I was reading Roger Angell’s recent New Yorker reminiscence about his stepfather, E.B. White (known to his intimates as “Andy”), when I came to the following paragraph:

The other sentence-closer in the passage is “death,” and Andy must have ceased in time to be astonished at how often the theme and thought recurred in his writing. It runs all through his sweetly comical piece “Death of a Pig,” in which he tries ineffectually to deal with the crisis of a young pig of his who has stopped eating. Castor oil doesn’t help, nor does his own sense of “personal deterioration,” or the ministrations of Fred [his dachshund], who accompanies him on trips down the woodpath through the orchard to the pigyard, and also makes “many professional calls on his own.” The pig dies, nothing can be done about it, and it is the profusion of detail—his feeling the ears of the ailing pig “as you might put your hand on the forehead of a child,” and the “beautiful hole, five feet long, three feet wide, three feet deep” that is dug for the pig among alders and young hackmatacks, at the foot of an apple tree—that makes its death unsentimental and hard to bear.

The word hackmatacks stopped me cold; from context it apparently referred to some kind of plant, but neither I nor my wife (a New Englander) was familiar with it. When I got home I checked my dictionaries and discovered that both Webster’s and the OED said it was another word for the tamarack (Larix laricina). Case closed, one might think (except for the odd similarity of the two words)—but I checked the AHD just for completeness and found that that excellent dictionary identified it rather with the balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera), a tree of an entirely different genus. A competitive googling produced 755 hits for “hackmatack, larix” and only 342 for “hackmatack, populus,” but that’s not exactly a scientific way of deciding the matter. It seems odd to me that dictionaries cannot agree on the referent of this uncommon but well-established word; can anyone shed light on this?


  1. There’s a fish in my home town called a dogfish, which as far as I can tell is a purely local name and means different things in different areas. This also is true of flower names, I’ve been told.

  2. You got me started. The dogfish can be either and eelpout/burbot (a freshwater cod) or a bowfin. What they have in common is ugliness. They’re considered trash fish by sport fishermen but are good to eat.

  3. The bowfin may not be good to eat.

  4. Well, this page asks the same question. Could it be that tacamahac (Populus) and hackmatack (Larix) got confused (the words, not the trees)? The tree books we have here go no further than to say that those were Indian words; no hint of tribe or original meaning.

  5. Going Dotty in Kansas says

    Where I live now, there are neither dogfish nor hackmatacks, as the Great Intelligent Designer didn’t bother to put them here, so they must exist only in the imaginations of East Coast liberals.
    Nonetheless, this passage cited by LH illustrates beautifully what James Payne Smith calls the “disadvantages of common names”: the same plant may have more than one common name, but, conversely, “the same common name may be used for a wide variety of unrelated plants”, which seems to be the case here. Hortus Third lists two distinct specific epithets for “hackmatack”: Populus balsamifera, a member of the Salix (willow) family; and Larix laricina, of the Pinaeceae (pine family). The former is a decidous tree, the latter a conifer; both are distributed widely throughout northeast North America, and have many commercial uses. (Common names for P. balsamifera include balsam poplar, hackmatack, and tacamahac; common names for L. laricina include American larch, tamarack, hackmatack, and black larch.)
    To muddy the waters further, M. Grieve shows “hackmatack” as a synonym for yet another tree, the “yellow cedar”, listed under Thuja occidentalis (Linn.), of the (now-outdated) Natural Order Coniferae. (Other common names for Grieve’s “yellow cedar” include the tree of life, arborvitae, American arborvitae, Cedrus Lycea, Western arborvitae, false white cedar, thuia du Canada, and lebensbaum.) Clearly, it is no mean feat to know all the common names of a plant!
    Having spent considerable time in New England, I was always aware of those conifers commonly referred to as “larches”, and I always thought a hackmatack tree was some sort of larch, hackmatack being a corruption of a Wampanoag or Massachusett word. There is, in fact, a Hackmatack Road on Cape Cod, which is, interestingly, located near an old development called “The Larches”.
    Anyway, the point is that the same common word can, and often does, refer to completely different plants, so it doesn’t surprise me that dictionaries would indicate very different specific epithets for the “same” tree.
    (Incidentally, I always thought a “dogfish” was a nasty little shark, about 3′ long, which favors rocky coastlines. So much for common names!!)

