Posted by: Jack Henry | June 20, 2019

Editor’s Corner: Algonquian

Good morning, folks! You know me, I can’t pass up an opportunity to learn about where our language comes from. Today, it’s not French, or German, or words that Shakespeare invented. Today I have 15 words from an article called “55 American English Words Derived from Algonquian Languages.” For the full list, you can go to Daily Writing Tips.

American English has been enriched by the widespread adoption of words based on vocabulary of Native American tribes, including the many tribes that spoke (and, in some cases, still speak) one of the Algonquian languages of what is now eastern North America. The following is a list of such terms, more or less commonly used, most of which refer to animals or plants or products derived from them.

1. caucus (Algonquian): a group of people who meet to discuss an issue or work together toward a goal; also a verb

2. chipmunk (Odawa): any of various small rodent species that are part of the squirrel family

3. hickory (Powhatan): a type of tree or its wood, or a cane or switch made of the wood

4. hominy (Powhatan): soaked and hulled corn kernels

5. husky (based on shortening of the Cree word from which Eskimo is derived): a type of dog; the adjective husky is unrelated

6. moose (Eastern Abenaki): a species of large antlered mammal

7. muskrat (Western Abenaki): an aquatic rodent

8. opossum (Powhatan): a marsupial (sometimes possum)

9. pecan (Illinois): a type of tree, or the wood or the nut harvested from it

10. persimmon (Powhatan): a type of tree, or the fruit harvested from it

11. pone (Powhatan): flat cornbread; also called cornpone, which is also slang meaning “countrified” or “down-home”)

12. raccoon (Powhatan): a type of mammal noted for its masklike facial markings, or the fur of the animal

13. skunk (Massachusett): a type of mammal known for spraying a noxious odor in defense, or the fur of the animal; also, slang for “obnoxious person” [KC – I decided to look up the word for “skunk” in a few other languages, just to see if they were anything close to this. German was very close:
skunk. French actually makes it sound so cute: moufette. Italian sounds kind of naughty:
puzzola. And in Spanish, it sounds almost exotic: zorrillo.]

14. squash (Narragansett): any of various plants that produces [sic] fruit, also called squash, that is cultivated as a vegetable; the verb squash, and the name of the ball-and-racquet game, are unrelated

15. succotash (Narragansett): a dish of green corn and lima or shell beans

Kara Church

Technical Editor, Advisory

Symitar Documentation Services

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