Today was a beautiful day in the Pioneer Valley, warm and breezy, and my lovely wife and I joined Songdog (hey, he’s got a picture of the new kid up!) and his first son (now three, how time flies!) on a visit to the Hadley Farm Museum. Along with a pleasing odor of old wood (you should be able to get a whiff just looking at the pictures video on their website) and a brochure on the history of West Street and the town common (twenty rods wide and almost a mile long, the longest in Massachusetts, dating back to 1659), I picked up some new vocabulary from the labels: to wit, the words froe (OED: “A wedge-shaped tool used for cleaving and riving staves, shingles, etc. It has a handle in the plane of the blade, set at right angles to the back”) and pung (“A one-horse sleigh or sledge used in New England; also, a toboggan”). The former has an early form frower and a synonym fromward, suggesting that it may originally have meant ‘turned away’, “the reference being to the position of the handle”; the latter is “Shortened from tom-pung, or (?) tow-pung, corruptions of an Indian word akin to Chippeway odãbãn, odãbãnak, Montagnais utãpãn, Abnaki udanbangan ‘instrument for drawing’ or ‘that on which something is drawn’—and “The same word in a northern Algonkin dialect has given the Canadian tarbogin, tarbognay, whence TOBOGGAN”! Who’da thunkit?


  1. For anyone who, like me, had difficulty working out what a froe looks like from “it has a handle in the plane of the blade, set at right angles to the back”, here are some pictures, courtesy of Google images. (The description is obviously correct, once one has seen the thing.)

  2. I do believe I remember reference to pungs in the Little House on the Prairie series, or maybe the Anne of Green Gables series? (And color me amazed for having familiarity with something you haven’t already read about!)

  3. J. Del Col says

    The guy who hosts PBS’s –The Woodright’s Shop–occasionally uses a froe. He also uses hewing axes and “hews to the line” with them.
    J. Del Col

  4. Cryptic Ned says

    The word “pung” shows up a lot in Ralph Gould’s hilarious book “Yankee Storekeeper”. I frankly could not figure out what he meant by it. I thought it was some sort of odd-shaped metal tool, but sled makes a lot more sense.

  5. Trumbull’s article cited at the end of the OED pung entry is in JSTOR. It ought to be in Google Books: in fact, search even claims Full View. But, in reality, it’s blasted snippets. It looks to me like the printed OED2 has mistaken his name as Trumball; it was okay in OED1. Is it fixed online? While there, don’t miss hominy, pecan and barbecue.
    It’s interesting that Mencken didn’t pick up on this native source for pung. He did see a potential connection with pungy, which rates a cf. by the OED.

  6. It’s “Trumball” online too. Tsk.

  7. Is “Chippeway” supposed to be Chippewa / Ojibwa, or is it supposed to be Chipewayan? The former is Algonquian and the latter is Na-Dené.
    I would presume the former since Chipewyan is fairly removed from early colonial areas…

  8. Oh, a bamboo froe can be made of two or more froe blades set crosswise into a ring. They’re used to split bamboo poles into slats, and one starts at the top with the froe and just shoves it down the pole until the entire thing is split into quarters, sixths, or what have you. These are sold in the hardware stores here in Hawai‘i, since bamboo grows all over the place here.

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