flies in the face of actual documented usage. But even as I've left it, this isn't a very useful comment, lacking any documentation of actual usage, since there is plenty of documentation for its usage as "the continguous states".

Unfortunately, without the aside, the text as I've left it doesn't make much sense. A more accurate resummary would be:

Some claim the continental United States should more logically refer to those 48 states plus Alaska.

Moreover, the original comment clearly doesn't make any sense in context, because the very next paragraph is a list of other ways of saying "the continental US" without being ambiguous--but the way it is phrased is "the continental US is also sometimes referred to as:"--and if "the continental US more correctly refers to 49 states", then how can that also be referred to as "the lower 48"?!?

I think the only reasonable thing to do here is to move the comment about its more logical meaning to the end of initial section, and to revise it to state that the term is ambiguous or even illogical. But does anyone actually use it to refer to 49 states? Or do they just note that logically that's what it should mean, so it's ambiguous? -- 18:52, 18 Apr 2005 (UTC)

It's used for 49 states often enough that companies sometimes advertise sale prices "in the continental United States except Alaska" (probably didn't have the qualifier at first, and somebody called them on it). Gene Nygaard 19:18, 18 Apr 2005 (UTC)
I don't think that's evidence for anything other than the fact that some people complain that the term is illogical, though. I suspect nobody who thinks the phrase 'continental united states' should logically refer to 49 states ever uses it that way, since they know it would be in danger of being misinterpreted. Ok, however, on re-reading I see that "use in federal law" implies ambiguity; it's not explicit about what the particular ambiguous meanings are, but I guess the implication is that there are federal laws that mean 49 states by it. I haven't found any by googling, but that's not evidence of much. -- 06:20, 20 Apr 2005 (UTC)
Check my contribs in the article history to see, but the "use in federal law" language was probably mine. IIRC, i looked at some Web pages that discussed Alaska's and/or Hawaii's transition into being a state; IIRC, it appeared
  • that some laws or regs were stated in terms of CONUS and others in terms of statehood,
  • that it was agreed that something (involving IRS?) in the new state should be (at least for a few years) other than what the existing def of CONUS would lead to in light of its statehoood, and
  • that rather than accomplish the desired effect by changing those statehood- or CONUS-sensitive provisions, they'd changed the meaning that CONUS had in that one set of contexts.
It may have been as simple as saving tax-prep firms the difference between, on one hand, inserting a letter about the definition change in their copies of the Internal Revenue Code, and, on the other, buying 5 million copies of a new edition. Or being able to make the change effective in a shorter time than the publishers could manage it. (Bear in mind that all book publishing in the '50s was much slower than is now the case for commercially hot topics.)
--Jerzy (t) 17:56, 2005 Apr 20 (UTC)

VfD debate[edit]

This article has been kept following this VfD debate. Sjakkalle 08:24, 26 May 2005 (UTC)


The articles states that conterminous is better than contiguous because not all 48 states are touching. However, not all 48 states share a common boundary either. That is, Oregon and Maryland are neither contiguous nor conterminous.

However, this objection is specious. Contiguous is very commonly used in the loose sense of "in contact", so that the 48 states are both contiguous and conterminous. In the OED, "contiguously" is used in this broader sense in all of the examples where there are more than two things in contact:

1639 Behold the Raine-Bow, and admire to see Transparant Shadowes mixt Contiguouslie.

(That is, the colors of the rainbow are contiguous, though they only contact the immediately adjacent colors)

1679 The next of kin contiguously embrace.
1822 Forty-four such eggs..laid contiguously in a right line.

The examples aren't as clear with the adjectival form, since most involve only two entities, but we do get

1874 Long rows of contiguous houses.

Thus the word contiguous is clearly correct when applied to the Lower 48.

Its definition is similar to one definition of conterminous:

Contiguous: Touching, in actual contact, next in space; meeting at a common boundary, bordering, adjoining.

Conterminous: (1) Having a common boundary, (2) bordering upon (each other).

However, conterminous is generally used with the first sense. Thus the US nation is conterminous with its states and counties (including AK and HI), because a stretch of the US border is also the border of a state and of a county. California is conterminous with Nevada and Arizona on the east, but California and Nevada are not conterminous states, because they do not have the same border overall. That is, the state of Hawaii is (more or less) conterminous with the islands of Hawaii, and the Pacific ocean is conterminous with Hawaii, but none of the states is completely conterminous with another. In the OED,

1652 The Dominion of the whole Earth..and of the conterminous Aer.
1677 In the Ports of the Sea conterminous to those Continents.
1817 Observe, that our Roman Catholic and church of England parishes, are not exactly conterminous.
1846 A township conterminous with Ilium.
1864 The estate of Dale of Allington had been coterminous with the parish of Allington for some hundreds of years.
1875 Christianity as well as civilization became conterminous with the Roman Empire.
1878 Defending the side of Germany conterminous to France.

