As a resident of downtown Chicago, I occasionally play tour guide for out-of-town family and friends. And I’m no local snob. I am always up for all of the touristy spots: Navy Pier, Millennium Park, Buckingham Fountain—yes, yes, yes!
As we dart into the Art Institute and the Chicago Cultural Center (formerly the Chicago Public Library), my visitors always ask why the building names have a V carved where the U should be. Rather than continue to answer “I don’t know, but I’m sure it’s not a typo,” I decided to do some digging. I thought Google would make quick work of this research because locals and tourists look at these unusual Vs every day—surely many other writers have already covered this topic. But I was wrong. My Google search was riddled with conjecture and lacked direct references to Chicago’s classical architecture.
Finally I visited the Art Institute’s blog, ARTicle, and found an April, 2012 post explaining that the uppercase U did not exist in Latin until the sixteenth century; therefore, the V pays homage to the Greco-Roman style that influences the building’s design. I assume that this explanation also applies to the Chicago Cultural Center.
Mystery solved! Yet this little adventure has left me wondering whether I may be missing other language tributes scattered across the city. Are there any Old English or Middle English references hiding in plain sight? What about Old Norse or Gaelic?
Erin Wright is a freelance writer and copy editor in Chicago, Illinois. She specializes in business documents, copywriting, marketing material, website copy, and blogs.