- May 27, 2014
- Posted by: Madrigal Admin
- Category: Word of the Week Blog
English borrows words from other languages when it needs to describe something new. Igloo and Eskimo are obvious ones. They come from the native American languages of Canada. Igloo comes directly from the Innuit word iglu for house. In comparison Eskimo had a less clear origin.
English had no word for a house made from ice so they borrowed the Canadian word. However, according to an Innuit, we all live in igloos regardless of whether it is made of ice because it is simply their word for house.
I don’t know if you noticed that some time in the last few decades the Eskimos that made igloos have disappeared and been replaced by the Innuit. This change came about because of a major misunderstanding of Eskimo’s word history and an unnecessary correction.
Eskimo first appeared in English in the 1580s either from Danish eskimo or Middle French esquimaux. These in turn had come from one of a number of American Indian languages: the Montagnais had ayassimew; the Plains Cree had ayaskimew; the Attikamek Cree had ashkimew; the Ojibwa had eshkipot; and the Algonquin Eastern Ojibwa had ashkipok.
These American Indian words are all similar and related. The last two forms of the word, from the Ojibwa languages, have been interpreted to mean one who eats raw meat. This derivation became the established word history even amongst native American speakers. However based on interpretation of most of the other forms of the word there is now stronger evidence to suggest that Eskimo means snowshoe-netter or she nets a snowshoe. Because the words are all related the snowshoe meaning now is considered the more likely.
Unfortunately the native people of Canada had already decided that being called eaters of raw meat was too demeaning. So they decided to relinquish being called Eskimos, the snowshoe-makers, and have chosen to be called Innuits (or inuits) instead; Innuit just means real person.
English has been enhanced with new words for houses made from ice and for northern indigenous people (although from the Innuit point of view they are just real people living in houses). I do miss igloos made by Eskimos.