  6. The Dictionary of American Regional English, which is very, very good on common plant and animal names, has, “1. Any of several conifers…a.=tamarack 1; also the wood of such a tree. chiefly Nth, esp NEng….b. A juniper (here Juniperus communis)…c.=lodgepole pined. A white cedar (here: Thuja occidentalis). 2. A spirea…3.=sassafras4=balsam poplar.” Many alternative spellings are offered, as well.

  7. I forgot to mention the salt-water dogfish, which is a kind of shark and is an important food fish,IIRC.
    Cedars are also called cypresses, though there is also a cypress which is not a cedar, IIRC.
    Maybe we’re dealing for two Native Americans which both meant “tree”.

  8. Thanks, Dotty and Grant! I think we’ve clarified the confusion about as much as it can be clarified, which is not very much. We should all be using Linnean terminology, I guess. “Among alnus and young Larix laricina” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, though.

  9. When I read this entry, I knew I’d heard the word before – and, yes, there’s a summer repertory playhouse in Berwick, Maine called the Hackmatack Playhouse. When I looked further, I found that up there (which would be closer to E.B. White’s summer home, right?) it means “balsam poplar” and that the word may be Abenaki in origin. The Abenaki origin seems plausible to me, from the sound of it, and from living in N. New England where we have plenty of Abenaki names. But I also found this, at nativetech.org: “The Latin name for Tamarack is Larix laricina. Other common names are Eastern Larch, American Larch, Red Larch, Black Larch, takmahak and Hackmatack, which is an Abenaki word for ëwood used for snowshoesí (Erichsen-Brown 1979).” Personlly, I’d buy the tamarack definition: the words are fairly similar, and the further north you go into NH and Maine, the more you hear “larch” called “tamarack”.

  10. Going Dotty in Kansas says

    Absolutely right, Sir Hat! But it’s true that Linnaen terminology, however accurate it may be, is not, well, appropriate for all contexts, esp. speech, poetry, memoirs, etc. (although J.P. Smith does point out that many scientific names have “elegant Latin or Greek roots”.) I myself may not know precisely what someone means by “jack-go-to-bed-at-noon”, “Indian hippo”, or “devil’s cherries”, but someone knows what those names refer to, and they sure sound euphonious besides!

  11. As a native of rural northern Maine who is now living in Honolulu, I have been encountering more than my share of these confusions lately — I’m finding that it is more common to find the same term used for a different plant in different regions/climates than to find the same term used differently in a single area.
    That said, I can testify as a native speaker of northern Maine-ese that in Piscataquis County in the 1970s, “hackmatack” clearly referred both to the tamarack (notable, according to my sixth-grade science teacher, for being the only deciduous needleleaf tree) and for a kind of poplar-ish tree that was also popularly known as “popple,” technically the quaking aspen. The former usage was more common than the latter.
    The two that are getting to me lately are “ironwood,” which here in Hawai’i means a variety of Casuarina sp. native to Australia (I think). Back in Maine, the term ironwood clearly referred to the common hop hornbeam. I find with a little googling that it also refers to a kind of tamarisk tree in the American southwest, Olneya tesota, and to the Indian rose chestnut, Mesua sp. The other one is “plantain,” which here in Polynesia refers to all the varieties of starchy bananas (Musa sp.) used in Caribbean (and other) cooking, but which in my childhood referred to a low-lying weed with a vertical seedy stem, Plantago sp.

  12. So would that Australian Casuarina be a “tea-tree” (ti-tree) or “she-oak” 🙂 ?

  13. Toby: it’s the one called “she-oak” though that term is not in colloquial usage in Hawaii.

  14. I forgot to mention the salt-water dogfish, which is a kind of shark and is an important food fish,IIRC.

    Indeed. Sold in British fish-and-chips shops as “rock salmon”. Never tried it myself. Apparently they’re suffering from overfishing.

