Why Isn't 'Arkansas' Pronounced Like 'Kansas'?

US Mint
US Mint

Kansas and Arkansas aren’t so far from each other on the map, but their names seem to want nothing to do with each other. Though they share all but two letters in common, Kansas comes out as “KANzis” and Arkansas as “ARkansaw.” Why so different?

Kansas was named for the Kansa, a Siouan tribe that lived in the region. The Kansa people were called, in plural, Kansas, and that became the name of the state. But before it did, English, French, and Spanish speakers, as well as speakers of various Native American languages, all came up with their own ways of pronouncing (and writing) the name of the tribe. The Kansa themselves pronounced it with a nasalized “a” (rather than a full “n”), a “z,” and an “eh” sound – approximately “kauzeh.” Everyone else had their own versions, and historical records show all kinds of spellings: Kansa, Kansas, Kantha, Kances, Konza, Kauzas, Canees, Canceys… Eventually, Kansas won out.

Arkansas was named for a related Siouan tribe, the Quapaw. The Algonquians called them “akansa,” joining their own a- prefix (used in front of ethnic groups) to the Kansa name (the same root as that for Kansas). The Algonquians’ name for the Quapaw was picked up by others, and was also spelled in various ways: Akancea, Acansea, Acansa. However, it was the French version, Arcansas, that became the basis for the eventual state name. In French the final plural s is not pronounced. Somehow, the English speakers that took over after the Louisiana Purchase decided to go with a modified French spelling along with a French pronunciation – an s on the page, but not on the tongue. (Incidentally, the name Ozark comes from French aux Arcs, short for aux Arcansas. And the same native word that became Wichita in Kansas went with the Frenchified spelling Ouachita in Arkansas.)

Actually, it took some time for Arkansans to come to agreement on pronunciation. In 1881, a heated disagreement between the state's two senators, one who said “arKANzis” and the other who said “ARkansaw,” led to a ruling by the state legislature making the “ARkansaw” pronunciation official. Ever since, Americans have gone along with the s-less, first-syllable-stressed version of Arkansas. At least when it comes to the state name. The people of Kansas don’t go any further than that. For them it's the “arKANzis” River, and “arKANzis” City.

What is a Polar Vortex?

Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Edward Stojakovic, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

If you’ve turned on the news or stepped outside lately, you're familiar with the record-breaking cold that is blanketing a lot of North America. According to The Washington Post, a mass of bone-chilling air over Canada—a polar vortex—split into three parts at the beginning of 2019, and one is making its way to the eastern U.S. Polar vortexes can push frigid air straight from the arctic tundra into more temperate regions. But just what is this weather phenomenon?

How does a polar vortex form?

Polar vortexes are basically arctic hurricanes or cyclones. NASA defines them as “a whirling and persistent large area of low pressure, found typically over both North and South poles.” A winter phenomenon, vortexes develop as the sun sets over the pole and temperatures cool, and occur in the middle and upper troposphere and the stratosphere (roughly, between six and 31 miles above the Earth’s surface).

Where will a polar vortex hit?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the vortexes move in a counterclockwise direction. Typically, they dip down over Canada, but according to NBC News, polar vortexes can move into the contiguous U.S. due to warm weather over Greenland or Alaska—which forces denser cold air south—or other weather patterns.

Polar vortexes aren't rare—in fact, arctic winds do sometimes dip down into the eastern U.S.—but sometimes the sheer size of the area affected is much greater than normal.

How cold is a polar vortex?

So cold that frozen sharks have been known to wash up on Cape Cod beaches. So cold that animal keepers at the Calgary Zoo in Alberta, Canada once decided to bring its group of king penguins indoors for warmth (the species lives on islands north of Antarctica and the birds aren't used to extreme cold.) Even parts of Alabama and other regions in the Deep South have seen single-digit temperatures and wind chills below zero.

But thankfully, this type of arctic freeze doesn't stick around forever: Temperatures will gradually warm up.

In What Field Was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a Doctor?

Express Newspapers/Getty Images
Express Newspapers/Getty Images

Martin Luther King, Jr. earned a doctorate in systematic theology from Boston University in 1955. He’d previously earned a Bachelor of Arts from Morehouse College and a Bachelor of Divinity from Crozer Theological Seminary. His dissertation, “A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman,” examined the two religious philosophers’ views of God in comparison to each other, and to King’s own concept of a "knowable and personal" God.

Some three decades after he earned his doctorate, in 1989, archivists working with The Martin Luther King Papers Project discovered that King’s dissertation suffered from what they called a “problematic use of sources.” King, they learned, had taken a large amount of material verbatim from other scholars and sources and used it in his work without full or proper attribution, and sometimes no attribution at all.

In 1991, a Boston University investigatory committee concluded that King had indeed plagiarized parts of his dissertation, but found that it was “impractical to reach, on the available evidence, any conclusions about Dr. King's reasons for failing to attribute some, but not all, of his sources.” That is, it could have been anything from malicious intent to simple forgetfulness—no one can determine for sure today. They did not recommend a posthumous revocation of his degree, but instead suggested that a letter be attached to the dissertation in the university library noting the passages lacked quotations and citations.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

This article was originally published in 2013.

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