Windy City


noun

Chicago, Ill. (used as a nickname).

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Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2020

BEHIND THE WORD

What does Windy City mean?

Windy City is a popular nickname for Chicago, Illinois.

How is Windy City pronounced?

[ win-dee sit-ee ]

Where does Windy City come from?

In 1854, the city of Buffalo, New York, was called a “city of winds” in a Boston publication, and the nickname Windy City was used to refer to Green Bay, Wisconsin, in 1856.

Ever since the 1860s, though, the nickname Windy City has applied almost exclusively to Chicago, Illinois, a metropolis subject to intense, often frigid winds from Lake Michigan. But just as soon as Chicago became the Windy City, people began punning on the weather-based nickname to decry Chicago’s politicians, businesspersons, and realtors as “full of hot air,” or wind, the city being historically associated with corruption.

Contrary to popular myths, the mocking moniker Windy City predated 1893, when New York Sun editor Charles Dana is often cited as inventing Windy City. Dana is said to have dismissed the “nonsensical claims of that windy city” of being superior to New York because of hosting a world’s fair: “Its people could not hold a world’s fair even if they won it.”

While making for a good story, there is no firm evidence that Dana’s editorial ever existed, and even if it did, the pejorative Windy City already reaches back to the 1870s. The nickname Windy City, as far as we can tell, emerges, in fact, because Chicago can be, well, very windy.

As Chicago’s prominence expanded in the 1900s, Windy City became a firmly established nickname for Chicago, and usually without implying any derision.

How is Windy City used in real life?

Today, the nickname Windy City is regularly used by locals and outsiders alike, much like how New York City is called the Big Apple. It is often used in movies, books, TV shows, marketing materials, and popular media to refer to Chicago in general and specifically to its cold, windy weather.

As noted, Chicago’s nickname is seldom used to insult the city, for all its history and stereotypes of corruption, unless in context of the folk etymology about the origin of the name Windy City.

Many Chicagoans look upon the Windy City with pride, using it as an inspiration for sports teams (e.g., one-time soccer club, the Chicago Winds, and minor hockey team, the Chicago Wind). It is also incorporated into the names of many local businesses and souvenirs.

More examples of Windy City:

“Chicagoans, tourists alike love summer in the Windy City”
—Nancy Trejos, USA Today (headline), July 2017

“The city that’s nicknamed “The Windy City”, is, windy? 🤔 noooo never would have guessed”
—@marchmadness14, July 2017

Note

This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

British Dictionary definitions for windy city

Windy City

noun

the Windy City informal Chicago, Illinois
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012