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firewater, heap big, iron-horse
Posted: 04 February 2010 10:14 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I recently remembered the American phrase “suds and firewater” for beer and spirits and wondered if firewater was a genuine translation from a Native-American language.
I had imagined it was a NA expression used by them in broken and figurative English and adopted by English speakers because it was apposite.

fire·wa·ter (frwôtr, -wtr)
n. Slang
Strong liquor, especially whiskey.
[Translation of Ojibwa ishkodewaaboo, whiskey.]
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition.

Evidently not, but would whites peddling spirits have referred to them by their English names? Or with language limitations, used fire + water because these basic English words were known to their customers? How did the Ojibwa translation gain currency in English I wonder.

I then entertained the idea that heap big and iron-horse might also be similar phenomena though I cannot find any evidence for this. Are they cod Amerindianisms from old Westerns? I’m pretty sure I came across heap in Mark Twain, maybe Roughing It. Are there other cod or genuine examples? I don’t mean loanwords like pecan or tomahawk.

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Posted: 04 February 2010 11:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Old discussion on firewater.

Old discussion of iron horse. (But it didn’t address the question very well.)

[ Edited: 04 February 2010 11:03 AM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 05 February 2010 08:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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No, these are not cod westernisms. They are actual terms used in the pidgin adopted by Native Americans for dealing with whites and with other tribes. I address the topic a bit more completely in Word Myths, under the section on squaw. Surprisingly, this is one linguistic bit that the cheesy Hollywood westerns get just about right.

(Actually, I’m not positive that iron horse was part of the Native American pidgin, although it seems likely. I haven’t seen any actual citations of from the pidgin that use it. There are multiple cites in the OED by white Americans and seemingly unconnected with Indians, so iron horse had a metaphorical life beyond Native American speech.)

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Posted: 06 February 2010 10:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Interesting links and remarks - you had it all pretty much covered already.
Except heap. I found in Zane Gray’s 1906 Spirit of the Border:

‘“Paleface--big steal--ugh! Injun mad--heap mad--kill paleface.” This sounds like appalling cack-handed stereotyping for an ignorant white readership (and it may have influenced how The Hulk spoke in my old Marvel comics of the ‘70s), soon followed by:

‘“Silvertip scalp paleface. Ugh!” growled the savage...’ (http://www.classicreader.com/book/599/3/)

Did Hollywood stoop this low?

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Posted: 06 February 2010 10:10 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Is there any record of how different Native American tribes communicated before Europeans? Some sort of pidgin? Maybe they used English pidgin after Europeans arrived but the circumstances were different from early African slaves with mutually unintelligible languages living together in confined company and having to quickly forge an English-based pidgin.

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Posted: 06 February 2010 10:15 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Is there any record of how different Native American tribes communicated before Europeans?

Yes, there were various pidgins and creoles, e.g., Mobilian Jargon in the Gulf of Mexico coastal area, Chinook Jargon in the Pacific Northwest, etc. I am sure there were more.

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Posted: 06 February 2010 12:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Western movies used to often show Indians communicating with whites, and sometimes with Indians of other tribes, using sign language.  Apparently this was not entirely a Hollywood invention, see for instance http://www.comanchelodge.com/sign-language.html

So one could probably add this to the creoles and pidgins as a means of inter-tribal communication.

Regarding “heap” as an intensifier: The OED2 records this usage “(i)n the representation of the speech of North American Indians used adverbially and as quasi-adj.: very, very much, a great deal.” Early citations run from the mid-19th century on, so it’s clearly not an invention of moviemakers.  The citations are all, as you might expect, apparently from whites writing about Amerinds: not many Amerinds from that period left published English writings, and those that did were probably fluent enough in the language that they did not resort to such pidginisms.  Given that there are numerous contemporary records of such usage, in non-fiction as well as fiction, it was probably genuine.

1832 W. IRVING Jrnl. (1919) III. 180 ‘Look at these Delawares,’ say the Osages, ‘dey got short legs–no can run–must stand and fight a great heap.’ 1848 Blackw. Mag. LXIII. 719 An Indian is always a ‘heap’ hungry or thirsty–loves a ‘heap’–is a ‘heap’ brave–in fact, ‘heap’ is tantamount to very much. 1850 ‘M. TENSAS’ Louisiana ‘Swamp Doctor’ 42 Whoop! whiskey lour! Injun big man, drunk heap. 1867 Harper’s Mag. July 137/1 Disturb the game and you make the Indian ‘heap big mad’. 1872 ‘MARK TWAIN’ Roughing It (1873) xxxix. 276 ‘Heap’ is ‘Injun-English’ for ‘very much’.

