FYI: "Windy City" in Chicago Tribune blog, July 17th
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bapopik at AOL.COM
Tue Jul 18 01:21:06 UTC 2006
A Chicago Tribune blog covers "Windy City" again. It would have been nice if he'd have written to me before writing.
Maybe somebody can write to the Chicago Historical Society, or the Chicago History Museum or whatever it's called now, and tell them that many years ago, I busted the 1893 World's Fair myth, and (like "the Big Apple") I gave my papers to every institution all over the city, and no one would listen to me. My work now appears to free (scholars just cannot accept any money) in the Wikipedia.
(CHICAGO TRIBUNE BLOG, cited above)
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Originally posted: July 17, 2006
For our out of town guests: Why Chicago is called `the Windy City'
I blogged on this in 2004 but it seems like a good summer re-run topic:
Long ago, I assumed that Chicago was called "The Windy City" because it was particularly breezy here.
Then I learned that savvy locals know the term was actually coined in the late 19th Century and referred to what inveterate windbags our politicians are.
But then Ed "Cecil Adams" Zotti's "Straight Dope" column in the Reader cited the work of Barry Popik, a "relentless word bloodhound," and noted that "the term was already being used in 1885 with reference to the city's lake breezes, and he's since found instances dating from as early as 1876."
This led me to the entry on this topic in the newly published "Encyclopedia of Chicago," and an archived "Straight Dope," both of which point to wind, not hot air, as the source of the nickname. The matter also has its own Wikipedia entry.
Finally, though, the Tribune's "On Language" columnist Nathan Bierma wrote what I still consider to be the definitive article on the term. His verdict after consulting with numerous experts: Both.
Where did it come from? --Did NewYork Sun editor Charles A. Dana coin the phrase, or is that legend just full of hot air?
By Nathan Bierma
Special to the Tribune
Dec. 7, 2004
They don't call it the Windy City for nothing," said an ESPN announcer during a recent Northwestern football game, as the camera showed the wind whipping the flags atop Ryan Field.
But consult most tour books or talk to city history buffs, and they'll gleefully point out that the nickname Windy City originally referred not to lake breezes but to Chicago's long-winded politicians.
The Chicago Public Library supports this definition. "In the early part of the nineteenth century, Chicago promoters went up and down the East Coast loudly promoting Chicago as an excellent place to invest. Detractors claimed they were full of wind," the library says on its Web site.
"Later, Chicago and New York were competing to hold the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. Charles A. Dana, editor of the New York Sun, wrote an editorial advising against the 'nonsensical claims of that windy city. Its people could not hold a world's fair even if they won it.' This editorial is widely credited with popularizing the 'Windy City' nickname."
The Chicago Historical Society's Web site agrees that Dana "dubbed" Chicago the Windy City. So do at least three pictorial guides to Chicago displayed at area bookstores, as well as Joel Greenberg's "A Natural History of the Chicago Region" (University of Chicago Press, 2002) and Erik Larson's recent best seller set in Chicago at the time of the Columbian Exhibition, "The Devil in the White City" (Crown, 2003). The Dana explanation has been printed over and over in the Tribune, the Sun-Times and The New York Times.
There's just one problem. The Dana editorial is nowhere to be found, and no one can prove it was ever written. Etymologists say it's just a myth.
In his new book "Word Myths: Debunking Linguistic Urban Legends" (Oxford University Press, 2004), etymologist Dave Wilton takes the City of Chicago -- and, yes, the Tribune -- to task for buying into the Dana story.
"It illustrates a very important point about urban legends: If they are repeated enough, they become accepted unconditionally as truth," Wilton writes.
Wilton points out that no one has ever provided a date for the supposed editorial or supplied any other convincing evidence that Dana coined the nickname. Wilton adds that Mitford M. Mathews' "Dictionary of Americanisms on Historical Prin-ciples," (University of Chicago Press, 1951) cited a "Windy City" reference to Chicago in the Louisville Courier-Journal from 1887, before the lobbying for the Columbian Exposition began. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the same article. Neither mentions Dana.
Tim Samuelson, Chicago's cultural historian, has doubts about Dana's role too.
Though he hasn't specifically investigated the term, he says he has come across uses of the nickname "Windy City" for Chicago as early as the 1880s.
"Based on things I've seen in the course of other research, the concept predates Dana," he says.
Author Larson says he knows there are various theories on where "Windy City" got its start, but he supports the idea of editor Dana's influence during the rancorous exchanges between New York and Chicago over the world's fair.
"Even if you're finding a reference from 1886 to `Windy City,' you have to think, when did it become the name that everybody knew?" Larson says. "It's not just when something first became a name that people heard, but when it became a name that stuck."
Donald Miller, author of the landmark "City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America" (Simon & Schuster, 1996), says he deliberately avoided getting tangled up in the nickname debate.
"I stayed away from this business because I could find no proof for the Dana story," he says. "I checked it out and found nothing I could go with as a reliable source."
In response to a Tribune inquiry, the librarians at the Chicago Public Library compiled Tribune articles, letters and editorials that mention Dana and the Windy City nickname.
Several Tribune news clippings from the 1890s discuss Dana's bellyaching about Chicago's bid to host the fair. But the first direct link they could find between Dana and the nickname is a June 11, 1933, article in the Tribune titled "Chicago Dubbed `Windy' In Fight For Fair of '93."
The article says Dana "fixed on us" the label by writing "day in and day out in his New York Sun" about "`the nonsensical claims of that windy city,'" but there is no specific text or date for the fabled Dana editorial coining the nickname.
