English-speaking settlers on the continent learned a bunch from the Algonquian-speaking inhabitants, & this learning didn’t stop centuries ago. Here are a few of the Algonquian words that have become part of English.
In 1610, the word opossum (or simply possum) came to English from the Powhatan branch of Algonquian. The original word translates to white dog.
The Mikmak branch of Algonqiuan gave us the word caribou in the 1660s. The original word translates to pawer or scratcher, due to the caribou’s habit of pawing through the snow to find edible moss and grass.
Just south of Boston is the Great Blue Hill. Before Europeans muscled into the area, an Algonquian-speaking group of people lived there. Their native neighbors referred to them as the people at the large hill, or Massachusetts. Though the people at the large hill sadly no longer exist, the name remains.
In the 1670s, English speakers started using the word woodchuck, which comes from the Cree branch of Algonquian & originally referred to the marten, a rodent inclined to live in forests. The Cree word was otchek, but because martens lived in trees, European settlers heard something closer to woodcheck, thus ending up with woodchuck.
Most branches of Algonquian had a word meaning shoe, which sounded something like mocassin. In 1610, English speakers started using the word to refer to a soft leather shoe lacking a stiff sole.
An inland group of Algonquian speakers labeled a particular hunk of land the place of the wild onion — which sounded something like shekakoheki. In 1833, English speakers learned this word from the French trappers in the area, & made use of it to name that area Chicago.
In 1629, an Algonquian word meaning that which is ground or beaten made its way into English to refer to parched corn — so we have the word hominy.
We all know the famed location of Orville & Wilbur Wright’s first flight is Kitty Hawk, but the place name had nothing to do with cats or kitties — it’s a brutally Anglicized version of the Algonquian place name, which first occurred on English maps as Chickehawk. Nobody’s certain what the original Algonquian name was, or what it meant.
Historically, English speakers showed little respect to the many speakers of the various branches of Algonquian. Perhaps we can show a bit of respect now by (at the very least) recognizing the source of some of our English words.