[ Edited: 06 February 2010 01:05 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 06 February 2010 01:04 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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When Columbus first arrived on the Islands how did he communicate with the natives?

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Posted: 06 February 2010 02:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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From a translation of one of Columbus’s letters:

On my arrival at that sea, I had taken some Indians by force from the first island that I came to, in order that they might learn our language, and communicate to us what they knew respecting the country; which plan succeeded excellently, and was a great advantage to us, for in a short time, either by gestures and signs, or by words, we were enabled to understand each other.

So, it seems they started out with gestures and then taught the Indians some form of Spanish pidgin.

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Posted: 07 February 2010 10:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Luis de Torres was Columbus’ interpretor on the first voyage. He was a converted Jew and spoke Hebrew and Arabic as well as Spanish and Portuguese. He did not return to Europe but stayed behind at the doomed La Navidad settlement on Hispaniola.

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Posted: 08 February 2010 10:18 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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"Yes, there were various pidgins and creoles, e.g., Mobilian Jargon in the Gulf of Mexico coastal area, Chinook Jargon in the Pacific Northwest, etc. I am sure there were more.”
jheem, you don’t say when. The Americas are so vast and they never had horses or wheels (unless you believe the Mormons) or writing, so the pidgins and creoles you mention could be fairly recent ie after Europeans, meaning recorded history. I can’t imagine them hanging out together much, or needing to, except to widen their gene pools which Eskimos worked out the need for according to James Michener’s Alaska (not the best source, I’ll concede). Maybe they traded stuff.

Dr T’s link comanchelodge link sounds like unsubstantiated, pseudo-mystical, New Age bisondung. I saw a documentary in which spiritually-inclined white Americans subscribed to a course in Amerinidian wisdom and the teacher referred to chakras. No one batted an eyelid.

Great finds about heap but how on earth did it become pidgin rather than, say, ‘very’ if it is genuine?

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Posted: 08 February 2010 12:23 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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If you want a less new-agey source for information about Amerind sign language, you could check here.

Or you could get off your ass and Google for yourself, rather than asking other people to find the information for you and then sneering at what they turn up.

[ Edited: 08 February 2010 12:26 PM by Dr. Techie ]
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Posted: 08 February 2010 12:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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so the pidgins and creoles you mention could be fairly recent ie after Europeans, meaning recorded history.

Both Mobilian and Chinook jargons are considered by historical linguists to have developed post-contact.

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Posted: 08 February 2010 01:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Still, there is archeological evidence of extensive pre-Columbian trade among Native Americans, such as stone artifacts found hundreds or thousands of kilometers from where the stone was quarried, and so on.  It’s simply wrong to assume that they didn’t travel around, or that the various tribal groups and cultures did not have contact with each other and so never had occasion to communicate.

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Posted: 09 February 2010 12:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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From Dr Techie’s very interesting link:

The grievous accusation against foreign people that they have no intelligible language is venerable and general. With the Greeks the term ϋγλωσσος, “tongueless,” was used synonymous with βάρβαρος, “barbarian,” of all who were not Greek. The name “Slav,” assumed by a grand division of the Aryan family, means “the speaker,” and is contradistinguished from the other peoples of the world, such as the Germans, who are called in Russian “Njemez,” that is, “speechless.” In Isaiah (xxxiii, 19) the Assyrians are called a people “of a stammering tongue, that one cannot understand.” The common use of the expressions “tongueless” and “speechless,” so applied, has probably given rise to the mythical stories of actually speechless tribes of savages, and the instances now presented tend to discredit the many other accounts of languages which are incomplete without the help of gesture. The theory that sign language was in whole or in chief the original utterance of mankind would be strongly supported by conclusive evidence to the truth of such travellers’ tales, but does not depend on them. Nor, considering the immeasurable period during which, in accordance with modern geologic views, man has been on the earth, is it probable that any existing peoples can be found among whom speech has not obviated the absolute necessity for gesture in communication between themselves. The signs survive for convenience, used together with oral language, and for special employment when language is unavailable.

Does the Greek word mean “tongueless”, “Slav” mean “speaker”, and “Njemez” mean “speechless”?
And was North American Indian sign language universally understood?

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Posted: 09 February 2010 08:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Well I’ll quibble and say that Slav means “a people of eastern Europe.” Etymologically, however, the word probably does come from a root that means “word, speech.” I can’t speak to the other two.

It doesn’t look like the web site is claiming that any particular Indian sign language (there were many) was universal, but some were very widespread and used extensively for inter-tribal communication.

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