New Map of Indigenous American Words in English

For some time I’ve been meaning to update my map of pathways into English of  Indigenous American Words, which was based on the Second (1989) Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary. With a couple of hours to spare while watching the kids this week, I managed to get around to it, using data from the current OED Online (January 2020 update):

[a larger PNG is linked from the image, and a PDF can be downloaded here]

This map has almost double the number of words as the previous (homonyms are ignored here). OED3’s language hierarchy also allows me to group them according to language family.

As with the previous map, many of these words are ethnonyms and/or names of languages (Wallawalla, Potawatomi, Garifuna).

Plenty are familiar common words as caribou, chocolate, igloo, inukshuk, kayak, mesquite, moose, potlatch, skunk, tomato.

An interesting category is calques–words formed within English on the model of an indigenous expression. These include white mouse (sense 3, the name of a type of lemming, from the Chipewyan dlunegai dlune mouse + gai white), firewater (after Ojibwa ishkodewaaboo ishkode fire + waaboo liquid), and Rocky Mountains (Cree asinîwaciya, < asiniy stone, rock + waciy mountain).

Yours to explore, if you like that sort of thing.


  • John Cowan wrote:

    Bloomfield pointed out that the Algonquian word for ‘liquor’ could be reconstructed to Proto-Algonquian, although I have not been able to find out what reconstruction he proposed. I am also not convinced that the metaphor first appeared in so westerly a language as Ojibwa; I bet it started pretty close to the East Coast in Abenaki or Massachuset or whatever, and then spread west by etymological nativization.

  • Yes, that’s interesting. The OED entry for /firewater/ was revised in 2015. It cites a form of the Ojibwa word from 1703 (I guess in Lahontan’s /Nouveaux Voyages/ though it doesn’t say and I can’t locate it). Perhaps it was simply the first to be recorded.

  • John Cowan wrote:

    For the benefit of anyone else reading this, I should add that of course Proto-Algonquian ceased to be spoken long before alcohol distilling was introduced, so the reconstruction is a false one made to prove a point about what is and what is not evidence of relatedness. Similarly, by choosing suitable words you can reconstruct English to Proto-Romance, but English morphosyntax rules out that idea and tells us that the Italic words in English are the result of four layers of borrowing (Latin, Normand, Central French, Latin again).

    I think you are right about the Ojibwa form being the first to be recorded (as far as we know) and of course that’s what the OED has to cite.

  • Still no pogonip.

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