No one has found any example of Dana using that term for Chicago in the pages of his newspaper. There are, however, numerous Tribune responses in the 1890s to Dana's regular disparagement of the city.
The Chicago Public Library stands by the assertion on its Web site that Dana popularized the term "Windy City," even if he didn't coin it.
"A lot of these articles indicate that Dana was a ringleader in questioning Chicago's ability to host the fair," says Margaret Killackey, the library's press secretary. "`Windy City' didn't become a household name until after the Dana references. There had been isolated references to the Windy City, but a flurry of references in print show it was used repeatedly in many parts of the country around the time of the world's fair."
Killackey adds, "Should something new be unearthed, we would look at that information. As of now, we feel confident that the phrase was popularized after the Dana editorial."
The Encyclopedia of Chicago, published in October, isn't so sure Dana should get even that much credit. Its entry for "Windy City" was written by Jonathan Boyd, an independent historian and lifelong Chicagoan.
"Chicago's exposed location between the Great Plains and the Great Lakes -- and the wind swirling amid the city's early skyscrapers -- lend credence to the literal application" of the nickname, even though the city "is not distinctively windy," the entry reads. It goes on to say that the city's bloviating boosters of the 19th Century have historically given "metaphorical . . . power" to the name "Windy City."
The encyclopedia includes a picture of a newspaper clipping from the Sept. 19, 1885, edition of the Cleveland Gazette, provided by the Ohio Historical Society, in which a roundup of news briefs from Chicago is introduced by the headline "From The Windy City."
Boyd says he was trying to capture the cultural significance of the term, rather than settle the nearly impossible question of who coined it and when.
But he says the 1885 article was the earliest available example of its use when the encyclopedia went to press.
The closest anyone has gotten to the truth about the "Windy City" nickname seems to be the research of etymologist Barry Popik. He says the earliest examples of the moniker for Chicago meant both wind and windbags, and Dana had nothing to do with it. And he's sick of people who can't get it straight.
Popik, a consultant to the Oxford English Dictionary, spends his days working as a judge in New York City's bureau of parking violations. He spends his nights in libraries looking at old newspapers, microfiche and digital databases, hunting for early examples of famous nicknames and slang. Then he embarks on vigorous letter-writing campaigns to let everyone know what he has found.
In the mid-1990s, Popik set his sights on "Windy City," and started scanning hundreds of editions of the New York Sun -- a newspaper that was published from 1833 to 1950 -- in the New York Public Library.
He couldn't find a single instance of Dana using the name "Windy City."
Then Popik started looking further back, and in other newspapers, traveling to the Library of Congress to search through them.
He found a Louisville Courier-Journal reference to "Windy City" in 1886 -- one year before the Oxford English Dictionary's first citing. He found the 1885 article from the Cleveland Gazette. He came across several examples from the early 1880s in newspapers such as the Fort Wayne Daily Gazette, the Indiana Progress and the Decatur Daily Republican.
Finally, Popik isolated a single source. "Windy City," he says, may have been coined by -- drum roll, please -- Cincinnati.
Popik found numerous references to Chicago as the "Windy City" in the Cincinnati Enquirer in the late 1870s and early 1880s. The oldest instance Popik has found is in the May 9, 1876, edition of the Enquirer, in a report about a tornado that hit Chicago on May 6. The headline read, "That Windy City."
The Cincinnati Historical Society confirms his findings.
Popik says the Enquirer headline had a double meaning in its era of civic name-calling, for Chicago, Cincinnati and St. Louis all vociferously claimed the right to be called the greatest city of the Midwest.
"The Cincinnati Enquirer's use is clearly double-edged," Popik says. "They used the term for windy speakers who were full of wind, and there was a wind-storm in Chicago. It's both at once."
The May 6 tornado may have provided a physical reason to use a figurative analogy. In its first report about the tornado on May 8, the Enquirer tastelessly quipped that the twister failed to damage the buildings in Chicago that "were so heavily weighed down with mortgages that no whirlwind could affect them."
Popik says the Enquirer also printed several jokes that said Chicago women had big feet (if you don't find that hilarious, maybe you had to be there).
"The regional cities in the period leading up to the Civil War and afterward are constantly poking each other in the eye," says Boyd of the Encyclopedia of Chicago. "They need to build themselves up and tear others down.Boosterism is the rhetorical mode of rivalry. It's trash talk."
Popik's findings have been available for years, posted at the American Dialect Society and his Web site (www.barrypopik.com), published in the journal Comments on Etymology, and reported by the "Straight Dope" column of the Chicago Reader. Yet, to Popik's exasperation, the myth that Dana coined the name "Windy City" circa 1890 goes on and on.
"These stories, you have to kill them," he says. "Not only kill them, but put a stake in their heart. You have to go to each individual source and say, `That's not true.'"
Popik says if he were a history professor instead of a parking ticket judge, he would be taken more seriously, and this Windy City matter might have been settled by now.
"He's completely right. There's no question about it," says Jesse Sheidlower, North American editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.
"Mr. Popik's references solidly establish that `Windy City' was a Chicago nickname that preceded Dana and the fight to secure the world's fair," says Samuelson, Chicago's cultural historian.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the Dana quote does indeed exist," he says, but adds, "Even if we had a specific reference to a Dana quotation, it's questionable what kind of role it would have played in giving `popularity' to the term, since it was already in circulation as a Chicago-related reference."
Copyright Chicago Tribune, 2004. Article by Nathan Bierma.
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