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Last weekend, I was in Omaha for the annual Berkshire-Hathaway Shareholders Meeting.  Not that I am a shareholder of Berkshire-Hathaway, but simply because I was curious to see two nonagenarian financial wizards hold forth in front of 20,000 enthusiastic fans for a whole day.  I wasn't disappointed, though I must confess that I didn't understand half of what Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger were saying about value investing.

Since I was staying in Council Bluffs and the meeting was held at the CHI Health Center across the river in Omaha, I had to go back and forth across the Missouri River several times, so I became curious about the relationship between the two cities.  I asked a taxi driver from Council Bluffs, who was born and grew up there, what local people thought of the twin cities.  "We're the one with all the problems," he said.  "So much so that they call us Counciltucky.

I had never heard of that word before, and when I looked it up, I didn't like what I found, because it attaches serious stigma to the people of Council Bluffs.

I told some friends about it, and they said, yes, and we have "Pennsyltucky" too.  But when I looked that up, it wasn't nearly so demeaning as "Counciltucky".  It basically just means Pennsylvania minus the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia metropolitan areas.

Curious about the apparent meaning of the suffix "-tucky", I looked up the etymology of "Kentucky", and this is what I found:

Sometime before 1769, Botetourt and successor counties of Virginia Colony whose geographical extent was south of the Ohio/Allegheny rivers beyond the Appalachian Mountains became known to European Americans as Kentucky (or Kentucke) country named for the Kentucky River, a tributary of the Ohio River in east central Kentucky. The precise etymology of the name is uncertain.

One theory sees the word based on an Iroquoian name meaning "(on) the meadow" or "(on) the prairie" (cf. Mohawk kenhtà:ke, Seneca gëdá'geh (phonemic /kɛ̃taʔkɛh/), "at the field").

Another theory suggests a derivation from the term Kenta Aki, which could have come from an Algonquian language, in particular from Shawnee. Folk etymology translates this as "Land of Our Fathers". The closest approximation in another Algonquian language, Ojibwe, translates as "Land of Our In-Laws", thus making a fairer English translation "The Land of Those Who Became Our Fathers".[18] In any case, the word aki means "land" in most Algonquian languages.

A third theory states that the name Kentucky may be a corruption of the word Catawba, in reference to the Catawba people who inhabited Kentucky.


..[T]he name is of Iroquois or Shawnee origin, perhaps a Wyandot (Iroquoian) word meaning "meadow" (compare Seneca geda'geh "at the field"); the original use in English seems to have been the river name; the native use perhaps was first in reference to a village in what now is Clark County known in Shawnee as Eskippakithiki.


Unclear. Possibly from an Iroquoian word meaning "prairie"; compare Mohawk kenhtà:ke (the meadow), Seneca gëdá'geh (at the field).


Maybe "-tucky" means "prairie", "meadow", or "field", but we cannot be sure of that.  In any event, it wouldn't match the implied meaning in "Counciltucky".  Rather, what we seem to have is the detachment of the final portion of the name of a state that people think of as populated by hillbillies, hicks, and so forth.  They they stick this pejorative pseudo-suffix on the first part of the name of whatever place or group they wish to deprecate, and voilà! you have a new, negative, stereotypical cognomen.  It's all petty prejudice and silly irrationality.

Still and all, I often wonder what the residents of twin cities everywhere think of each other — Dallas-Fort Worth, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Urbana-Champaign, and so on and so forth.


Selected reading


  1. KeithB said,

    May 12, 2023 @ 7:18 am

    What does it take to be a "twin city"?
    The Los Angeles greater Metro area has *dozens* of cities that abut up next to each other.

  2. David Marjanović said,

    May 12, 2023 @ 8:32 am

    I told some friends about it, and they said, yes, and we have "Pennsyltucky" too. But when I looked that up, it wasn't nearly so demeaning as "Counciltucky". It basically just means Pennsylvania minus the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia metropolitan areas.

    That's very demeaning. The message is the same as in "Pennsylvania is Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Alabama in between": Pennsyltucky, too, is an area "that people think of as populated by hillbillies, hicks, and so forth".

    Insert here some lament or other about the political polarization of the US.

  3. Michael DeBusk said,

    May 12, 2023 @ 8:56 am

    The county in Maryland where I was born, Cecil County, is largely populated by descendants of people from the American South. (My own parents and my older siblings are from southwestern Virginia.) Many of my fellow natives refer to the area as "Cecil-tucky." I think those who do so find it amusing.

  4. Rod Johnson said,

    May 12, 2023 @ 9:19 am

    In Ann Arbor, it used to be (is still?) common to refer to our next-door city Ypsilanti as "Ypsitucky." This was nominally because of the migration of Kentuckians north to work in wartime auto factories, but this was, as David Marjanović noted about "Pennsyltucky," more a way of talking trash about the "hillbillies" there than any actual historical reference.

