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Dec 1, 2003
This week's theme
Words borrowed from Native American languages

This week's words
sachem
wampum
high-muck-a-muck
manitou
powwow

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A.Word.A.Day
with Anu Garg

This past November, the last fluent speaker of the Wampanoag language died. Clinton Neakeahamuck Wixon (Lightning Foot) was the direct descendant of Massasoit, a Wampanoag tribe sachem. And so died another of what once were a thousand native languages in dozens of language families. A language is a repository of a culture, its ideas and knowledge, and when it dies the loss is irreversible. According to some estimates, by the end of this century, only about 10% of 6000 or so languages in existence in the world today will survive. Why should we care if a language dies? For the same reason that we don't want an animal species to become extinct, for a diverse world is richer, stronger, and wiser.

Coming back to the Native American tongues, a small consolation could be that many of them do live on, in the thousands of names of cities (Chicago: garlic place), states (Texas: friend), rivers (Mississippi: great river), and other landmarks in the US and elsewhere. Also, hundreds of names of animals (caribou: snow-shoveller) and plants (cacao: seeds) are of Native American origin.

This week we'll see loanwords from Native American languages.

sachem

PRONUNCIATION:
(SAY-chuhm) Pronunciation

MEANING:
noun: 1. The chief of a tribe or a federation. 2. A political leader.

ETYMOLOGY:
From Algonquian.

USAGE:
"Sen. Edward Kennedy is a family sachem."
James J. Kilpatrick; My Satrap, Your Sachem, His Avatar; Chicago Sun-Times; Nov 24, 2002.

"Corruption often was nothing to get abashed about -- as Tammany Hall sachem George Washington Plunkitt explained in 1905: 'I see my opportunity and I take it... There's a distinction between honest graft and dishonest graft.'"
Michael Powell; NY Proposes To Leave the Parties Behind; Washington Post; Nov 1, 2003.

A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:
One can pay back the loan of gold, but one dies forever in debt to those who are kind. -Malayan Proverb

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