However, the word is sometimes used more loosely, in sense (2), as in the Conterminous US:

1880 Allied species, whose ranges are separate but conterminous.

This was the only such example in the OED, and note that it was necessary to say that their ranges were separate, because if the author had only said their ranges were conterminous, we would understand this to mean that they completely overlapped.

Thus both words fit, but in general usage, contiguous is a better fit than conterminous, which only works in its secondary sense. kwami 18:42, 2005 August 15 (UTC)


Does the US have any islands near the coast? If so, are these considered part of CONUS? gpvos 17:04, 27 August 2005 (UTC)

Islands such as the Channel Islands ~50km off the coast of California are politically part of individual counties of the nearby state, and parts of Long Island are even incorporated within New York City. So yes, they're parts of the contiguous states. kwami 19:35, 2005 August 27 (UTC)

"Lower 48"[edit]

Its mentioned that this label is not factually correct because Hawaii is actaully the southernmost. Does its use come from a time before Hawaii achieved statehood?

Yep. Unschool 06:52, 27 May 2006 (UTC)
I was always under the impression the "lower 48" referred to those 48 states which have the lowest numbers of statehood, therefore excluding Alaska and Hawaii. • Rlloyd3 02:33, 24 February 2007 (UTC)
I really must beat this dead horse. Not only do I find it hard to believe that
The term "the lower 48 (states)" arose before Hawaii became a state,
as it would mean that the term is a remnant from the period between January 3, 1959 (before which there was no need for it) and August 21, 1959. If it was coined during this less-than-eight-month time frame, then surely the use of it would soon afterwards have ceased, had it been deemed inaccurate? But I also don't follow the argumentation for that inaccuracy:
If interpreted literally, the term would refer to all states except Alaska and Minnesota, the two northernmost states.
If interpreted literally, wouldn't it rather mean the 48 states closest to sea level? Not that this would exclude Hawaii (however you count, Hawaii is closer to sea level than for example Colorado), but it goes to show that "lower" can mean several things, and unless there is a reliable source that says that it should be taken to mean "southernmost" in this circumstance, it's pretty much just speculation. Rlloyd3's interpretation is as good as any other. Well, better, because it makes the terminology correct. I have of course googled for an actual etymology, but sadly to no avail. -- Jao 17:38, 27 June 2007 (UTC)

That paragraph had been really poorly written. I've changed it (removing the really dubious claim that it dates from that brief 1959 period). "Lower 48" is pretty much only used in reference to Alaska. If you look on a map, I think you can understand why. Yes, Hawaii is also "lower," but it's not located in North America so it has little else in common with the other non-Alaskan states. Funnyhat 19:30, 20 August 2007 (UTC)
Ah. 48 "lower" states in North America, one that is in North America but not "lower", and one that is not in North America at all. That makes sense, both latitude- and altitude-wise. Thank you, funny hat, it is much clearer now. -- Jao 13:22, 25 September 2007 (UTC)
Your mocking tone, Jao, obscures the point that Funnyhat is making. The evolution of the term does not have to have been logical in order for it to have occurred. Language rarely develops logically. Unschool 02:24, 26 September 2007 (UTC)
O...kay? I am aware that I sometimes have trouble getting all the nuances right in English – it's not an easy language – but why not assume good faith? I am geniunely grateful towards Funnyhat. -- Jao 04:37, 26 September 2007 (UTC)
My apologies. Unschool 13:09, 26 September 2007 (UTC)

should "48 contiguous states" redirect to here?[edit]

I think the term "forty-eight/48 contiguous states," or just "contiguous states" or "contiguous United States" should also redirect here.

Not realizing there was an entry for "continental United States," I started writing one for 48 contiguous states:

I guess it could be merged. --Kushibo (talk) 20:40, 8 December 2007 (UTC)

  • Redirected. —Travistalk 20:45, 8 December 2007 (UTC)


The article has been re-written and copy-edited to be tighter and better organized. Please stop reverting to older versions and using "blanking" in the edit summary, to give the impression that you're fixing vandalism. If you want to discuss the edits, please do so here, but continued reversion now will run afoul of 3RR and will be reported. Ed Fitzgerald (unfutz) (talk / cont) 22:34, 20 January 2008 (UTC)

In your opinion, that is. I stand corrected regarding 'blanking; nonetheless, your pruning is unjustified, resulting in an unclear, inferior article. Namely, the distinction between the 'continental United States' and 'contiguous United States' is not as clearly laid out as previously. And, while sources are lauded, what's with the focus on Alaska? Better integrate your edits into the existing article: given that you are the one insinuating changes, it is you that needs to compel for changes, not me. Corticopia (talk) 00:59, 21 January 2008 (UTC)
I'm afraid your reasoning is wrong. The revision to the article was done three weeks ago, and it's been edited by others and found acceptable since then. You're the first person to complain, and instead of fixing whatever problems the article now has, you've reverted it to an inferior previous version, so the onus is, in fact, on you to justify your actions. 02:10, 21 January 2008 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by Ed Fitzgerald (talkcontribs) My apology for neglecting to sign the comment. Ed Fitzgerald (unfutz) (talk / cont) 02:14, 21 January 2008 (UTC)
Merely pointing out that someone is wrong doesn't justify your edits, which are definitely not an improvement. A number of deficiencies have been pointed out regarding your edits -- despite your edits persisting for three weeks, the article existed for months in its prior state with little complaint. So, again, the onus is on YOU: compel for your changes, or count on them being rectified. End of note. Corticopia (talk) 02:48, 21 January 2008 (UTC)
Not sure which version is better, but I've deleted the "Stateside" reference, which I know I've never heard, and was not sourced (though it was deceptively followed by non-supportive citations in an earlier version). The fact that a few military personnel might use such an inane term born from their geographic ignorance does not mean that it constitues "Alaskan usage". Unschool (talk) 05:11, 21 January 2008 (UTC)

