© copyright 2012 William Gordon Casselman
Kamik & Their Word Lore
These sturdy kamik or kamiks were made from caribiou leg skins on Baffin Island.
Kamik is the word for boots made of caribou or seal skin in one of the Eskimo languages of Canada’s north, namely Inuktitut. In preparation for the boot-making, the caribou skins are scraped with an ulu.
Ulu scraper made of horn kept with its slate underplate
Kamik, a word in Inuktitut, one of the Inuit languages of northern America, is a dual form meaning ‘boots.’ The Inuktitut singular is kamik. Louise Hope writes to correct my error: “The ending -k is not plural but dual. The simple form of the singular is “kamik” with short i, making the dual “kamiik” with long i.
If, on the other hand, you wanted to put boots on your dog, it would require kamiit.
As long as you pronounce it with a short “i”, the English form kamiks is perfectly OK. But “kamiiks” would indeed lead to a mental picture of multiple pairs of boots!” Thanks, Louise.
What is a Dual Number in Grammar?
In many languages there are only two numbers: singular and plural. Writes a web wizard: “Dual is a grammatical number that some languages use in addition to singular and plural. When a noun or pronoun appears in dual form, it refers to precisely two of the entities (objects or persons) identified by the noun or pronoun. Verbs can also have dual agreement forms in these languages.” For example, in languages using a dual, one would need to write words like human eyes, legs, ears in the dual case, because in a natural state humans have two of each. Two arrows would use the dual number, but seven arrows would use a standard plural noun form.
“Although relatively few modern languages have the dual number and most have no number or only singular and plural, using different words for groups of two and groups greater than two is not uncommon. English has words distinguishing dual vs. plural number, including: both/all, either/any, neither/none, between/among, former/first, and latter/last.
Inuktitut and the related Central Alaskan Yup’ik language use dual forms; however, the related Greenlandic language does not (though it used to have them).”
Homeric Greek used a dual number but later classical Greek did not.
Canadians are more familiar with the winter boot word mukluk which is from Yupik, an Alaskan member of the Eskimo-Aleut language family. Maklak in Yupik means ‘seal-skin.’ Mukluk was borrowed first into American English, kamik into Canadian English.
Yupik & Co.
Most of the 20,000-strong Yupik people living in Alaska speak fluent Yupik and English. The present Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, is working on fluent English but has so far flubbed the assignment. Smirky Sarah and her Spooky Spouse — yes, they sound like a bad lounge act offering musical stylings at Fred’s Naughty Nightery in beautiful downtown Gnome, Alaska. Oh please, silly nitpickers everywhere, I know the place name is really spelled Noam? No,m’am? Nougham? Nome? Sarah and her tit-sucking ningnong of a hubbie are already amassing a campaign treasury to finance her run in the next American presidential race. I can only speak modestly on behalf of several billion residents of earth who do not want a woman incapable of uttering a coherent paragraph ever to rule our world.
Central Siberian Yupik, still spoken by about eight hundred people in Alaska and three hundred in Siberia, is a tongue whose location on two different continents bolsters the anthropological belief that northern aboriginal languages were brought to North America, across the Bering land strait, during migrations from northern Asia. Anthropologists and archaeologists now uggest that these earliest waves of migration occurred between 25,000 to 12,000 years ago.
The Yupik word for the bearded seal is maklak and most Yupik boots are made from sealskin, hence mukluk ‘seal boots.’ The world’s largest mukluk sits beside the Alaska Highway, at mile 1317 in the little village of Tok. The word appears in an expression widely used across the Canadian north: “better than a kick in the ass with a frozen mukluk.”Bear Paw
Bear paw is a kind of small snowshoe, whose name was taken from its general shape. The Montagnais or Innu, a Labrador and northern Quebec people, invented the bear paw snowshoe for quiet hunting, walking trap lines and bird-netting. The Innu word for snowshoes is asham and single-bar bear paw snowshoes in Labrador Innu are mashkusham. The earliest French settlers in New France adopted the bear paw during the 17 th century because it was quiet and easy to use after soft snowfalls.
A bear paw snowshoe of wood and babiche made by the Naskapi people, Innu of northern Québec and interior Labrador
Snowshoes are made of birch — and tamarack on occasion.
