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In a word: Kentucky

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word: 


Yes, this week it's a proper noun, and one that is hardly obscure, but because today is my birthday I thought I would pay tribute to my native state. 

It is, you may know, not a state but a commonwealth, like Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, from the last of which it was calved in 1792. 

The name (pronounced ken-TUCK-ee) is of obscure origin, possibly from an Iroquois word for "meadow." Its most common nickname is the Bluegrass State, for the species of grass that grows plentifully in the central part of the state. Early settlers reported that the Indians referred to it as the Dark and Bloody Ground, from the battles fought by the Creek, Shawnee, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and others along the Cumberland River. 

The commonwealth takes its name from the Kentucky River, and the name came into use during the settlements of the eighteenth century. The OED cites a diary entry by George Washington in 1785: "Eight nuts from a tree called the Kentucke Coffee tree."

Kentucky, so frequently identified with the poor white Anglo-Saxon-Celtic population of Appalachia (my people), that the section of Pennsylvania between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh is sometimes dismissed as "Pennsyltucky."

One of the commonwealth's most notable contributions to Western civilization is bourbon, a whiskey distilled from corn, an invention credited to a Baptist clergyman, the Rev. Elijah Craig. 

Example: A quatrain composed by Chief Justice John Marshall: "In the Bluegrass of Kentucky / A paradox was born: / The corn was full of kernels / And the colonels full of corn." 

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