Added references to show "Continental" = "Contiguous"[edit]

Since there seems to be some outstanding question about whether there is a difference between what is meant by "contiguous United States" and "continental United States", I've added three references which contain 4 examples (one from NASA, two from the National Parks Service, and one from a commercial website) of maps which have been labeled "Continental United States" which show only the contiguous 48 states and DC, but not Alaska and Hawaii. (I stopped with these, but I could have posted many more.) I offer these not because they prove that they are the same thing, but to show that in ordinary usage, they are equivalent terms.

If someone has found an authoritative text which claims that, officially or academically, "continental United States" should include Alaska (as logic would dictate) while "contiguous United States" should not, I'd be very interested in seeing that, but, in point of fact, the two terms are used interchangeably. Alaska or Alaskans may not like it (I don't think I would were I them), but that's the way usage has evolved. Ed Fitzgerald (unfutz) (talk / cont) 08:17, 21 January 2008 (UTC)

Section review 1[edit]

The continental United States is a term referring to that part of the United States which is situated on the North American continent, but most commonly refers to the 48 contiguous states plus the District of Columbia in central North America[1][2][3] – in other words, the U.S. excluding Alaska and Hawaii.[4]

  • Okay, I see this opening sentence as self-contradictory. It says that the term refers to that part of the US on the continent, but then says that it most commonly refers to only the 48 contiguous states. Yes, I understand that both of these are accepted meanings, and I have no quarrel with noting that fact. But the sentence as written strikes me as awkward. How about:
The continental United States is a term that most frequently refers to the 48 contiguous states of the United States, but is used by some more literally to include Alaska, because it is also situated on the North American continent.
Just a thought. More to come, section by section. Unschool (talk) 03:32, 23 January 2008 (UTC)
  • Additionally, I don't think that the references support the assertion that the term "most commonly" means the 48 states. Oh, I agree that it does most commonly mean that. But all that those references do is to show that it is at least sometimes used that way. Unschool (talk) 03:35, 23 January 2008 (UTC)
I was unable to find a single reference in which "continental united state" included Alaska, so I think finding one would go a long way to easing the kind of change you're suggesting, because in the absence of any evidence otherwise, I do think that commonly "continental u.s." = 48 states. Ed Fitzgerald (unfutz) (talk / cont) 03:42, 23 January 2008 (UTC)
I think if you looked at any Geography textbook, certainly the one I had in 5th Grade, it would say that "continental United States" means states on the same continent, and includes Alaska. I understand that references have to be online, and I can't find any Geography textbooks online. But I feel that this page should give the correct answer, not the most common answer. By giving the wrong answer because it's the most common answer, you are making things worse. Rainbirdbrain (talk) 06:17, 24 November 2008 (UTC)
Incidentally, you are correct that there is a logical contradiction, but, unfortunately, language is often not logical, and in this case, usage seems to be that "continental u.s." means the 48 states. A citation showing otherwise would be interesting and welcome. Ed Fitzgerald (unfutz) (talk / cont) 03:43, 23 January 2008 (UTC)
Don't get me wrong. I'm not questioning your assertion that this is the most common meaning. I totally agree. The only time that I've heard otherwise is out of the mouths of those people (which, in my younger days, included myself) who enjoy debating semantics as a recreational pasttime. I'm only saying that it would be good to find a source that actually says what you and I know to be true, that the most common meaning of Continential United States is to be referring to the 48 contiguous states. Unschool (talk) 05:26, 23 January 2008 (UTC) is a gold mine for examples. This search shows that usage of the term "CUS" is rather complex, because it may be qualified by the explicit inclusion or exclusion of Alaska. I have started a section with usage examples. --Jtir (talk) 19:57, 23 January 2008 (UTC)

Section review 2[edit]

Regarding this section:

Some equivalent terms are:
  • contiguous United States
  • coterminous (or conterminous) United States
  • lower 48 [states] [5]
  • CONUS (a military abbreviation)

Well, first of all, are these terms "equivalent"? Depends on whether one means the contiguous states or the literally continetal states, does it not?

