"Checagou" is Miami/Illinos

carljweber carljweber at MSN.COM
Thu Dec 20 22:25:39 UTC 2001

(edited by CJW)
John E. McLaughlin wrote:
Mr. Weber,
I've been reading your comments on the etymology of "Chicago" with
interest for a while. Even with the earliest attestation, "Checagou",
it's phonetic
similarity to the Miami/Illinois word for "skunk" is way beyond

(I'll take any interest I can get.) No way. Similarities breed
homonyms. Homonyms breed convenient etymologies. La Salle's word
"Checagou," the form for nearly the first TWO DECADES, was not simply
the "earliest attestation." Note it is without the "-a" on the end,
and accordingly, it could not be Miami/Illinois for "skunk." The "-a"
gender marker on the ends of words of some of the related Algonquian
languages was "inaudible to Europeans"; and in others the "-a" was
even morphemically dropped -- but these do not apply in
Miami/Illinois. When the word began to be used by the Jesuits -
missionaries to the Miami/Illinois -- after about 1700, they rendered
it into the Miami/Illinois dialect as basically "Chicagoua" - with
"Chi-" and "-a." The Indians told Joutel in late 1687 the area was
named after the "onions" (NOT "skunk"). ("Skunk" --  from which the
"onion" synonym derived -- was the transparent meaning of the word to
the Miami/Illinois. The onions, when in season, had a foul smell). The
1720 dictionary of Le Boulanger has "abusive" next to the Chicago word
as used for "onions." The Indians were funnin' with Joutel. The
 "skunk" etymology doesn't come up until the Tanner narrative of the
1830s, 150 years after the place name's first use by La Salle.

I also think that your quibbling over "e" or "i" in the first syllable
quite needless since the European ears that heard the Native words
usually untrained to hear a consistent and reliable distinction
front lax vowels.

(This is further compounded by the natives' apparently having been
untrained in elocution). This is the common argument. I've come across
it numerous times. Algonquianist scholars do NOT quibble about this
Chi-/Che-, however, in this context. The "Che-" form, found for nearly
the first two decades of the word's use in narratives and on maps, is
not quibble. The problem is that there are many examples with "Che-"
and "Chi-," in the entire span of literature into the English period,
but no one ever tried to sort it out. I took all the narratives, and
all the maps in the opening decades of use, pulled the forms, put them
in chronology, and allowed for the historical cases that might have
been spurious. Remember too, that there were bi-lingual children
running around to help their dads' untrained ears.

.Almost all of the linguists keep referring them back to me as a
specialist.  They just don't like "worm eaters" as the meaning of
beloved town's name.  Sometimes a horse is just a horse.  LaSalle's
"Checagou" and your very good explanation of the "locative n" as a
(a Comanche treaty from 1786 has a name, Paruaquibitiste, in the
copy that became Parnaquibitiste in the printed version) both point to
solid etymology of "skunk" in Miami/Illinois.

What I debunk is not just the skunk. The classical "skunk/onion"
etymology is actually "place of the skunk/onion" -- going back to H.R.
Schoolcraft. It's wrong, not just for the 1714 misprint you mention,
but also the three reasons I mention in "Chicago Etymology Revisited":
1. it was not from a local language, 2. the area to which the name
applied in the earliest descriptions and on the maps was much larger
than the comparatively small area up near lake Michigan where grew the
aliums that stunk a few months a year, and 3. the Indians' use of the
word was "abuse," a linguistic fraud on the white eyes.

Mine is a preponderance of evidence argument - truth by a thousand

Carl Jeffrey Weber

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