LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) — From Bluegrass music to Blue Grass Airport, Kentucky is the Bluegrass State, but why isn’t there a single spelling?

History of the spellings

Kentucky’s nickname as the Bluegrass State comes from bluegrass, a grass native to England. According to Merriam-Webster, references to the grass are the first recorded use of the word in 1751. Kentucky bluegrass is one of the most popular turf grasses in the United States, according to lawn experts. The name comes from stories of settlers claiming the grass had a blueish hue when seen from a distance in the sunlight.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the two-word spelling comes from the country music band Blue Grass Boys, which is a key source of modern Bluegrass music. Britanica said the music was a cultural development during World War II in the late 1920s.

In the dictionary

Dictionaries like Webster’s New World College Dictionary use the one-word spelling bluegrass.

The dictionary includes two definitions: one for the grass, “any of several grasses (genus Poa) of which some have bluish-green culms,” and the second for music, “[from the Blue Grass Boys, performing group, from Bluegrass state, nickname of Kentucky]: country music characterized by the use of unamplified stringed instruments (such as banjo, fiddle, guitar, and mandolin), by free improvisation, and by close usually high-pitched harmony.”

Regular uses

When people use the word(s), they are commonly referring to one of three things: music, plants, or Kentucky.

Bluegrass as a music genre was developed in the Appalachian region of Kentucky from European folk music. Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys are what took this specific flavor of folk music in Kentucky and turned it into Bluegrass. Musicians use guitars, banjos, fiddles, and an Appalachian dulcimer to create the sound of Bluegrass music.

Bluegrass as a plant has played an important role in Kentucky’s history. The blueish grass has fed Kentucky race horses and created fame as Kentucky bluegrass has become one of the most popular grass choices in the world, according to lawn and turf experts.


Kentucky accepted its nickname as the Bluegrass State in the 1960s after the legislature approved the title, allowing the state to use the name in advertising and on things like license plates. The state also uses the Bluegrass title to describe central Kentucky. The Bluegrass region is made up mostly of horse country like that in Lexington.

Most spellings go for the one-word version, like Bluegrass State, the Bluegrass Music Association, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Bluegrass, and many others. But some do choose to use the two-word version: Blue Grass Airport, Blue Grass Community Foundation, and Blue Grass Energy.