Secondly, I personally find this list aesthetically displeasing. I don't like the inclusion of "states" within brackets for the lower 48 (one learning the term here could easily be confused as to whether or not the word "states" needed to be said with the "lower 48"; it's just not list-like). And I don't like the clarifying use of "a military abbreviation" here in the list. Yes, this should be explained, but not within the list.

Nonetheless, I must add that I like the inclusion of "CONUS" here in the list, rather than in the opening sentence, as in some previous versions. I know that this is a real term, but, as best as I can determine, it truly is quite exclusive to military personnel and their adherents. Nonetheless, is this a list or not? It just looks awkward to me in its current form. Unschool (talk) 04:28, 23 January 2008 (UTC)

No, I came across "CONUS" on a Penn State website, I think having to do with weather radar sites. Let me see if I can find it...

Well, I didn't find that one, but here's one where "CONUS" is used with great frequency: [1]. In fact, it seems to be in regular use at Penn State, as you can see from this Google search [2]. Moving on, here's a NOAA site that uses it [3], and a GSA site as well [4], so it seems to be in fairly regular bureaucratic use by the Federal government. No, I thin your perception that CONUS is strictly a military term is mistaken. Ed Fitzgerald (unfutz) (talk / cont) 04:44, 23 January 2008 (UTC)

That's fine with me—in fact, even better, because that means that we can remove that parenthetical explanation after CONUS. Good deal. Unschool (talk) 05:28, 23 January 2008 (UTC)

Section review 3[edit]

Regarding this paragraph—

As the language of the Alaska Omnibus Act of 1959 makes apparent, the term was in use in U.S. federal law prior to then. It presumably dates from after the acquisition of Alaska in 1867, and probably from after the Spanish-American War and the annexation of Hawaii brought the United States its first off-continent possessions, both in 1898. Whatever else these terms may be, "continental United States" is a term defined in various federal laws, in different ways in different time periods; it is also defined in different ways at the same time, depending on whether or not the context was the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, during at least a period that began with Alaska statehood.

It just seems awkwardly written. And, now that I look at it, it includes unfounded speculation. Let me try a re-write:

Not only is the origin of the term unclear, it remains uncertain even when the term first surfaced. Presumably, the term could not have come into use until at least 1912, when Arizona was admitted as the 48th state. The term clearly emerged between that date and 1959, when it is used within the language of the Alaska Omnibus Act of 1959, a federal law.

I've omitted the total speculation about Hawaii and the Spanish American War; I don't see what they have to do with this. The comment about coming after the purchase is almost too irrelevant to include, and, given that I've logically shown that it could not have been used until 1912, I've left out the 1867 mention. I've also left out the last sentence entirely; it might actually be something interesting and relevant, but, as written, I can't even figure out what it is trying to say. Unschool (talk) 05:00, 23 January 2008 (UTC)

I have absolutely no idea what that paragraph says. It seems to be referring to "lower 48" as opposed to the topic of this article, which is "continental United States" (at least, that's what I think the stuff about Arizona is meant to imply). I've removed your text, and the entire section about Federal law as well. Checking back in the history of the page, I see that it just ballooned up without any citation or support. I don't understand what it's meant to say about the subject, and it doesn't hold together logically either any better than your text. I've replaced both your text and the old Fed Law text with a short paragraph which lays out the timeline for when the term *might* first have come into use, because there was no need for it before then.

Frankly, this is a lot of energy expended over a quite simple subject. I think the article is pretty much fine as is, and doesn't need more tinkering unless someone's got some citations to contribute. Ed Fitzgerald (unfutz) (talk / cont) 06:54, 26 January 2008 (UTC)

Per your last point about energy expended, agreed. I also realize that, in isolation, my paragraph appears out of context. It was simply intended to replace a paragraph that was gramatically impossible to follow. I think it's salvagable, but, more to the point, unnecessary. I suggest that your replacement paragraphy be deleted as well. In essence, it's a paragraph saying that the timeframe in which the term originated is unknown, and where would Wikipedia be if every time in every article we had a paragraph announcing that something is "unknown". It is only necessary to mention it if the rest of the article brings the subject up. Unschool (talk) 07:23, 26 January 2008 (UTC)
Agreed. I'm taking it out. Ed Fitzgerald (unfutz) (talk / cont) 07:26, 26 January 2008 (UTC)
And I must say, looking back, I'm quite embarrassed. There is one way that my paragraph makes sense, you know. That is, if the term being discussed is "Lower 48", not Continental United States. I must have had something else on my mind while writing that. Unschool (talk) 07:29, 26 January 2008 (UTC)

I'm puzzled[edit]

When I open this page, I don't see a "Contents" box at the top, that thing that allows you to navigate to a particular section without scrolling down. I don't mean that it's hidden (you know, with the show/hide toggle), I mean its not even there? Do others see it, or is this just my problem? I see it on other pages. Unschool (talk) 05:05, 23 January 2008 (UTC)

