City Quotient: Why Do We Say Sigh-OH-toe, Not Skee-OH-toe?
What are the origins of the pronunciations of the words "Scioto" and "Olentangy"?
For starters, let's work on pronunciation, in case some people don't know. Our rivers are "Sigh-OH-toe" and "OH-len-tan-jee," both guaranteed to trip up the uninitiated. CQ has heard "Oh-len-TAN-jee" occasionally, but the other way seems to be preferred. They are Native American names, or at least they were derived from Native American expressions, and varying stories explain how they evolved. The Scioto's name source seems to be a Wyandot word, "scionto," which was part of the word for "deer." In Iroquoian, "shenandoah" had the same meaning. Shortening to "Scioto" was pretty easy when the white settlers came along. Another tale claims a different Wyandot name, which the storyteller could not recall, translated as "hairy river" due to the quantities of fur shed by the deer that frequented this waterway. The Olentangy has a similarly colorful story. In the Delaware language, it was called "Keenhongsheconsepung," translating as "sharp/more and more/tool river." White settlers turned this into "the river that has stones that make your knife sharper and sharper," but it was easier just to say "Whetstone." That's why the city park along the east bank has that name. The river had another name in Delaware, "Olam/taanshi Siipu/nk," a reference to its upper reaches being a source of red oxide clay used in face-painting. The leap from that to "Olentangy"-by shortening it and changing the pronunciation a little-was a cinch.
Sources: Ed Lentz, "Local River Names Have Convoluted Origin," This Week Community News, March 28, 2012, online research
Jeff Darbee is a preservationist, historian and author in Columbus. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, and the answer might appear in a future column