Chicago’s top contributions to the English language

Next time you hear someone mention a jungle gym, don’t think about the Amazon. Think about the Windy City.

Are you a southpaw? Or a yuppie? Work in a skyscraper? Listen to jazz? Then you have a connection to Chicago.

Those words and 36 other words and phrases are featured in a Chicago magazine article listing the city’s contributions to the English language. Some examples of other common words on the list include “clout,” “racketeer,” “egghead,” “doo-wop,” “cafeteria,” and “props.”

Some of the stories behind the various terms are pretty surprising. For instance, the word “midway,” the part of a carnival full of games and sideshows, came from the 1893 Columbian Exposition, where the Midway Plaisance in the southern part of the Hyde Park neighborhood served a similar purpose. Now, Chicago has an airport named Midway (though it’s named for the World War II Battle of Midway).

“Pipe dream,” another phrase Chicago can claim, was first used in the Chicago Tribune in 1890 to refer to air travel and apparently invokes the hallucinations of opium smokers.

A few of the terms on Chicago magazine’s list are a bit dubious. Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert certainly popularized the phrase “two thumbs up” and even trademarked it, but there’s no proof here they actually coined it. Likewise, the word “pooch” was long in use before appearing in print in the Tribune in 1906.

Still, the word-origin stories are greatly entertaining. What words or phrases can your city claim?

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