I've supressed it. Such a short article, less than a full screen, doesn't need a TOC. Ed Fitzgerald (unfutz) (talk / cont) 06:31, 23 January 2008 (UTC)
Didn't know that could be done. Makes sense, though. I've sometimes changed the way I've organized shorter articles so as to avoid the appearance of the TOC. Is that an administrative function? And does suppression on the article also supress it on that article's talk page? I'd like it here on the talk page, but not the article. Unschool (talk) 06:34, 23 January 2008 (UTC)
No, the code's at the very top of the page "__NOTOC__" Ed Fitzgerald (unfutz) (talk / cont) 06:37, 23 January 2008 (UTC)
I don't know why there was no TOC here on the talk page -- maybe you're right and suppressing it on the article carries over. In any case, I've forced it to appear.(The code for that is "__TOC__".) Ed Fitzgerald (unfutz) (talk / cont) 06:42, 23 January 2008 (UTC)

usage examples[edit]

Here are some usage examples from sorted by date. --Jtir (talk) 19:57, 23 January 2008 (UTC)

  1. The area, to which the first series of tables for population, agriculture, and manufactures relates, is continental United States, by which is meant that part of the United States lying on the continent of North America south of the Canadian boundary. It thus excludes Alaska and the recent insular accessions of Hawaii, Porto Rico, the Philippine Islands, Guam, Samoa, and, if it be a part of the United States, the Isle of Pines. (1902)
  2. Here is a transcript (1918) of a meeting in which particpants discuss whether Alaska is in or out of the CUS.
  3. Such subsection is further amended by striking out "continental United States (including Alaska)" ... (1927)
  4. In the absence of any such statement, Alaska probably would be regarded as a part of the continental United States. (1949)
  5. ... is amended to read as follows: "This subtitle B shall apply to the continental United States, except Alaska, ... (1968)

the acronym "OCONUS"[edit]

Some of the sources define the acronym "OCONUS". ISTM, that it would be a useful addition to this article. There is currently a redirect from OCONUS to Military slang. --Jtir (talk) 10:29, 27 January 2008 (UTC)

use of the definite article[edit]

Some of the sources use the definite article ("the continental United States") and some do not. ISTM that it would be useful to point this out in the article. --Jtir (talk) 11:13, 27 January 2008 (UTC)

What does "low" mean? (Again.)[edit]

Regarding this revert, I still have to see evidence that "lower" means "further south" in this context. Granted, I don't like my own wording either, because it sounds speculative, but at least I think we need to acknowledge that there are dozens of meanings of the word, and we can't say that its usage here is incorrect based on a selective choice unless we have a source saying that specific meaning was intended. See also #"Lower 48" above. -- Jao (talk) 05:37, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

What other meaning of "lower" do you think could apply in this context? Ed Fitzgerald (unfutz) (talk / cont) 13:12, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
The previous edit is too wordy and speculative. Obviously, Hawaii is farther south than the continental USA, but it's not any kind of "48", so "lower 48" works just fine as an expression. Ed's trying to shorten it up, which is good. There's no point in beating this etymology to death. Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? 13:22, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
The ones I mentioned in the footnote, which are the same as the ones mentioned in the section above. Isn't "closer to sea level" much more reasonable than "closer to the equator"? Both are listed in the dictionary above. Of course, none of them on its own explains the exclusion of Hawaii. "Lower by number of statehood" does, but I'll admit that's a fairly implausible explanation, although it's been made more than once. Granted, I'm no native English speaker, and if all native English speakers indeed would interpret it as "further south", then I have no argument. I'm all for shortening it up too, but I don't like "it's incorrect because it doesn't mean 'further south'" if we don't know that this was what it was supposed to mean in the first place. -- Jao (talk) 13:29, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
The simple solution, of course, would be to strike out the incorrectness part altogether. Is anyone opposed to that? -- Jao (talk) 13:44, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
English is slippery, in this case starting with the usage of the terms "further" and "farther", which are nearly the same and often used interchangeably. I just think trying to beat the etymology to death is a futile exercise. Too much time spent, explaining why it's not really correct, is too much time spent. People call things what they will. "Lower 48", as noted, really should be "lower and farther east 49". But no one's going to say that. "Lower 48" is just a colloquialism. When I was a kid (before Alaska and Hawaii became states), the expression "the 48 states" was often used, which matched the number of stars in the flag (D.C. never got a star). For some additional speculation, consider that the 48 contiguous states being referred to as "continental" might be just loosely using "continent" to mean "contiguous", hence Alaska is left out. Also the 48 states "span the continent" by themselves. English speakers will do what they want. Would you consider the state of Minnesota to be a "northwest" state? It's only about halfway across the continental U.S. Yet there are many references to this region as "northwest", simply because prior to the Louisiana purchase, this was the extreme northwest of the U.S.A. Then there's "Pacific Northwest", which is used in the U.S.A. to differentiate from "the old northwest", and is understood to mean just Oregon and Washington. Alaska is not in that picture, either, at least from the U.S.A. perspective. Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? 13:53, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
So the removal of the entire "The term 'lower 48 states' to exclude Alaska and Hawaii is also not strictly accurate, since Hawaii is further south than all other states" sentence would be fine with you too? If Ed doesn't object either, I'll boldly go ahead and take it out. -- Jao (talk) 14:17, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
Without checking the article, I have to ask this: Is that sentence a sourced statement, or is it someone's "analysis" of the situation? Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? 14:32, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
No sources given, and I haven't been able to find any reliable sources through Google searching. (For the sake of completeness, neither have I been able to find any reliable sources deeming the use to be correct, nor deeming it to be incorrect for any other reason.) -- Jao (talk) 14:37, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
I think it's just one of those things I see sometimes in wikipedia, an editor's "stream of consciousness" attempt to make sense of something that's unsourced... which is not really proper content in wikipedia. Report the facts, and leave the speculation to the readers. Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? 17:59, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
As nobody has objected, I removed the sentence. -- Jao (talk) 20:56, 3 May 2008 (UTC)
As nobody still has objected, I removed the sentence again. Don't know when it reappeared. -- Jao (talk) 11:54, 6 September 2008 (UTC)


