Sunday, May 1, 2011


Suburb \SUHB-urb\ , noun;
1. A district lying immediately outside a city or town, especially a smaller residential community
2. The suburbs, the area composed of such districts
3. An outlying part

I'm from central Illinois and went to the University of Illinois, which means that suburbs are a dirty word. Mostly because people like me generally dislike people from the Chicago suburbs. But, I digress...

Suburb dates to the mid-14th century from Old French suburbe, which derives from Latin suburbim ("an outlying part of a city"). It's a combination of sub- + urbs ("below, near" + "city"). In 17th century London, suburbs had a negative connotation and to call someone suburban meant they were "inferior, debased, and licentious in habit or life." Thus suburban sinner, a slang term for prostitutes and loose women. By 1817 the sense shifted but kept a somewhat negative connotation of "inferior manners and narrow views." This is the sense that we down-state Illini apply to our Chicago colleagues.

The Modern French equivalent of suburb is faubourg, which dates to the late 15th century from Middle French faux bourg. Officially, the Middle French word comes from Old French forsbourc, which is literally "that which is outside the town" but actually means "suburbs, outskirts." It is a combination of fors + bourc ("outside" + "town"). Bourc is of Frankish origin and is a cognate with English borough. I say 'officially' because there is also a folk-etymology* that faux bourg meant "false town," since the suburbs were seen as inauthentic. Faux means "false."

*A folk-etymology is a false etymology.

***Editor's note: There are many Chicago suburbanites I like quite a bit.

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