*Editor’s note: This column ran previously in the Herald in December 2015.

A while back, my wife and I had several visitors from out of state stay with us for a few days.

During one of the zillion interesting conversations that resulted from the gathering, a woman from Los Angeles who was in the Ozarks for the first time said something that more or less stopped me cold.

“Where did the name ‘Ozarks’ come from?” she said. “I’ve always thought that was such a neat word – kind of beautiful in a way.”

I was dumbfounded.

“Of all people, you would think I would know that,” I said. “But amazingly enough, I have no idea.”

Thanks to the Internet (that technological wonder we all now take for granted, but puts an unfathomable amount of information at the average person’s fingertips), having no idea lasted about another two minutes.

The fact is well known that Missouri lies in an area that was largely French territory for hundreds of years, and in 1803 became known as the “Louisiana Purchase” when emperor Napoleon Bonaparte basically gave away 828,000 square miles of prime North American real estate for $15 million (a sum that translates to less than 50 cents an acre in current dollars). But long before that, after France laid claim to the area, surveyors and map-makers were sent to explore it in the late 1600s and early 1700s. During the course of that process, they set up a post (along with other explorers and Native Americans) at the mouth of the Arkansas River, where it enters the Mississippi River.

As these French pioneers traveled hundreds of miles up the Arkansas, they documented each and every one of its many bends and named its northernmost bend “Aux Arcs,” which basically means “to the top arc.”

In the English language, the letter “s” is often correctly pronounced with a “z” sound, like in the words “dogs” and “present.” Similarly, the letter “x” often sounds like a “z” in French, so Aux Arcs is pronounced, “Ozark” (because the “s” is silent).

Today, the Arkansas River’s most northerly point is just south of Interstate 40 at – of course – Ozark, Ark. Hundreds of years ago, the spot was used by many pioneers as a place to get off the boat and head north to explore the vast area of rugged, mountainous land that eventually became known as the Ozarks (including in what is now southern Missouri).

Leave it to an out-of-state visitor to make the Ozarks resident who’s a big fan of word origins pay closer attention to something obvious, but unnoticed.

I’m glad she asked. And you know, I agree with her. Ozarks is a cool sounding name.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Contact him by phone at 417-967-2000 or by email at ddavison@houstonherald.com.

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