When I lived in Alaska in the late 1950s, the term "Outside" was already very widely used. What is the source for saying that it has been used increasingly since the 1980s? That is not supported by the sources given. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:04, 14 November 2008 (UTC)

Continuation of above discussion, November, 2008[edit]

Note: Not unreasonably, User:JimWae made some comments above in response to an old thread of discussion. Nothing wrong with that; we've all run across dead threads and left our thoughts in the middle of a talk page, months after everyone else is done talking. But as his comments (and my responses) grew lengthier, it appeared to me to have become difficult to follow the conversation, which was now effectively happening in the middle of prior discussion. I have opted to move the discussion down here, and hope that that is acceptable to all.

Since there seems to be some outstanding question about whether there is a difference between what is meant by "contiguous United States" and "continental United States", I've added three references which contain 4 examples (one from NASA, two from the National Parks Service, and one from a commercial website) of maps which have been labeled "Continental United States" which show only the contiguous 48 states and DC, but not Alaska and Hawaii. (I stopped with these, but I could have posted many more.) I offer these not because they prove that they are the same thing, but to show that in ordinary usage, they are equivalent terms.

If someone has found an authoritative text which claims that, officially or academically, "continental United States" should include Alaska (as logic would dictate) while "contiguous United States" should not, I'd be very interested in seeing that, but, in point of fact, the two terms are used interchangeably. Alaska or Alaskans may not like it (I don't think I would were I them), but that's the way usage has evolved. Ed Fitzgerald (unfutz) (talk / cont) 08:17, 21 January 2008 (UTC)

  • It's not just about what people can figure out. If you read "Long Island is the largest island in the continental US", are you sure you know what is being stated. The term "continental US" is just too unclear to be useful for clear communication --JimWae (talk) 08:17, 23 November 2008 (UTC)
  • Contiguous 48 United States would be a clearer name --JimWae (talk) 09:01, 23 November 2008 (UTC)
JimWae, are you proposing that we move this article to Contiguous 48 United States? I mean, you're absolutely correct that this term is laden with ambiguity, but we can't help the fact that currently the term used is Continental United States. What are you asking for? Unschool (talk) 01:02, 24 November 2008 (UTC)
  • Yes, a move is needed, and others can redirect. Just because an ambiguous term exists does not mean it needs an article to itself that pretends the meaning is clear, when it is not. Entities "in the know" disagree[5] on meaning of Continental US. One article unambiguously named (such as Contiguous United States) could discuss all other terms --JimWae (talk) 01:20, 24 November 2008 (UTC)
Well, my initial reaction is to disagree with you. This term has become so imbedded in the American lexicon over the last 50 years (well, it will be 50 years in about six weeks), that I just can't see not having it here. But that's not much of an argument, so I'll sit back and see if consensus for your opinion can develop. Unschool (talk) 12:50, 24 November 2008 (UTC)
  • "Contiguous United States" is also in the lexicon and has a clear meaning. "Continental US" requires qualification whenever it is used. At the very least, this article should not pretend that the definition is clear-cut--JimWae (talk) 18:41, 24 November 2008 (UTC)
    • Anyone with a modicum of sense encountering "Continental US" should not make any assumption about whether AK is included or not, but look further for the "fine print". Wikipedia does nobody a service by pretending there is even a "common" definition, much less a "clear" one. --JimWae (talk) 22:05, 24 November 2008 (UTC).
    • Neither should any article link to this page. Which meaning is intended should be made on that page - for we cannot make mud clear here --JimWae (talk) 22:08, 24 November 2008 (UTC)
Two points:
  1. First of all, I have no dog in this fight. In an earlier time I myself questioned the definition on this page, and went through significant discussion before yielding to others. I will shed no tears if User:JimWae prevails. I will, however, be disturbed if this happens without a fair and open discussion.
  2. Secondly, I acknowledge, as User:JimWae asserts, that "Contiguous" is a more appropriate term for those 48 states, and that "Continental" would more appropriately include Alaska. But I feel that JimWae is 100% incorrect when he applies these observations to the decision as to whether or not this article should exist with the name it has. It is completely immaterial how JW and I feel about it. Our feelings and our conclusions about what makes sense are nothing more than OR. What is important is establishing what usage is. And as much as I may disagree with it, I believe that the usage "Continental United States" is generally used for the Lower 48. (However, I also suspect that this is changing. 40 years ago, I literally got into an argument with a teacher over the use of the term, because I thought the term should include the state of Alaska. Over the past five decades, as Americans have grown accustomed to the fact that Alaska is actually one of the states, I think that more people are including Alaska with "Continental US" and substituting "Contiguous US" for the Lower 48.) But it doesn't matter what I think is happening, we must demonstrate it factually, per WP:V.
Another editor some time ago demonstrated to my satisfaction and the satisfaction of others that most usage of "Continental US" generally excluded Alaska. All I'm saying here is that, if we're going to change that, someone else must do sufficient legwork to overturn the ruling on the field. Unschool (talk) 04:59, 26 November 2008 (UTC)
  • It was never my intention to have the page say "continental US usually means ...including Alaska". My gripe was with the article when it asserted so strongly that "excluding Alaska" was somehow THE chief meaning - the one that could most often be presumed. I think this article needs to make it clear that there is no single usage that one can generally assume to be the intended one (even though I would say there is only one correct logical usage). The term is used (in at least) two ways & one is best advised to read further to discover what the author intended.
  • I have changed Contiguous United States from being a redirect to being an article in itself, as that does seem to me (at least now) a better solution than a move. I am not now aiming for either deleting this article nor for turning it into a redirect. I do continue to think that any page that links to this article needs to be fixed. Whether this article will survive not being linked to is another matter. I suppose CONUS might be one of a very few articles that still ought to redirect here - at least until the Navy says CONUS is short for CONtiguous US--JimWae (talk) 06:04, 26 November 2008 (UTC)
  • My modicum of sense comment was not directed at any editors, but rather a comment on an attitude readers would be unwise not to heed, (and that wikipedia should not advise them otherwise). I do not know anything about any editor's history regarding this article. If anyone found that comment offensive, it was not my intention, and I think one can see that reading it as an attack on any editor would be a stretch. I do not think it is anything that might require an apology, but I do regret if anyone took offense. --JimWae (talk) 06:04, 26 November 2008 (UTC)
I certainly think that JimWae said nothing that was in the least bit offensive. Unschool (talk) 06:28, 26 November 2008 (UTC)