  15. My dogfish is a salt water shark that has skin that can be used as sandpaper, and bears its young live.

  16. My father grew up in Nova Scotia in the early 20th century. His ancestors were shipbuilders first in Connecticut and then Nova Scotia. Dad said the hackmatack was a native name for the tamarack (American, or black, larch (Larix laricina)), the roots of which were commonly used to make ships’ knees (a piece used to fasten keel to hull, I believe, which had to be very strong). See http://www.mainepreservation.com/dayswork/dayswork6.shtml or the Columbia Electronic Dictionary quoted at http://www.factmonster.com/ce6/sci/A0828878.html

  17. Fathers and sons forever!

  18. Gwen McCauley says

    I live in Nova Scotia where the Larch is called hackmatack. Dogfish are small sharks around here and are reviled by fishers because their sandpaper skin rips nets when they get caught and they’re very difficult for the fishers to remove from the nets because the “nap” keeps getting snagged in the fibres.

  19. John Cowan says

    Dogfish goes back to the 15C, says the OED, and houndfish first appears a century before in Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale. The last non-dictionary appearance of houndfish is right at the beginning of the 16C, which suggests that the transition from hound to dog as the general word must have happened about then.

    The metaphor, however, is much older. Pliny has canus marinus, and canicula ‘puppy, dog days’ was used post-classically in the same sense. French chien de mer probably also contributed to the calquefest. The dog days are the hottest days of summer: for the Romans the end of July and beginning of August, when Sirius (the Dog Star) returns to visibility in the Northern Hemisphere. They were thought to be the most unlucky and unhealthy days of the whole year and were followed by the five intercalary days (Egypt had 12 months of 30 days each) required to keep the calendar tracking the Sun. (The Moon was fairly irrelevant in Egypt.)

  20. Rodger C says

    Canus marinus: a gray-haired sailor?

  21. John Cowan says

    Doubtless. In the South, Gandalf was called Incānus.

    (Naah, just a typo.)

  22. For some reason, I’m reminded of tuckamore.

  23. This blog may be from quite some time ago now yet I found it quite prescient, here 16 years later I happen upon it while researching the Larch tree. I came on the trail through a bible reference, although originally studying a pagan goddess. The long taboo tree goddess Asher (Ashera, Ashur) who some scholars say inspired the may pole has been haunting me for a while now and I was ruminating away on the internet following rabbit holes into magic trees. I found this entry because the specific tree that seems to be Ashera, in Hebrew language anyhow, is called “Ta’ashur” (perhaps the same TA in TAmarack? a stretch I know but funny) which is in fact a species of Larch. I wanted to see if the Native Americans had any magical stories about the Larch tree and came upon the word Hackmatak which lead me here. I enjoyed all the discussion and can only add that perhaps the mystery could be solved by asking the Native Americans to whom the source of the word hackmatak can be traced too, which tree they are referencing, however it could be that they are now all expired who may have held this knowledge due to the heavy hand of colonization. Still, when possible to return to the source of a word we may come close to finding the truest original intention regardless of time space decay and migration. Certainly no matter the effort some words may just remain forgotten in their unique primal utterances regardless. Wonderful investigations.
    tamarack (n.)
    also tamarac, North American black larch, 1805, probably of Algonquian origin (compare synonymous hackmatack, 1792, from a source akin to Abenaki akemantak “a kind of supple wood used for making snowshoes”), but the etymology is unclear. https://www.etymonline.com/word/tamarack

    ALSO I am french Canadian eh and couldn’t help but say TABERNAC in my head each time I read Tamarack, haha.

  24. Trond Engen says

    Asherah seems to be a mother/fertility godess that was near universal among the ancient Semitic peoples, often acting as the consort of whichever male god was most prominent locally. The idea of a world tree or a tree of life is found in cultures all over the world, and the association with a fertility godess is also very common. The species of tree varied wildly, naturally, since different trees will be prominent in different climates, It’s one of those myths that are so ingrained into human culture that it may well go back to the first humans, but it could also be that it’s an idea that is likely to be conceived over and over again. There’s really no way to know.

