Friday, April 20, 2012

A Special Gift of Words

 Author Linda Boyden 
When you think about borrowing something most think in tangible objects or ways? We borrow or loan money, clothes, and appliances or even ask for a cup of sugar. Sometimes we even ask if we can borrow time from another person in order to fulfill what we need to do and ask them to watch our kids, get our car washed or ever pick up our dry cleaning. When was the last time someone gave you a gift that is intangible, you really can’t touch them but they can make your life more interesting and allow you to understand things more clearly? How about being given 26 words that you might not know their meaning, their etymology or origin but will find interesting and fascinating when you do? The alphabet has 26 letters and this book has twenty-six words that the author is sharing with us: “Giveaways: An ABC Book of Loanwords from the Americas” is a compilation of words that we borrowed or loaned from North, South and Central America. The derivation of some of the words in this book comes from different Indian tribes and others from the Spanish.  What makes the book unique are the pictures that the author shares of each word to help the reader understand and see what the words mean.

Words can really define a situation and are powerful. When translated into different languages they often have different meanings. Even words in the English language have multiple meanings. Just where do some of our words come from and who were the first people to share their alphabet with us is why the author wrote this great book of “loanwords.”  This is one book that can be shared and read by adults, teachers, teens, elementary and middle school children and of course anyone that enjoys learning about words and their history. Imagine giving a course in word origins and creating your own dictionary of new words that you have never heard of.

Since the alphabet starts with A I will start with B. B the author states stands for Barbeque. Now, that is a word we can all sink our teeth into. I bet that you have no idea where it comes from or originates. How did we learn to barbeque and have so many great ones on holidays? Believe it or not in 1492, the Taino people, spotted some strangers on their shores. How about if these strangers turned out to be Columbus and his crew! Loving, savoring and really enjoying the uniquely cooked meat roasted on a wooden platform and other foods, Columbus and his men created their own form of barbeque called Barbakoa passing this custom off to the rest of the world. Now, aren’t you glad I am reading and reviewing this great book? I have just started. There is so much more to loan or share.

Dowitcher Just what is it? It is one of two species of sandpiper and from the picture in the book you can see it is a really beautiful bird. You can actually hear the sound of these birds if you listen closely. One that is short-billed makes the sound of tu-tu. The one that is long-billed makes the sound keet-keet. In the winter these birds migrate to the south and every summer return to Alaska and Canada in order to breed.

So, what word am I going to share next? How about Geoduck? Take a trip to the Pacific Coast Shore and look down and see what you just might find under your sandy feet on the beach. You won’t believe it! How about a one hundred year old clam called the Geoduck? No kidding. For real! This clam is not the kind that quacks. It is not sticky or gooey. Believe it or not the word comes to us in English from the Puget Salish phrase meaning “Dig Deep.” Now, if you want to eat or capture one of these unique creatures you better know how to DIG DEEP! What does it look like and how many parts does it have? Well, the answer is three parts and what does it look like? You have to read and learn that for yourself. What’s the fun if I tell you everything? Knowledge and learning is power!

Next, from the Navajo or Dineh we get a really cool word with a special meaning. The word is Hooghan. This great word stands for a building but the real meaning is a “a place of order and simple beauty, a symbol of long life and happiness.” That is really special and I bet everyone would love to live in a place like that! The really cool part is that there are two kinds. Technically the male hooghan isn’t for just males. It is one for ceremony, for the sacred and the female hooghan is not only for females but a place where the family gathers. One hooghan for females and one hooghan for males each one specially designed to fit out needs and theirs. So, the male hooghan that is pictured next to the history of the word is conical in shape. The female one is built larger and round more octagonal. They are a specific tradition of and for the Navaho people.  These special homes came to the People, the Dineh, and the Holy People, meaning those without change, the Immortals.
We have many other words that you have heard of like canoe, Jaguar and Iguana that are explained. But, I would rather introduce you to new words that you might not know. Now about the Hawaiian state bird, which is our next word that begins with N: Nene. This bird became Hawaii’s state bird in 1957. Living in the mountains of many Hawaiian Islands are these amazing birds. They are so beautiful. Now, there is good news and bad news attached to these birds. They are really geese and before people found or discovered them in Hawaii they lived quite safely and happily. But, they do not have or have never been able to sense danger. These geese were valued for their meat and feathers by Polynesian seafarers who arrived there. The really bad news is that many centuries’ later explorers moved to Hawaii and you can guess the rest or just find out for yourself.

Included is the story of how the opossum lost its tail and the history behind that word. She even includes the Raccoon among her loan words and one animal that I have had some special encounters with in the past and would prefer not to remember: THE SKUNK! So, just where did this animal with its horrible fragrance come from? Massachusetts from the word squnck in English: SKUNK!

The derivation and history of the word Sequoyah is illustrated next followed by Toboggan. But, I am going to continue with unusual and new words for all of us to learn at the same time. How about the X word: Xat.
From Haida we get the word Xat. This is a form of totem pole carved from huge red cedar trees which honor Pacific Northwest Indian families and greet visitors. As tall as 30 to 60 feet in height towering over coastal village homes. Each one has a carved painted crest image telling clan membership and wonderful stories. The Xat is a mortuary pole originally used as a tomb. To find out more you need to read it and see the amazing picture opposite the description and learn about the four different totem poles and their uses. Finally, what is the Z word: Zopilote? What exactly is that? From Nahuati (Aztec) comes the word tzoilotl to Spanish it is translated: zopilote and in English the same spelling. So, what is it? A vulture and it’s meaning: long life. Another name for it and that is all I will divulge: The American Black Vulture.  In case you need further clarification you can go to the glossary at the end of the book for a recap of all of the words.

Why did the author decide to write this book and lend us these great words? They are a special gift from her and a tradition among most Native People to present visitors and friends with gifts. These words, her art and hopefully learning something and your undying curiosity to see what words Letters A, C, E, F, K, L, M, P and the rest stand for and mean, will entice, encourage and hopefully bring you to your computer and order a copy of or even more of this great resource and book. So, to all word geeks we dedicate this one to you. Author Linda Boyden has presented the reader with a treasure of words and pictures that are colorful and really bring the word to life.

Fran Lewis: reviewer: I give this book: FIVE Quahogs. What are they? Read the book!

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