What does this mean?[edit]

The description currently contains the following statement:

"Together, the 48 contiguous states and D.C. have an area of 3,021,352,86 square miles (7,825,268.38 km²). Of this, 2,860,532.67 sq mi (7,408,745.62 km²) is land, comprising 95.64% of U.S. land area. Officially, 160,820.25 sq mi (416,522.38 km²) is water area, comprising 5.32% of the nation's water area."

This is nonsense, but I am not sure what text was intended here. (talk) 09:17, 31 January 2009 (UTC)

Merger proposal[edit]

We appear to have two articles about the same thing with a different first word (Continental/Contiguous). I propose merging them. Lumbergh (talk) 03:19, 15 February 2009 (UTC)

Contiguous United States redirected here until 24 November, when it was made its own article by User:JimWae. I haven't checked the differences between the articles, but I agree that two separate articles seems unnecessary. —JAOTC 15:15, 15 February 2009 (UTC)

Map has Alaska & Hawaii[edit]

The article specifically says the Contiguous United States is the United States minus Alaska and Hawaii. Then it proceeds to show a map of the US including Alaska and Hawaii. Shouldn't there be one without them? chad. (talk) 00:38, 13 April 2009 (UTC)

Use of term "Mainland"[edit]

The following sentence is unnecessary:

However, as in many parts of the world, the word "mainland" is also used within the 48 states to distinguish between continental land and outlying islands (such as Manhattan, the San Juan Islands in Washington State, Catalina Island in California, Martha's Vineyard in Massachussetts and Mackinac Island in Michigan).

Well, of course "mainland" is used in these contexts. That's essentially the dictionary definition of the term. The reason that Hawaii's usage of the term is notable in this article is specifically because it is not an obvious usage. The distance from Martha's Vineyard to the "mainland" is, what, five miles? Far less a distance than the size of the island itself. Similar situation for the other examples. But Hawaii's distance from any continental landmass is so great that it belies the usual application of "mainland". It's not even really that obvious in what direction the mainland lies--Los Angeles is not much closer than Anchorage, and Tokyo, while it is a bit further, is just about as obviously Hawaiian mainland as the 48 contiguous states--which is to say, not at all. Look, if we have to acknowledge that "Mainland" has other uses besides Hawaiian usage, then we better also include the following sentence in the Alaska section:

However, as in many parts of the world, the word "outside" is also used within the 48 states to distinguish between standing in the interior of a building and standing in a location that is not within the interior of a building (such as in the backyard, at the park, on top of a mountain).