  5. Scott P. said,

    May 12, 2023 @ 9:23 am

    That's very demeaning. The message is the same as in "Pennsylvania is Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west, and Alabama in between": Pennsyltucky, too, is an area "that people think of as populated by hillbillies, hicks, and so forth".

    Insert here some lament or other about the political polarization of the US

    As a Nebraskan, I can attest that a) this isn't about political polarization, it's about state rivalry between Nebraska and Iowa. We generally dislike each other.

    b) Nobody in Nebraska considers Omaha/Council Bluffs to be a 'twin city' of Omaha, like KC Kansas/KC Mo. It's more like St. Louis / East St. Louis.

  6. Scott P. said,

    May 12, 2023 @ 9:24 am

    Also c): Council Bluffs is really depressing. When I drove through it once, it seemed to consist entirely of bars, strip joints and cigarette stores.

  7. Roscoe said,

    May 12, 2023 @ 10:04 am

    I’ve heard “Massatucky” used for the portion of Hampden County, Massachusetts west of Springfield.

  8. Jerry Packard said,

    May 12, 2023 @ 10:13 am

    So I guess the panhandle and north-central (Orlando, Ocala) areas of my adopted home state might be called ‘Flortucky’.

  9. Rod Johnson said,

    May 12, 2023 @ 12:36 pm

    Both "Flortucky" and "Floritucky" have google hits.

  10. Jonathan Smith said,

    May 12, 2023 @ 1:09 pm

    Hmmm… what is Kentucky minus Louisville/Lexington metro areas then

  11. Rube said,

    May 12, 2023 @ 3:15 pm



  12. James Kabala said,

    May 12, 2023 @ 6:34 pm

    Interesting that the Wikipedia entry does not mention the claim (highly dubious, I assume) that Kentucky means "dark and bloody ground," much less prosaic than the more realistic options listed. Idaho as "gem of the mountains" is a similar myth.

  13. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 13, 2023 @ 7:14 pm

    From far enough away, the self-serious local notion that any portion of either Iowa or Nebraska is more cosmopolitan/sophisticated and less hillbilly/hickish etc. than Kentucky proper is risible. That said, even Kentucky itself boasts the "dubious smaller city across the river" phenomenon, with the Ky. municipalities right across the Ohio from Cincinnati traditionally housing the strip clubs and other low-class amenities for the whole metropolitan area. This pattern can even be international: Windsor, Ont. traditionally served the same function for Detroit.

  14. maidhc said,

    May 14, 2023 @ 4:25 am

    I've been through that area a number of times. We did stay in Council Bluffs once. The only anecdote I have about that is that I opened the curtains in our motel room (something I guess you are not supposed to do) and I noticed that we were about 20 feet away from a working railroad line. But the sound insulation was so good I wouldn't have noticed otherwise. We ate at the restaurant next to the motel, so I have no observations about the general aspect of the place.

    Generally, when we were in that part of the world, we tried to stay in Lincoln. In terms of ethnic restaurants, availability of good beer, coffee, etc., it is preferable. I presume because of the university being there.

  15. maidhc said,

    May 14, 2023 @ 4:28 am

    As a former resident of Urbana-Champaign (both), I can tell you that there is not a huge amount of rivalry between them. The history is that when the inhabitants of Urbana found out that the railroad was coming through, they decided to ask huge prices for their land, so the Illinois Central went through a few miles to the west, causing Champaign to grow up around the depot.

    Both towns have their own separate downtowns, and both have their dodgy areas. But the university, which is the dominant employer, spreads out on both sides of the dividing line. Campustown (a third downtown) is mostly on the Champaign side.

  16. Josh R. said,

    May 14, 2023 @ 7:38 pm

    While there is certainly a rivalry between St. Paul and Minneapolis, it's not so much in a rich/poor, or smart/dumb, or urban/rural valence. It's more cool/stodgy. Minneapolis is bigger, more cosmopolitan, it gets pride of place in the combined name (Minneapolis-St. Paul). St. Paul is the capital, more historical, and generally considered the nicer place to live.

    But, there's been so much cross-pollination between the two populations, the rivalry is not big as it once was, and probably exists mostly in the hearts of St. Paulites, as the proud, but frequently overlooked city. If they were telling someone who was not from Minnesota where they were from, I daresay most Twin Cities suburbanites would say, "Minneapolis." Those of us from St. Paul will insist on St. Paul, or at most, the Twin Cities. But never Minneapolis.

