.......One of the tools used in creative writing is the use of loan words. They are words that have been absorbed into literary English over time from other cultures in a process of significant dialect and linguistic levelling, probably at its most intense in the last three centuries.
Native American loan words are now to be found in mainstream American English, and it is useful to have a glimpse of what some of them mean, and to look at their roots in order to understand them, and thus not use them out of context in your writings.
Take raccoon. Everyone knows what they are, but how did that very un-English word be absorbed into mainstream American English. When Virginia was settled in the 17th century, the settlers found little cute furry animals scurrying around that they had never encountered before. So they had no words to describe them. Probably the first convergence with the Indian lingua franca took place here. The settlers learnt that the Native Indians had a name for them – ‘ara’kunem’("He who scratches with his hands"). Bingo, raccoon was born and in the late 17th century, raccoon was absorbed into American English, first as rockoon and then settled as raccoon.
Fast forward and the same thing happened to skunk, squash, squaw, woodchuck, terrapin, hickory, moose, and about 150 more Indian loan words entered the English language. Some of these words would not be recognized today by those Native Indians of the time. Imagine them trying to work out how their word ‘asquutasquashe’ became simply ‘squash’. Or how their pawcohiccora became hickory. They would have a laugh, wouldn’t they?
Not satisfied with this, look how many other phrases we have loaned from Native American Indians – ‘War path’. Haven’t we all been on that journey at times. Don’t folk today gather around for a ‘pow wow’.
How many ‘Indian givers' do we know?.And we have all ‘buried the hatchet’ more times than we care to remember. And there are hundreds of combinations derived from Indian vernacular – Indian pony, Indian summer, Indian mallow are but just a few.
So when you see a loan word pop up in your research, don’t hesitate to use it in context, as they are now as established in mainstream American English as halloween or thanksgiving.