That's my 2¢. Unschool 05:07, 21 October 2009 (UTC)

Once again, it's the wrong map[edit]

The map does not show what the article is about. Could we please get something else? (talk) 08:17, 19 November 2009 (UTC)

Yes, this article really needs a new map! (talk) 04:25, 13 September 2010 (UTC)

The lower 48[edit]

I always assumed that the expression "the lower 48" meant the 48 states with the lowest longitude, in which case it's not a misnomer. Is there a citation for this, so it can be mentioned in that section of the article? (talk) 15:30, 29 July 2010 (UTC)

i came in here to disscus boundarys of alaska VS USA map[edit]

in the boundarys of alaska VS USA map you see where alaskan lands would go in order to fit into the usa lands completly. but you notice that the sea boundary of alaska is missing for comparison. id like to see a futureist version of this showing a line you can coler what you want but it has to be shown but theres another boundary the illegal claim for the us to get more canadien beafort sea and this is outragues. already the americans have the canadians on 2 sides nearly cuting them off from the pacific. in my opinion alaska is a colony that became a state recently in our time. the united nations was founded before in the map you can have 2 boundareis the actual claims reconized by canada and the boundaries the US claims. in the Canadiens invaded the US lands becasue there not supposed to be on the south rocks of grand manan archipeligo. look as a american i reconigzed canidein soverenty over the current border and having the canadiens with drawl from the S.G.M. rocks they out off shore of our parralell. i think a perfectly strait north-south sea boundary in the aartic beafort sea. is a perfect trade off. americans really dont want this border dispute to go on for another 100 years. i request a new map with sea boundarys in diffrent colers showing EEZ claims of alaska. and USA overlapping discovering rocks in the buefort sea we might try colonize it and lay pre-fabricated slabs of concrete on top of them. having a reconized sea boundary with EEZ would be a set ahead of situation in the koreas, japan and china and russia. thos 5 far eastern nations had there work cut out for them if they want to solve there EEZ border disputes. (talk) 02:51, 9 July 2012 (UTC)

Unnecessary "See Also" Links?[edit]

The only connection "List largest optical telescopes in the continental United States" has with this article is the fact that the telescopes on the list are only in the continental U.S. The main point of that article is optical telescopes, which has little relevance with this article. Otherwise, we might as well just add a link to any "List of ____ in the continental United States" article. If there's no good reason to keep it, it will be deleted. Come to think of it, "Metropolitan France" seems oddly placed under "See Also". Although it's the same concept as this article (the contiguous mainland part of a country), there's little relevance in actual content. Again, either it should be deleted, or we should add a link to every significant article about "Contiguous/Metropolitan/Mainland (Country)", like Mainland China for example. Unless, of course, there's a reasonable argument for keeping it. --Thumbtax (talk) 13:19, 9 October 2012 (UTC)

I do not think a See Also link to Metropole is relevant to this article either--JimWae (talk) 22:27, 14 October 2012 (UTC)
Hmm, maybe. I'm not sure about this one. I could see how it could possibly be relevant since, according to the Metropole article, metropole could mean the main part of a country, just like the contiguous United States. But then again, it also states that such a meaning is used in French and Portuguese (not English!) and the English definition seems to denote some form of colonial possession and not just the main area of a country. Okay, I'll go ahead and delete it.--Thumbtax (talk) 03:54, 15 October 2012 (UTC)

Conterminous with what?[edit]

I don't understand what is meant by "conterminous" U.S. Could the explanation be clarified please. The contiguous U.S. is conterminous with what? Something can only be conterminous with something else, surely. One would not say something is conterminous with itself, as all things are conterminous with themselves. Nurg (talk) 23:05, 22 December 2012 (UTC)

The 48 USA states (& DC) which share a boundary with another USA state - and are all within a continuous boundary. --JimWae (talk) 02:10, 23 December 2012 (UTC)

Aleutian islands[edit]

This article says:

Because Alaska is also on the North American continent, the term continental United States, if interpreted literally, would also include that state,

Naturally, the term would include continental Alaska but exclude the Aleutian islands. Any thoughts on what to do with this statement?? Georgia guy (talk) 14:28, 23 May 2013 (UTC)

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  1. ^ See, for instance, this NASA map titled "Continental United States Population Map" which shows the contiguous 48 states and D.C., but not Alaska and Hawaii
  2. ^ See this National Parks service map titled Military Bases in the Continental United States which shows the contiguous 48 states and D.C., but not Alaska or Hawaii, or this NPS map of the Indian Reservations in the Continental United States, which shows the same area.
  3. ^ See this website's map of Railroads of the Continental United States, which shows the contiguous 48 states and D.C., but not Alaska and Hawaii
  4. ^ Because Alaska is also on the North American continent, it would be more strictly correct that the phrase "the continental United States" would exclude only Hawaii, but in fact it is rarely used in that manner.
  5. ^ The term "lower 48 states" to exclude Alaska and Hawaii is not strictly accurate, since Hawaii is further south than all other states. The District of Columbia, while not a state, is generally understood to be included in the "lower 48".