11 Common English Words from Native American Languages

iStock/Bouillante
iStock/Bouillante

You’re probably well aware that tepee, totem, and toboggan are all Native American names for familiar objects, but what about hickory, jerky, and tobacco? Native American languages gave us scores of words for things we frequently use—not to mention the many states, rivers, and towns that evolved from Native American names.

In celebration of Native American Heritage Month in November, we’ve compiled a list of 11 words commonly used in English that were coined by Indigenous groups across the Americas.

1. Opossum

The Native American name of North America’s resident marsupial comes from the Virginia Algonquian word opassum (alternately spelled aposoum), which means “white dog” or “white beast” in the Powhatan language. Skunk, coyote, raccoon, moose, woodchuck, and caribou are a few of the other animals that owe their names to Native American tribes.

2. Squash

When English settlers first arrived in North America, they used squash as a verb (meaning to crush something) and, more arcanely, to refer to an unripe pea pod. However, they were unfamiliar with the fruit we now know as squash, according to Merriam-Webster. The Narragansett tribe from present-day New England called it askútasquash, which was eventually shortened to squash in English.

3. Chocolate

This delicious treat comes to us from nature, but we can thank Indigenous Mesoamericans for this Native American name. The word chocolate comes from Nahuatl, a language spoken by the Aztecs (many Indigenous people in Mexico speak dialects of Nahuatl today). The Aztecs would make a drink from ground cacao seeds called chikolatl.

4. Hammock

iStock.com/BartCo

This word comes from hamaca, whose origins are slightly unclear: It could be from the now-extinct Taíno language (once spoken by Indigenous people in the Caribbean), or from a related Arawakan language. It originally referred to a “stretch of cloth” and entered the English language via the Spanish (who still call it a hamaca).

5. Barbecue

This also comes from a Taíno word—barbacòa—and entered English via Spanish explorers who must have thought the cooking method was pretty nifty. It originally meant “structure of sticks set upon posts” and was first recorded in print as barbecoa in Spanish in 1526.

6. Avocado

Sorry, avocado trivia lovers, but the story that this word originally meant testicle isn’t quite right. According to Nahuatl scholar Magnus Pharao Hansen, the Nahuatl name for the fruit, ahuacatl, was also slang for testicle, but only ever slang. The word ahuacatl chiefly described the fruit. It entered Spanish in the late 1600s as aguacate, and was eventually Anglicized as avocado.

7. Guacamole

In a similar vein, guacamole stems from two Nahuatl words: ahuacatl (avocado) and molli (sauce). Mix them together and they make ahuacamolli. Molli, as fans of chicken mole enchiladas will know, was later spelled mole in Mexican Spanish. Tomato (tomatl), chili (chilli), and chipotle (chilli + poctli, meaning something smoked) are a few other food words that come to us from Nahuatl.

8 and 9. Canoe and Kayak

iStock.com/Caval

Canoe and kayak are both Indigenous words, but they were coined by different tribes. Kayak can be traced back to the Inuit of present-day Greenland, who call the long boat qajaq. The word is also present throughout the Inuit-Yupik-Unangan languages. Canoe, on the other hand, comes from the Arawakan word canaoua. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, early spellings of canoe were cano, canow, and the Spanish canoa, “before spelling settled down” in the 18th century.

10. Poncho

Indigenous peoples in central Chile who speak Araucanian languages dubbed their shawl-like “woolen fabric” a pontho. They were often worn by huasos, or cowboys, who lived in central and southern Chile. Nowadays, ponchos are commonplace throughout Latin America.

11. Hurricane

The Maya believed in a “god of the storm,” and they called it Hunrakan. This same word was picked up throughout Central America and the Caribbean to refer to an evil deity. Spanish explorers in the Caribbean changed the spelling to huracán and used it to describe the weather phenomenon, and it was finally introduced into English by the 16th century.

Amazon’s Big Fall Sale Features Deals on Electronics, Kitchen Appliances, and Home Décor

Dash/Keurig
Dash/Keurig

If you're looking for deals on items like Keurigs, BISSELL vacuums, and essential oil diffusers, it's usually pretty slim pickings until the holiday sales roll around. Thankfully, Amazon is starting these deals a little earlier with their Big Fall Sale, where customers can get up to 20 percent off everything from home decor to WFH essentials and kitchen gadgets. Now you won’t have to wait until Black Friday for the deal you need. Make sure to see all the deals that the sale has to offer here and check out our favorites below.