    On the linguistic side. Algonquian and Semitic have nothing to do with eachother. I can’t comment much on the details on either side, but among the various attested American forms, tamarick is clearly one that’s been mangled in the ears and mouths of Europeans. If the Hebrew tree name and the godess really are etymologically related, which is a big if, they would likely be derived by different means from a common root. If so, we could imbue that with deep significance, or we could compare to other tree names in t and find no meaning beyond a derivational morpheme,

  25. David Eddyshaw says

    There are tamarisks and tamarinds, too, which also have nothing to do with each other.
    (Or with tamarins, though the monkey name seems to be of the same origin as tamarind.)

    The analogy of tamarind/tamarisk might have influenced the English form of the name “tamarack”, I imagine.

    “Tamarind” in Kusaal is pusig, which turns up in the Kusaasi place name Pusiga: this was the original seat of Naa Gbewaa, founder of the state which gave rise to the Mossi, Mamprussi and Dagomba kingdoms, before a Kusaasi and Bisa revolt led to the capital being relocated southwards to Mamprussi country. (But every schoolboy knows this …)

  26. she-oak

    Thank you for mentioning this! It is very interesting to me because of long-standing questions I have had about a specific typology of derivation that bears upon the likelihood of various etymologies.

    Here is the OED on this use of she in composition, section C.1.c:

    With names of plants, usually denoting plants considered to be of the female sex or perceived as having feminine qualities. Cf. he pron., n.1, and adj. Compounds 1b.

    1884 C. S. Sargent Rep. Forests N. Amer. 210 Abies Fraseri, Lindley… Balsam. She balsam.
    1898 E. E. Morris Austral Eng. at She-Oak The prefix she is used in Australia to indicate an inferiority of timber in respect of texture, colour, or other character; e.g. She-beech, She-pine.

    1974 New Scientist 19 Dec. 889/1 Leaves from she-holly, that is pricklebush without its prickles, were placed under pillows in the north of England for divination by dreams.
    2005 A. St. John Clapton’s Guitar x. 93 A red spruce is a relatively plain-looking tree with short needles and tiny cones, hence its nickname ‘the she balsam’.

    I wonder if LH readers can think of any phenomenon like this in languages other than English—for example, an instance where the grammatically masculine form of a noun (or a form marked in someway as masculine, as by prefixation with he) denotes one species, and the corresponding grammatically feminine form (or a form marked in someway as feminine, as by prefixation with she) denotes another species altogether, or a variety of same class of organism considered inferior or superior in some way.

    As another example of the type, there is Balto-Slavic ‘raven’ (Lithuanian var̃nas; BCSM vrȃn, Russian во́рон, from Proto-Slavic *vȏrnъ) and Balto-Slavic ‘crow’ (Lith. várna; BCSM vrȁna, Russian воро́на, from Proto-Slavic *vőrna ‘crow’). The “crow” word looks like the feminine of the “raven” word and fits into a derivational pattern whereby the masculine and feminine differ in accent, with the feminine seemingly derived from the masculine by a Balto-Slavic circumflex-to-acute metatony. Compare, for example, Lithuanian vil̃kas ‘wolf’ : vìlkė ‘she-wolf’; zuĩkis ‘hare’ : zùikė ‘female hare’ ; šer̃nas ‘wild boar’; šérnė ‘wild sow’. However, in this instance, the members of the pair denote different species. I once heard Calvert Watkins jokingly describe the relationship as ‘Mr. and Mrs. Raven’.

    I feel like I know an example of something similar in Spanish, with masculine and feminine denoting different species belonging to the same general class, but I can’t remember it. Can LH readers think of other examples?

  27. Fascinating, and I hope people can come up with other examples!

  28. Bathrobe says

    “Spinach” is a word that refers to different plants in different places.

    It usually refers to Spinacia oleracea. But where I grew up in Australia I think it refers to silver beet (aka chard).

  29. @Xerîb:

    I feel like I know an example of something similar in Spanish, with masculine and feminine denoting different species belonging to the same general class

    The first example to come to mind is ruda macho (“fringed rue”, Ruta chalepensis, lit. ‘male rue’) as opposed to ruda hembra (“Egyptian rue”, R. angustifolia, lit. ‘female rue’).

