An onion by any other name


Judging from the wealth of nicknames boasted by the Windy City (others include the Wild Onion, the City of Big Shoulders, and the City in a Garden), describing the Big Chi is a big challenge—one answered this fall by the University of Chicago Press with a very big book. The Encyclopedia of Chicago, edited by U of C history lecturer James R. Grossman, Ann Durkin Keating, AM’79, PhD’84, and UCLA professor Janice L. Reiff, offers 21 critical essays, 56 original maps, and 1,400 entries from abolitionism to Zoroastrians.

The 1,000-plus page volume also covers a few of the city’s choicest monikers. “Chicago,” for example, comes from an American Indian word meaning “striped skunk,” a term that also refers to the pungent wild onions that grew along the eponymous Chicago River. “Windy City,” on the other hand, was coined by Midwesterners in the late 1800s to deride the famously long-winded local politicians and other vocal boosters who touted the charms of the soon-to-be Second City (another insult, this from A. J. Liebling New Yorker articles). Both Windy City and Second City, the encyclopedia notes, have since been adopted with pride.


September 24, 2004