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  • Writer's pictureBrian Powers

Episode 4 - What Does It Mean? Idaho.

Besides my overuse of the word "murky" here, I think this is the most fun episode so far, just because the underlying story is just so weird. To elaborate on the murkiness - it doesn't seem like there's any concrete historical record to support Dr. Willing's involvement, save for an account written after his death by William Stoddard in which he relates that Willing had told him how it all went down and that he was responsible. Stoddard is a fairly trustworthy resource, so it's easy to believe that he's telling the truth about what Willing told him. Willing, on the other hand, was a serial liar and con man, and it's strongly possible that he made the whole story up due to his ties to the area - the best lies always contain a kernel of truth. But the mentions of the word in the paper and the record of the proceedings - those are true. Somebody made up a new word (let's be honest, ALL words are made up) and almost got a new territory named after it.


Then, against all odds, SUCCEEDED. And not more than a few years later, too - Idaho became a territory in 1863, which meant that just three short years after Congress figured out that Idaho didn't really mean anything, they named a territory after it anyway. Why? No, really - WHY?


Also, it's funny that Colorado got the pick - there was much hand-wringing and agonizing over the name in the committee organized to handle the task of naming the territories, but Beverly Williams shows up at the last second, throws a new name out because "Idaho" would be embarrassing, and that's that. So Colorado sticks, because one guy was desperate for his territory to not look foolish. I guess it's not so bad to have a completely fabricated new word tacked onto your state - other state names are either unimaginative, like all the places in New England named after places in Old England - New York, New Hampshire, New Jersey - or maybe a little TOO imaginative, such as Virginia - so-named because of a queen who never got to try sex. And all the states that are just "we couldn't come up with our own name, so we're the same as this other one, except we're on top." And the cardinal locations don't even make sense sometimes, like West Virginia, which could just as easily have been named North Virginia, considering that it's mostly above South/East Virginia.

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