    I’ve also heard menta macho for peppermint, vs menta hembra for the non-menthol-containing wild mint species.

  30. @Xerîb:

    just glanced at mordkhe shaechter’s Plant Names In Yiddish, but its main list is alphabetized by latin name and not OCR’d (the part that is searchable shows only a few obvious neologisms calqued from english* – פֿרויענהאָר for “maidenhair”/Adiantum, for instance). but i’m pretty sure that it’s not something that happens in yiddish, at least as compound-word names. there may be some action in the gendered suffixes, though, and i’ll try to check later.

    * a bit of a schaechter specialty, and maximally annoying in this book: no one is looking for a proposed normative term for (e.g.) Vitex, we want to know the actually-used vernacular words for the plant (however many there are!) and giving nothing but װיטקס is worse than useless.

  31. argh, that should’ve been װיטעקס in the note, of course. i’m not sure we even have that consonant cluster.

  32. Trond Engen says

    Does a pair like Icel. hákarl and Norw. håkjerring “greenland shark” count? The different gendering might suggest some original difference in referent, but I don’t know.

  33. PlasticPaddy says

    isn’t hákarl = há + karl and håkjerring = há + karl + ling? So sex-change because of added diminutive suffix.
    In German you have der/die Pfirsich, and in Latin fīcus is variable in both gender and declension, but these are loans, I guess.

  34. So sex-change because of added diminutive suffix.

    Spanish has rata (rat) and ratón (mouse), with the smaller animal oddly getting the augmentative suffix.

  35. An interesting thing about the existence of she-holly specifically is that holly is diecious, with separate male and female plants (as opposed to squashes, such as pumpkins, that have separate male and female flowers on the same vine). This has long been well known to traditional English landscapers, and it is why holly trees are traditionally planted in pairs—so that the female can be well pollinated by the male, ensuring she can produce plenty of the symbolic red berries. (It occurs to me that this may also be part of why holly is normally propagated by cuttings, rather than grown from seed. With a cutting, a gardener can know in advance whether the plant is male or female, rather than having to wait and see whether a new seedling will fruit or not.) This is alluded to in one of the Chronicles of Narnia, when a group of tree spirits appear. While there are both dryads and male wood spirits, it is specifically mentioned that the holly trees come as a married pair, male and female, with the wife laden with berries.

    Of course, holly berries are poisonous. However, in the Pacific Northwest, there is another plant (Mahonia aquifolium) known as grape holly. Grape holly is not closely related to true holly; it is actually part of the bayberry family. The name comes from the fact that the grape holly leaves have a similar spiked shape to those of holly, although they are generally both flatter and less rigid than holly leaves—which makes them much less likely to give someone who brushes one a painful prick. The plant is also known as Oregon grape, and it is the state flower of Oregon. The governor’s mansion in Salem was named after the plant in the 1980s.* However, while the berries of the Oregon grape are edible, the “grape” element in the names seems to be based solely on their color. The fruit are bitter and very sour, making them unpalatable for humans even when they are maximally ripe. (Having once made an entire meal out of salal, Gaultheria shallon, which is equally common Oregon and much tastier, I would personally have preferred that salal be the Oregon state flower instead.)

    * I realize this use of “named” is potentially ambiguous. The ambiguity was actually utilized in a series of large and prominent advertisements that the state government placed in The Oregonian in 1988. It showed pictures of the White House, Mount Vernon, Monticello, and the newly purchased governor’s mansion (the future Mahonia Hall), asking if the readers could “name” the houses in question. If you read down, below the pictures, it said that it was a trick question, because you could only “name” one of them, the governor’s mansion, which they were having a contest to name.

  36. Мужской/женский папоротник

    Its specific epithet filix-mas means “male fern” (filix “fern”, mas “male”), as the plant was thought to be the male version of the common lady fern Athyrium filix-femina.[2] being robust in appearance and vigorous in growth.


    Its common names “lady fern” and “female fern” refer to how its reproductive structures (sori) are concealed in an inconspicuous – deemed “female” – manner on the frond.[1] Alternatively, it is said to be feminine because of its elegant and graceful appearance.