Electronics

Dash/Amazon

- BISSELL Lightweight Upright Vacuum Cleaner $170 (save $60)

- Dash Deluxe Air Fryer $80 (save $20)

- Dash Rapid 6-Egg Cooker $17 (save $3)

- Keurig K-Café Single Coffee Maker $169 (save $30)

- COMFEE Toaster Oven $29 (save $9)

- AmazonBasics 1500W Oscillating Ceramic Heater $31 (save $4)

Home office Essentials

HP/Amazon

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- HP Printer Paper (500 Sheets) $5 (save $2)

- Mead Composition Books Pack of 5 Ruled Notebooks $11 (save $2)

- Swingline Desktop Hole Punch $7 (save $17)

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Selieve/Amazon

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- Holy Stone HS165 GPS Drones with 2K HD Camera $95 (save $40)

Home Improvement

DEWALT/Amazon

- DEWALT 20V MAX LED Hand Held Work Light $54 (save $65)

- Duck EZ Packing Tape with Dispenser, 6 Rolls $11 (save $6)

- Bissell MultiClean Wet/Dry Garage Auto Vacuum $111 (save $39)

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NECA/Amazon

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More Than 650 New Words Have Been Added to Dictionary.com—Here Are 50 of Them

Online dictionaries can add words a little more quickly than their printed counterparts.
Online dictionaries can add words a little more quickly than their printed counterparts.
Pisit Heng, Pexels

Back in April, Dictionary.com updated its lexicon with a number of terms that had sprung up seemingly overnight, including COVID-19, novel coronavirus, and even rona. Now, as a testament to just how fast language evolves, the online dictionary has added 650 more.

Though the terms aren’t all quite as new as rona, they’ve all recently become prevalent enough to warrant their own dictionary entries. And they’re not all related to public health crises, either. New slang includes amirite, a truncated version of Am I right?; and zhuzh, a verb meaning “to make (something) more lively and interesting, stylish, or appealing, as by a small change or addition” (it can also be used as a noun).

There’s a handful of phrases that describe pets used for service or therapy—assistance animal, comfort animal, and emotional support animal, among others—and a couple that help capture the sometimes bizarre landscape of modern parenting. Sharent, a portmanteau of share and parent, refers to the act of chronicling your child’s life on social media (or a parent who does it); and extravagant methods of publicly announcing an unborn baby’s gender are now so widespread that gender reveal is a dictionary-recognized term. Some terms address racist behaviors—whitesplain and brownface, for example—while others reflect how certain people of color describe their specific ethnicities; Afro-Latina, Afro-Latino, and Afro-Latinx each have an entry, as do Pinay, Pinoy, and Pinxy.

In addition to the new entries, Dictionary.com has also added 2100 new definitions to existing entries and revised another 11,000 existing definitions—making it the site’s largest update ever. Black in reference to ethnicity is now a separate entry from the color black, and lexicographers have also combed through the dictionary to capitalize Black wherever it appears in other entries. They’ve also replaced homosexuality—now often considered an outdated clinical term with a negative connotation—with gayness in other entries, and addict with a person addicted to or a habitual user of. In short, people are constantly making language more inclusive and sensitive, and Dictionary.com is working to represent those changes in the dictionary.

Take a look at 50 of Dictionary.com’s new words and phrases below, and learn more about the updates here.

  1. Af
  1. Afro-Latina
  1. Afro-Latino
  1. Afro-Latinx
  1. Agile development
  1. Amirite
  1. Assistance animal
  1. Battle royale
  1. Bombogenesis
  1. Brownface
  1. Cap and trade
  1. Comfort animal
  1. Community management
  1. Companion animal
  1. Conservation dependent
  1. Conservation status
  1. Contouring
  1. Critically endangered
  1. DGAF
  1. Dunning-Kruger effect
  1. Ecoanxiety
  1. Emissions trading
  1. Emotional labor
  1. Emotional support animal
  1. Empty suit
  1. Extinct in the wild
  1. Filipinx
  1. Filipina
  1. Gender reveal
  1. GOAT
  1. Hodophobia
  1. Information bubble
  1. Ish
  1. Jabroni
  1. Janky
  1. MeToo
  1. Natural language processing
  1. Nothingburger
  1. Off-grid
  1. Pinay
  1. Pinoy
  1. Pinxy
  1. Ratio
  1. Sharent
  1. Swole
  1. Techlash
  1. Therapy animal
  1. Whitesplain
  1. World-building
  1. Zhuzh