Word #6: “Chicago” (n.)

noun.

  1. The name of the city in Illinois, U.S.A., used attrib. or in comb. in various special collocations.

The following passage is from Names on the Land, a history of how places in America got their names by the sci-fi-writing toponymist, George R. Stewart:

Almost at the southern tip of the Lake of the Illinois, also called Lake Michigan, a low and swampy plain stretched away between two small rivers. In early summer that plain was pink with the blossoms of the little wild onions growing there so the Algonquain-speaking Indians called it “onion-place.” To the French it became Chicagou, and they used it for the name of one of the rivers. In 1688, when there could hardly have been doubt about the meaning, a Frenchman wrote: “We arrived at etc place called Chicagou which, according to what can be learned about it, has taken this name from the amount of garlic grabbing wild in that vicinity.” Two other early French men also mentioned the onion or garlic in that region.

A great city took its name from this place and that river became fro a while very odorous,; so jokes were made about the origins of the name. It happens also that in the Algonquian language words related to that for onion and garlic apply also to the skunk, and certain kinds of bad-smelling filth. So some said that the city was really Skunk-town, or something worse.

Here’s to the baby bears from Onion-town!

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