  37. John Cowan says

    The notoriously irascible Dr. John Shebbeare was born in the same year as Dr. Johnson, and both were pensioned by George III in the same year also, when it was said that “the King has pensioned both the He-bear and the She-bear.”

  38. Xerîb: This phenomenon, of seeing different species as different sexes of the same species, has been documented for some fishes and insects in Seri (see Malkin, Seri Ethnozoology.) There are some examples in California languages, but as far as I know there hasn’t been a published survey of the phenomenon.

  39. @Keith Ivey: You brought it up before…

    A regional example example is centolla, the Chilean king crab (Lithodes santolla), and the similar but smaller centollón (Paralomis granulosa).

  40. David L. Gold says

    @ Keith Ivey. “Spanish has rata (rat) and ratón (mouse), with the smaller animal oddly getting the augmentative suffix.”

    Spanish -ón has an augmentative function in certain words (as in sillón ‘armchair, easy chair’ < silla ‘chair’ and cucharón ‘ladle’ < cuchara ‘spoon’) and in fewer words a diminutive function (as in carretón ‘small cart’ < carreta ‘cart’ and ratón ‘mouse’ < rata ‘rat’).

    If the base noun is marked [+ human], masculine -ón is added to masculine bases and feminine -ona to feminine ones (as in solterón ‘old buck [old bachelor]’ < soltero ‘single man’ and solterona ‘old maid’ < soltera ‘single woman’).

    With at least one semi-exception, if the base noun is marked [- human], only masculine -ón is added, even to grammatically feminine base nouns (as in masculine torreón ‘turret’ < feminine torre ‘tower’ and the two examples given two paragraphs above), the semi-exception being masculine caserón ‘big rambling house’ ~ (at least in Costa Rican, Honduran, and Venezuelan Spanish) feminine caserona ‘idem’ < feminine casa ‘house’.

    Italian too has examples of addition of a masculine suffix to a feminine base noun: masculine portone ‘large door’ < feminine porta ‘door’ and masculine stradone ‘big street’ < feminine strada ‘street’, a semi-exception being feminine donnona ‘tall, large woman’ ~ masculine donnone ‘idem’ < donna ‘woman’.

    Is that similarity between Spanish and Italian coincidental or does it point to a common origin (presumably in Proto-Romance)?

  41. it was said that “the King has pensioned both the He-bear and the She-bear.”

    Evelyn and Shevelyn.

  42. John Emerson says

    The splendid ruff and the dowdy reeve, discussed here a decade ago, have been thought of as different species, but are the M and the F of one sandpiper species.

  43. A joking Finnish riddle: “What animal is the most closely related to the metso [‘capercaillie’]? — The koppelo [‘capercaillie hen’]”.

    (This is the only wild bird whose male and female have separate basic names; ditto in Karelian, Ludian and I believe also Samic, where the name koppelo is probably borrowed from (but then the Sami languages do have quite a bit more specialized wild animal terminology). Even the very similarly dimorphic black grouse is still uniformly *tetri (Fi. teeri) for both sexes, and if needed, distinguished as teerikana / teerikukko ‘grouse hen / grouse cock’, not as **teerikoppelo or **teerimetso.)

  44. Presumably from Proto-Balto-Slavic *teterwás.

  45. John Emerson says

    In English the showy ruff and the mousy reeve are the m and f of one species of sandpiper. Whether they were actually thought of as two different species at some point I don’t know. They are very different in appearance.

  46. John Emerson says

    The ruff and reeve mate in leks (orgies) and the ruff. The ruff has the most disproportionately large testes of any bird, but there are hereditarily transvestite males who are female in appearance. These transvestite males are bisexual and both breed with females and mount or are mounted by regular males.

  47. John Emerson says

    Both the capercaille and the ruff / reeve with their extreme sexual dimorphism, their flamboyant male display, and their lewd mating behavior mate in the palearctic, which I guess explains everything.

    And “ruff” for the male of that species is a relatively late coinage, so there never was any real confusion.

