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Definition of Mississippi


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Mis·sis·sip·pi  audio  (ms-sp) KEY  Abbr. MS or Miss.

A state of the southeast United States. It was admitted as the 20th state in 1817. The first settlers in the region (1699) were French, and the area became part of Louisiana. It passed to the British (1763-1779) and then to the Spanish before being ceded to the United States in 1783. The Mississippi Territory, organized in 1798 and enlarged in 1804 and 1813, also included the present state of Alabama. Jackson is the capital and the largest city. Population: 2,880,000.


WORD HISTORY:
In a letter dated August 27, 1863, Abraham Lincoln wrote, "the Father of Waters again goes unvexed to the sea," referring to General Grant's capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The sentence has all the simplicity and nobility of Lincoln's style, but Mississippi doesn't mean "Father of Waters." This colorful but false phrase first appears in print in 1812, is repeated by James Fenimore Cooper in his novel The Prairie (1827), and thereafter was in common circulation. Our name for the river has a different source. In 1666 French explorers somewhere in the western Great Lakes region recorded Messipi as their rendering of the Ojibwa name for the river they had come upon, misi-sipi, "big river." The French took the name with them as they went down Big River to its delta, and it superseded all the other names for Big River used by local Indian tribes and by earlier Spanish explorers. In 1798 Congress applied the Ojibwa name of the river to the territory of Mississippi, newly organized from lands inhabited by the Natchez, Choctaws, and Chickasaws. Still, "Father of Waters" is a happy error: "The Big River again goes unvexed to the sea" just doesn't have the right Lincolnian ring.


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