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Apart from place names, are there any Native American words used in English?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 34 down vote accepted

Mark Rosenfelder has a list. So too does Wikipedia

Here is a partial selection of those which I might use

Words from Algonquian languages: Caribou Chipmunk Eskimo Hickory Hominy Husky Moccasin Moose Mugwump Muskrat Opossum Papoose Pecan Pemmican Persimmon Powwow Raccoon Skunk Squash Squaw Terrapin Toboggan Tomahawk Totem Wampum Wigwam Woodchuck

Words from Nahuatl: Avocado Cacao/cocoa Chicle Chili Chocolate Coyote Guacamole Mesquite Mezcal Ocelot Peyote Shack Tomato

Words from Quechua: Coca Cocaine Condor Guano Inca Jerky Llama Pampa Puma Quinine Vicuña

Words from Eskimo-Aleut languages: Anorak Igloo Kayak

Words from Arawakan languages: Barbecue Cacique Caiman Canoe Cassava Cay Guava Hammock Hurricane Iguana Maize Mangrove Papaya Potato Savanna Tobacco Yuca

Words from Tupi-Guaraní languages: Cashew Cayenne Cougar Jaguar Maraca Macaw Petunia Piranha Tapioca Tapir Toucan

Words from other indigenous languages of the Americas: Abalone Alpaca Bayou Cannibal Chinook Coypu Manatee Poncho Potlatch Sequoia Sockeye

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1  
+1 for this very exhaustive list. I missed quite a few of them it appears !! –  Alain Pannetier Φ May 1 '11 at 12:04

Everyday English

  • tuxedo - the etymology1 is worth citing in extenso.

1889, named for Tuxedo Park, N.Y., site of a country club where it first was worn in 1886. The name is an attractive subject for elaborate speculation, e.g.:

The Wolf tribe in New York was called in scorn by other Algonquians
from tuksit: round foot, implying that they easily fell down in surrender. In their region thus came the names Tuxedo and Tuxedo Lake, which were acquired by the Griswold family in payment of a debt. There the family established the exclusive Tuxedo Club, and there in the late 1880s Griswold Lorillard first appeared in a dinner jacket without tails, a tuxedo. By a twist of slang, one may now refer to a man in a tuxedo as a 'wolf. [Shipley]

But in another version of the story, p'tuksit was the Algonquian word for "wolf," the animal, perhaps from the shape of its paws. The authoritative Bright, however, says the tribe's name probably is originally a place name, perhaps Munsee Delaware (Algonquian) p'tuck-sepo "crooked river." Short form tux is attested from 1922.

Animals

  • skunk - meaning "urinating fox".

    Algonquian language (probably Abenaki) seganku, from Proto-Algonquian */šeka:kwa/, from */šek-/ "to urinate" + */-a:kw/ "fox."

  • cariboo - meaning "scratcher"

    caribou, from Micmac (Algonquian) kaleboo, lit. "pawer, scratcher," from its kicking snow aside to feed on moss and grass, or a related Algonquian name

  • opossum - meaning "white animal".

    from Powhatan (Algonquian) apasum "white animal."

  • wampum - meaning "string of white". (credits to @The Raven)

    shortened from wampumpeag (1620s), from Algonquian (probably Narragansett) wanpanpiak "string of white (shell beads)," from wab "white" + ompe "string" + pl. suffix -ag.

Plants

  • Squash (pumpkin) - meaning "green things that may be eaten raw"

    Shortened borrowing from Narraganset (Algonquian) askutasquash, lit. "the green things that may be eaten raw," from askut "green, raw" + asquash "eaten


For Native Americans **everyday life** items

  • squaw,

    from Massachuset (Algonquian) squa "woman" (cf. also Narraganset squaws "woman")

  • papoose,

    from Narragansett (Algonquian) papoos "child," lit. "very young."

  • wigwam

    from Algonquian (probably Eastern Abenaki) wikewam "a dwelling," said to mean lit. "their house;" also said to be found in such formations as wikiwam and Ojibwa wiigiwaam and Delaware wiquoam

1: All etymologies cited from etymonline.

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@The Raven, thx I added "wampum" to the Animals category. Thx. –  Alain Pannetier Φ May 1 '11 at 10:36

In addition to the information given above, there is a book-length treatment of this subject in:

Cutler, Charles L. O Brave New Words: Native American loanwords in current English. Norman : University of Oklahoma Press, 1994. 286 pages.

It's an enjoyable read.

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Succotash, from Narragansett msíckquatash, literally meaning "boiled corn", now usually a stew or casserole of lima beans, corn, and bell peppers.

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Muckamuck, high muckamuck, or high muckity muck, a not flattering slang term for an important person. It comes from Hiu muckamuck, a Chinook jargon phrase that means "plenty to eat."

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