  48. Languagehat: Come for the languages, stay for the avian sex!

  49. Thanks to all of you–Alon Lichinsky, rozele, Trond Engen, PlasticPaddy Keith Ivey, juha, Y, David L. Gold, J Pystynen, and John Emerson–for your help on this topic. And thanks to Language Hat as always for hosting such great conversations.

    Y, I hope I can get hold of that study of Seri you mention soon.

  50. David L. Gold says

    @ Maja Daoust. “[…]while researching the Larch tree. I came on the trail through a bible reference, although originally studying a pagan goddess. The long taboo tree goddess Asher (Ashera, Ashur) who some scholars say inspired the may pole has been haunting me for a while now and I was ruminating away on the internet following rabbit holes into magic trees. I found this entry because the specific tree that seems to be Ashera, in Hebrew language anyhow, is called “Ta’ashur” (perhaps the same TA in TAmarack? a stretch I know but funny) which is in fact a species of Larch.”

    @ Trond Engen. “If the Hebrew tree name and the godess really are etymologically related, which is a big if, they would likely be derived by different means from a common root.”

    The Hebrew tree name תאשור (teashur), with three syllables, occurs twice in the Jewish Bible (Isaiah 41:19 and 60:13) and, like several other names of flora (and fauna) mentioned there, its precise meaning is unknown.

    Wilhelm Gesenius treated the word a follows: “pr. erectness (see the root אָשַׁר No. 1), tallness, hence a tall tree; specially a species of cedar, growing in Lebanon. Vulg. and Ch. render it the box; Syr. and the Hebr. Sherbîn, i.e. a species of cedar remarkable for the smallness of the cones, and with branches turned upward” (Gesenius’s Hebrew and Chaldaic Lexicon of the Old Testament Scriptures [1893], where pr. stands for ‘properly’, that is, ‘literally’).

    If Gesenius’s interpretation is right (“see the root […]”), the word consists of a preformative (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/preformative), namely, ת, and the verbal root he mentions. An Israeli Hebrew noun exemplifying that pattern is תאגיד (taagid) ‘corporation’, with a verbal root meaning ‘bind, join’ (a corporation binds a group of investors who want to act legally as a single entity).

    The word is presumably related to Hebrew אשור (ashur) ‘a kind of cedar’, which occurs in Ezekiel 27:6.

    Another possibility is that the word is related to Ugaritic tyshr (a kind of cedar) and maybe also to Hittite tieshshar ‘forest, woods’. If so, teashur could be a borrowing.

    “’Ta’ashur’ (perhaps the same TA in TAmarack? a stretch I know but funny).” Maja has answered her own question.

    I have no opinion about whether the names of the goddess “Asher (Ashera, Ashur)” and those Hebrew dendronyms are related.

  51. The first vowel of תְּאַשּׁוּר tǝ’aššūr doesn’t work well with that interpretation, which would make it *תַּאֲשׁוּר *ta’ăšūr. The odd form suggests a loanword.

    According to Löw, the tǝ’aššūr is the Mediterranean cypress, Cupressus sempervirens v. horizontalis.

    The hapax אַשּׁוּר aššūr, in Ezekiel, looks like a misreading: בַּת–אַשּׁוּר bat aššūr ‘daughter (i.e. something of) aššūr’, whatever that may be, for בַּתְּאַשּׁוּר batǝaššūr, prep. + tǝ’aššūr.

  52. David L. Gold says

    @ You are right about תְּאַשּׁוּר

    The hapax in Ezekiel could indeed be a misreading of an earlier text, as has been suggested.

  53. David McCracken says

    Wow. We’ve come a long way from hackmatack in this very interesting thread. I was hunting for hackmatack because of the nearby Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, some 50-plus miles northwest of where I live in Chicago. It’s a recently added refuge from 2012 stitching together a dozen or more conservation areas in northern Illilnois and southern Wisconsin, and the group involved in its creation, Friends of Hackmatack, identify the name with an impressive certainty as “an Algonquin Indian word for the Tamarack tree.” Another local reference I came across suggested hackmatack referred to a “dense forest,” which I’m not sure characterizes this refuge of wetlands, oak savanna, woodlands, and prairie.

  54. Tamarack is an Algonquin Indian word which translates to : “The wood used for snowshoes”

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