In the local Montagnais language, the root phrase for Naskapi was probably something like*unaska·hpi·w meaning ‘ones who live past the horizon,’ so named by the Montagnais because the Naskapi live farther north than the Montagnais. And let us add that their own tribal name for themselves was not given to them by early French explorers, as were Montagnais and Naskapi. They call themselves Nenenot, meaning in Innu ‘this land’s real people.’ One can see roots in that word Nenenot related to other northern words and names. Consider some of these Inuktitut terms such as Nunavut ‘our land’ and nunavun ‘homeland,’ both of which contain nuna ‘land, country, soil.’ Think of inuk ‘person, man, human’ (inu ‘people’ plus the noun suffix /k/ that makes it a singular noun, that is, ‘one person, one human, one man.’) In one northern language, Inuktitut, the plural of inuk is Inuit. The name of the language means ‘the way the people [talk].’
Snowshoe laces are made of a caribou-hide babiche. If caribou is scarce,sealskin, canvas or rope may be employed. Babiche is what French voyageurs heard when Mi’kmaq hunters showed them how to make snowshoe nets and laces in their early travels. The Mi’kmaq word was aapapiich, literally ‘net string’ but used to name: rawhide lacings, threads, cords and thongs made from untanned caribou or, further south, moose hide. The French heard the moderately plosive Mi’kmaq /p/ sounds as French /b/ sounds, hence babiche.
Snowshoe Vocabulary of Labrador Innu
The excellent material below (slightly edited by me) is the work of curators, researchers and Innu interviewees presented in more detail at ww.virtualmuseum.ca
If you are interested in Canadian history, do not miss a perusal of this excellent new resource site.
Eight types of snowshoes were made and used by Labrador Innu. Note that the second component of most of these compound words is asham Innu ‘snowshoes.’
ushetusham – swallow-tail snowshoe
kautapishusht - beaver-tail snowshoe
papatshitakusham - snowshoe made from wooden planks
mashkusham - single-bar, bearpaw snowshoe
uikuessiusham - two-bar, bearpaw snowshoe
mashkusham - bearpaw showshoe (top section not laced)
shakusham - (translation not available)
ushuiakusham - porcupine tail snowshoe
“In general, Labrador and Quebec Innu ‘preferred oval-shaped snowshoes with very short tails or no tail at all, styles that allowed them to manoeuvre in hilly, densely wooded and brush-filled terrain.’ However, even in the barren, tundra area of the George River and Labrador plateau, oval-shaped snowshoes were still the preferred type.”
So don those kamik, Canucks. In cold snow, tip-toe can lead to nip-toe and then to frosted-toe and soon to gangrene-toe and thence to surgical excision of said toe. Yikes! Bundle those footsies, gang.
© 2012 William Gordon Casselman
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Reviews of my Book
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Jenni French of San Fancisco, California writes on her blog "My Corner of the Universe" for March 19, 2011:
Casselman, Bill. Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A World Lover's Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2010.
"I admit it: I'm a word nerd. I love words: weird words, long words, obscure words, funny words. This book is right up my alley. With chapters like "Nautical Words," "Creepy Words," and "Edible Words," I have enjoyed every page of this book.
And the author has quite a way with words, so I have found myself rereading many sentences in this book and slowing my progress through it.
My current favorite sentence is found in a discussion of dog hybrid breed names: "What a revolting concatenation of cutesiness and smarmy nomenclatorial treacle parading under the name of canine hybrid breed names" (19).
I'm sure I'll have another favorite sentence in a day or two.
This book is just that good and just that entertaining."
Author Bill Casselman replies: "Thanks, Jenni!"
Just a reminder that this book contains my ALL-NEW word esssays, none of which are available anywhere else in print or online.
A Great New Review of My Latest Book!
October 26, 2011
Welcome to the Enchanted Forest
By WB Johnston
This review is about Bill Casselman’s latest e-book about words: Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik: A Word Lover’s Guide to the Weirdest, Wackiest, and Wonkiest Lexical Gems (Kindle Edition)
“Wade Davis, lately of National Geographic, once described each living language as “an old-growth forest of the human spirit.” Once you decide to enter the kleptomaniacal woods of our mother tongue, what you need is more than a tour guide. This is no Disney-fied ‘keep-your-hands-inside-the-car-at all-times’, point A to point B, clear-cutting mining of language. You, here, are in the hands of Sir William of Cassel, a genuine shaman modestly posing as a simple lover of words.
