“If you had always assumed that Chicago earned its nickname as the Windy City from the chilly gusts coming off Lake Michigan, you would be wrong. The city is windy, according to most local legends, because of the hot air bellowing from politicians.”
Actually, you’d be right, but you’d be fighting an uphill battle against the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Historical Society, and the Chicago Public Library. The above quote comes from the November 20 New York Times, in which Jeff Zeleny writes about the national attention currently focused on Chicago, the home base of our next president. And just as Zeleny erroneously believes Chicago’s famous nickname originated with windbag politicians in the late 19th century — New York Sun editor Charles Dana wrote about “the nonsensical claims of that windy city” as Chicago pols loudly wooed the organizers of the 1893 world’s fair — he uses “bellowing” instead of “billowing” to describe the wind that blew toward New York from the mouths of the city’s former leaders.
Truth be told, though even the city’s library system (that’s 79 branches of pure intimidation) won’t acknowledge the findings of New York City administrative law judge and Straight Dope reader Barry Popik, the May 9, 1876, Cincinnati Enquirer featured the following headline: “THAT WINDY CITY. Some of the Freaks of the Last Chicago Tornado.” That’s at least 13 years before Charles Dana told Chicago politicians to put a sock in it. And in January 1886 the Louisville Courier-Journal used the nickname to refer to the wind from Lake Michigan that blankets the city every winter.
So it’s settled, right? No, probably not, unless Obama can be persuaded to set things straight in his inaugural address.