Saturday, January 19, 2013


It is incredible to me that the Oxford English Dictionary does not have the word pogonip. Merriam-Webster say that they have a cite from 1865. I had thought that the OED had put all of their material for the letters M through R online, before the editors started jumping around more last year. How did this word fall through the cracks in the OED's reading program for American genre fiction?

Perhaps pogonip got swept up into general-use dictionaries because it was used in a Louis L'Amour story "Down the Pogonip Trail". Later writers of Westerns and frontier fiction seem to have propagated the word after that. Gillian Welch uses the word in one verse of her marvellous song "Wrecking Ball" on her album Soul Journey):
Oh, just a little deadhead  
Who is watching, who is watching?  
I's just a little deadhead  
I won a dollar on a scholarship  
Well, I got tired and let my average slip  
Then I's a farmer in the pogonip  
Where the weed that I recall  
Was like a wrecking ball
Is pogonip the only word in English from Shoshoni (besides Shoshoni nɨmɨ "person" in the linguistic term Numic)? I really like having these rare words in the dictionary. Imagine the pleasure of reading a Western in which this word is dropped, wondering where it came from, and then looking it up in the dictionary to find its origin with the sinking feeling that it will not be entered. But there it is!  

The Random House Dictionary (always the best general dictionary for the origins of Native American words, thanks to the contributions of Ives Goddard) gives the following etymology:
Origin: 1860–65, Americanism; < Shoshone paγɨnappɨh thunder cloud; compare soγovaγɨnappɨh fog (with soγo- earth), yaγumpaγɨnappih fog (with yaγun- valley).
 I must see if there is a further Uto-Aztecan etymology for paγɨnappɨh. To be continued...

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