In the best of the spiritual tradition, Bill is the shape-shifter who constantly leads you to all the places you need to find in your soul. Every page is a new country, an invitation to an excursion into the wonderland of rich connections with the myriad of sources of what so often we unthinkingly wield as a prosaic tool.
Pay absolutely no attention to anyone who tells you that this book is anything but pure gold. It’s simply not true, sadly, that all the world loves a lover. Particularly someone whose love is so boundless.
But Sir William is fearless. You don’t earn your keep as a medicine man if you have a thin skin. While I cannot for the life of me understand how anyone could walk away from this book unmoved by its wit, its wisdom and the beautiful transparency by which the author celebrates the glorious romp of our almost unlimited linguistic exuberance, I have to sadly conclude that once in a while, you do meet someone who can’t see the forest for the trees, eh?
Read this book. Leave it on the sofa instead of the $%#!*$% TV remote. Maybe someone you care about will pick it up, even just for a moment, and fall in love with their heritage?
Leave it on your desk at work and trust that someone will riffle through it when you are out at lunch. Shamans are magicians of the highest order. The work of their hands and hearts is game-changing. Or, hey, put it on your Kindle and just feel comforted that you can wander back out into the forest with Bill even in the middle of a boring lecture.
Casselman replies: Thank you so much, Dr. J., for the kudos.
Cindy Lapeña on her blog "Creativity Unlimited" of July 19 ,2011, writes:
Posted by mimrlith in 365 Things to Look Forward to.
Tags: 365 things to look forward to, books, reading
19. Starting a book
To a certified bibliophile like me, a.k.a. bookworm, one of the most exciting things to look forward to is to start reading a new book. In fact, sometimes the prospect of starting to read a new book is so exciting that I have to hurry to finish the book I am currently reading, just so I can start a new one.
If there’s one thing I can’t resist, it’s a book, especially if it promises to be a good one. Of course there are certain books I just won’t touch or be seen with, but at the risk of being hung by my thumbs by fans of such literature, I will not mention any genres in particular. . .
Seeing a book with a title that totally captivates me, like Where a Dobdob meets a Dikdik (yes, that is a book title!) has me so worked up, I just can’t wait to dive in. I imagine all sorts of deliciously fancifully outrageous words with a title like that. Is it obvious? I just love books on words. You won’t believe how many dictionaries I own. Or books on lexical oddities and other lexical explorations. Yes, I am a logophile of sorts. I love the new words I pick up from new books. I relish finding out the meanings of all manner of words and phrases and expressions. What could be more fun?"
(Replies author Bill Casselman: Please scroll to bottom of page or click here to link to a free seven-page preview of my new book, Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik.
Sample My Newest Book. Click Below.
Jan. 3, 2011
I wanted to write to thank you for your thoroughly enjoyable [new] book. By background, I am a technologist practicing the somewhat arcane crafts of Information Security.”
David Gamey, Canada
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Dear Mr. Casselman,
A search for the origins of an improbable-looking word, paraprosdokian, led me to the first piece of your prose I have had the pleasure of reading, "The Bogus Word Paraprosdokian & Lazy Con Artists of Academe." I have just placed an order for Where a Dobdob Meets a Dikdik, Canadian Words & Sayings, and As The Canoe Tips, and will add more of your titles as I finish these.
I have just retired from a 40-plus year career in book publishing, the last thirty years spent as director/editor of a number of university presses, attempting to sort the genuine writers from the "Lazy Con Artists of Academe." Sad to say, the latter have so over-bred the former that I could no longer see the rare gem in the avalanches of offal that daily swamped my office and desk. I visited your website and spent far too long there; it was a pleasure to meet a real writer through his work.
. . . I revisited the paraprosdokian page, and have finally quit laughing again at “Casselman's Conclusion.” You were not unkind to the "profligate prof-lets." During my years as an acquisitions editor, in rejection letters I often quoted Prof. Moses Hadas, classicist at Columbia University, who wrote a young scholar in response to having been sent the prof-let's first book, "Thank you for sending me your book. I will waste no time reading it."
I know I will enjoy your books. Keep up the good work.
University of New Mexico Press, among others
Nov. 15, 2010: On Twitter, Doug O'Neill, a happy buyer of my new Dobdob book, writes, "Even funnier flipping through it a second time around."
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Year of the Ox & Chinese Words in English
Everyday Québec Expressions - Part 10
Tuque: Canada's National Winter Head Gear