  17. Brett said,

    May 15, 2023 @ 1:22 am

    @J.W. Brewer: That area of northern Kentucky that it part of the Cincinnati metropolitan area is known (including locally) at "Cincitucky." One might think that this was the original name, since the connection to Kentucky is literal in this case, as you mentioned. But it appears not. The "Pennsyltucky" name goes back to the nineteenth century, which raises the natural question of why Kentucky was picked to describe the part of Pennsylvania also known as "the T" (after its shape—what you get from the rectangular state of Pennsylvania after removing the two major metropolitan areas in the southeast and southwest corners). If the term really predates the Civil War, Kentucky may have just been the closest state that was seen as essentially entirely Appalachian in character. Or maybe even after the Civil War, the name "West Virginia" was too inapt for forming a portmanteau.

  18. J.W. Brewer said,

    May 15, 2023 @ 10:00 am

    Of course, one of the founding populations of Kentucky were Pennsylvanians moving further west — that's where the whiskey-making know-how predominantly came from. Although to be fair, the original patriarch of the whiskey-making Beam family, born in Pa. in 1752 (the surname was anglicized from Boehm), spent much of his youth in western Maryland before arriving in Ky. in 1788.

    Consider also that the style of firearm that became primarily known as the "Kentucky rifle" in the first half of the 19th century was pretty much the same style that had arisen in the 18th century under the name "Pennsylvania rifle."

    All of that said, there are lots of significant cultural differences between rural/small-town Pa. and rural/small-town Ky. but they are likely to be below the radar of the sort of narcissistic urbanites who use the -tucky suffix pejoratively.

  19. Jay Sekora said,

    May 15, 2023 @ 10:24 am

    Off-topic, but I had long wondered whether -tucky in Kentucky was cognate with the ubiquitous -tucket in Massachusetts and Rhode Island place names, and the sources quoted here (plus some poking around in Wikipedia and Wiktionary) suggests that that’s at least pretty plausible.

  20. Sophie said,

    May 15, 2023 @ 11:40 am

    Here in Sarasota, you’ll often hear “Bradentucky,” disparaging nearby Bradenton.

  21. Rodger C said,

    May 15, 2023 @ 5:32 pm

    James Kabala: The notion you refer to goes back to an early book, I disremember what, that stated, "In those days, Kentucky was a dark and bloody ground," vel sim.

  22. Chas Belov said,

    May 16, 2023 @ 2:07 am

    Raised in Pittsburgh and my impression was "Pennsyltucky" was only mildly disparaging. However, I don't recall having any major conversations about it, so it's just whatever I picked up by osmosis.

  23. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 17, 2023 @ 11:39 pm

    When I lived in Kentucky in the 1990s, the Folsom Historical Society of Louisville sent a series of guest lecturers around the state. At one of the talks, I learned more about the settlement of the state.

    Apparently there were two main sources of settlers early in the region’s history — those that came down the Ohio River, and those that walked in through the Cumberland Gap. The walkers were mostly poorer settlers who carried in their scanty belongings. As I recall, the speaker said they were mostly Scots-Irish who ended up populating the Appalachian and southern counties of Kentucky..

    The settlers who came down the river tended to have more financial resources, often coming in through Philadelphia or setting out from the Lancaster region in Conestoga wagons to Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh, the settlers would embark on rafts to go down the river, presumably using the wagons as part of the rafts. A lot of those settlers had German surnames, although there were also settlers from Britain and Ireland. Those settlers ended up populating the lands in Kentucky and in southern Ohio along the river.

    When our family left Mason County, which is on the Ohio River east of Cincinnati but in Kentucky and moved to Cumberland County on the Susquehanna River in south-central Pennsylvania, we were interested to discover many of the same surnames in Pennsylvania that we had first encountered in Kentucky. In Pennsylvania, the German surnames were from “Pennsylvania Dutch” families — some likely Amish or Mennonite (I.e., Anabaptist), but others Lutheran when they came to settle.

    In regard to the state name “Kentucky,” Rober M. Rennick writes in The Kentucky Encyclopedia (University Press of Kentucky, 1992) the following:

    “[T]he precise meaning of the state’s name is unknown. There has been no confirmation of several possible explanations; a Wyandot name meaning “land of tomorrow “; a generalized Algonquian term referring to a river bottom (kin/athiki); a Shawnee word signifying the head of a river; an Iroquoian name meaning “place of meadows.” The folk etymology that sees the name Kentucky as the combination of “cane” and “turkey” has no credence. The one thing that historians and linguists agree on is that the state’s name does not denote “a dark and bloody ground” in any known Indian language.”

  24. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 17, 2023 @ 11:51 pm

    It is the Filson Historical Society. I apologize for not noticing the spellcheck alteration. Sigh.


    Also, Robert M. Rennick.

  25. Adam c said,

    May 22, 2023 @ 4:58 pm

    @James @Rodger We were taught in elementary or middle school (not in KY) that "kon tay kay" was Native American for "the dark and bloody ground," this straight out of the history book and supposedly referring to early battles between colonists and natives or between natives themselves. It seems pretty much everything I was taught from the humanities before high school was apocryphal.

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