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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 51

2. Sources of Early Americanisms
  The first genuine Americanisms were undoubtedly words borrowed bodily from the Indian dialects—words, in the main, indicating natural objects that had no counterparts in England. We find opossum, for example, in the form of opasum, in Captain John Smith’s “Map of Virginia” (1612), and, in the form of apossoun, in a Virginia document two years older. Moose is almost as old. The word is borrowed from the Algonquin musa, and must have become familiar to the Pilgrim Fathers soon after their landing in 1620, for the woods of Massachusetts then swarmed with the huge animals and there was no English name to designate them. Again, there are skunk (from the Abenaki Indian seganku), hickory, squash, caribou, pecan, scuppernong, paw-paw, raccoon, chinkapin, porgy, chipmunk, terrapin, menhaden, catalpa, persimmon and cougar. 10 Of these, hickory and terrapin are to be found in Robert Beverley’s “History and Present State of Virginia” (1705), and squash, chinkapin and persimmon are in documents of the preceding century. Many of these words, of course, were shortened or otherwise modified on being taken into colonial English. Thus, chinkapin was originally checkinqumin, and squash appears in early documents as isquontersquash, and squantersquash. But William Penn, in a letter dated August 16, 1683, used the latter in its present form. Its variations show a familiar effort to bring a new and strange word into harmony with the language—an effort arising from what philologists call the law of Hobson-Jobson. This name was given to it by Col. Henry Yule and A. C. Burnell, compilers of a standard dictionary of Anglo-Indian terms. They found that the British soldiers in India, hearing strange words from the lips of the natives, often converted them into English words of similar sound, though of widely different meaning. Thus the words Hassan and Hosein, frequently used by the Mohammedans of the country in their devotions, were