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.

  9. language hat (August 19, 2007): It’s “Trumball” online too. Tsk.

    You were a month too early: pung, n.2 was updated in September 2007, so in August you would have been seeing the unrevised version.

    In 2018 the name Tom was revised along with everything derived from it, even if only by folk etymology, and tom pung was promoted to headword, taking its etymology with it. Now the etymology of pung is simply “Shortened < Tom Pung” (insert usual complaint about overwriting the 2007 version), while under Tom Pung, they have:

    Etymology: < the Southern New England Algonquian cognate of Western Abenaki odôbôgan toboggan, Eastern Abenaki wətάpαkan toboggan, sled, sleigh, Ojibwa odaabaan sled, sleigh, carriage, any vehicle on which something is drawn (now also automobile, wagon) ( < Proto-Algonquian *weta:pya:kana < *weta:pye:‑ to drag with a cord + ‑kana instrument for), perhaps with folk-etymological reinterpretation of the initial syllables as the male forename Tom (see Tom n.1).

    Compare also the further Algonquian cognate Micmac tapaĝan sled, sleigh, vehicle, which gives rise to toboggan n.

    The reference to Trumbull has been dropped, reasonably, since it’s obsolete. But the really interesting thing here is that somebody got away with putting Proto-Algonquian reconstructions in the OED! This is surprising, since the Third Edition has a strict policy of never citing words in Proto-Indo-European, or Proto-Germanic, or pretty much any proto-language. So how did this get in? It’s rare: they only give Proto-Algonquian ancestors for a dozen Algonquian loanwords, out of hundreds, though there are more where they could have.

    (“Micmac tapaĝan” is an error: there are various Miꞌkmaq orthographies but none of them use a circumflex g. It should be q, and in fact in the entry for toboggan the same word is given as “†tapaqn toboggan, sled, sleigh, vehicle (now tepaqn)”, which is OK; those are both among the spellings found in Miꞌkmaq references.)

    Erin: I remember reference to pungs in the Little House on the Prairie series, or maybe the Anne of Green Gables series?

    It was Anne of Green Gables, which is cited in the OED! (Little House on the Prairie would be very unlikely, since that takes place in the midwest, while pung is a regional word of New England and the Maritimes.)

  10. The OED editor doubtless took the spelling tapaĝan from the entry on p. 133 of
    Albert D. DeBlois and Alphonse Metallic (1984) Micmac Lexicon:

    tepaĝan: sleigh; sled; vehicle [tapaĝan] [NS]

    Dialectal forms are in square brackets at the end of entries, and NS means Nova Scotia. The authors say this about their orthography (p. vii) :

    The symbols used to transcribe the Micmac words and expressions in this lexicon may seem at first glance to involve a complete change over from the traditional thirteen (13) letter alphabet used by those among the elders who are literate in the Micmac language. As explained elsewhere, the modifications were made in order to facilitate the acquisition of reading and writing skills by children and adults alike. Moreover, a closer examination of the symbols used will reveal that the changes are not as drastic as they first appear; they are based, in large part, on modifications introduced by Father Pacifique himself in his Leçons grammaticales.

    (The ĝ represents /x/, voiced to [ɣ] intervocalically, I gather.)

  11. Thanks, I didn’t realize that. So it’s not simply an error, but I still think it was a wrong decision to use a spelling that was a single book’s innovation and got no uptake — even DeBlois went back to q like everybody else in his Micmac Texts (1991) and revised and expanded Micmac Dictionary (1996). Shouldn’t the OED use the most recent versions of reference books, not superseded ones?

    Micmac etyma are cited by the OED in 9 other entries using a variety of spelling systems, but I guess that’s only to be expected since different systems are in use by different communities and writers.

  12. jack morava says

    This somehow brings to mind Henri Vaillancourt’s crooked knife in John McPhee’s beautiful `Survival of the bark canoe’

    cf eg

    [I think we should be told …]

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