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I was watching a TV show, and one man asked another where he was from. The response was "Pennsylvania by way of Illinois", and I can't really understand what it means in this context.

Edit: thefreedictionary.com says it means "passing through" but I don't see how it applies in this context.

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    He comes from Pennsylvania, but he lived in Illinois between the time he lived in Pennsylvania and wherever he lives now. There is no way you should define "by way of" as "passing through". Merriam-Webster defines it as "by the route through; via". Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 15:53
  • Peter Shor: Thanks! Can you post this as an answer so I can mark it as accepted? Commented Mar 12, 2013 at 15:55
  • @PeterShor That is incorrect. See Juton's answer. The phrase "by way of" has somehow come into common "backward" use. I have posted a question about this: english.stackexchange.com/q/187911/13287
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 17:52

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Wiktionary shows the sense “By the route of; through; via” for by way of, versus the sense “passing through something (as a place); via something” shown in thefreedictionary. A person giving “Pennsylvania by way of Illinois” as where he is from typically means born in Pennsylvania, grew up in Illinois.

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This is from Mad Men. Don Draper was actually born in Illinois and came to Pennsylvania after his father died. He was raised thereafter in a Philadelphia whorehouse. So he really should have said "Illinois, by way of Pennsylvania".

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    +1 this is the only answer to note that the phrase is being used in a sense directly opposed to its original sense. My related question: english.stackexchange.com/q/187911/13287
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 17:56
  • Non accepted answer has more than 5 votes than accepted answer. With opposite meanings. And a comment basically calling out the accepted answer. So which one is it?
    – erasmortg
    Commented Apr 20, 2020 at 9:08
  • This is the correct answer, immediately after stating "...by way of..." Don says "We lost our farm, ended up in coal country." Pennsylvania is coal country, Illinois is farm country. PA has way more coal than IL, and IL has way more farms than PA. Either the writers of Mad Men used "by way of" incorrectly, or Don is purposely revealing his own lack of sophistication to Conrad Hilton (who is also unsophisticated) in order to demonstrate that he has a similar background and upbringing; poor, unrefined, but self-made and successful. Don actually meant "Illinois, by way of Pennsylvania."
    – iwantmyphd
    Commented Oct 15, 2021 at 18:46
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He comes from Pennsylvania, but he lived in Illinois between the time he lived in Pennsylvania and wherever he lives now. Merriam-Webster defines this sense of "by way of" as "by the route through; via".

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    -1: The usage being asked about is "backward" from the traditional meaning of the phrase; he actually comes from Illinois but subsequently lived in Pennsylvania.
    – phoog
    Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 17:54
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Dictionary.com defines “by way of” as “by the route of; through; via.”

I did some research and came to the conclusion that the person originates from Pennsylvania but has lived in Illinois for quite a while.

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