I’ve been turning my attention to the gorgeous illustrations in my new American Heritage Dictionary and in the process have acquired some new vocabulary items, which will stick with me better for having been learned with a visual reference; herewith a sample (with simplified definitions and links to online images):
umiak ‘large skin-on-wood boat’
tole ‘painted metalware’
mutton snapper ‘a snapper of the western Atlantic’
emergence ‘outgrowth of plant tissue, e.g. a thorn’
anoa ‘small Philippine buffalo’
sennit ‘braided cordage’ [etymology unknown, by the way]
Rayonism ‘a variant of Futurism, with rays’ (I like the fact that of the two actual Rayonists, AHD chooses to illustrate the less famous, Natalia Goncharova, rather than her boyfriend Larionov)
In every case, the illustration in the dictionary is better than anything I could find online. It’s that kind of book.
A side note: I was amused and mildly irritated to see the following adjacent entries, with pronunciations as noted:
Olekma (o-LEK-m@) (a river of eastern Russia)
Olenek (ol-en-YOK, @-l@-NYOK) (a river of northeast Russia)
Now, it’s never easy to decide how authentic to be in giving pronunciations of obscure foreign place names, but why give the correct -yo- for the last -e- of Olenek and not for the -e- of Olekma (@-LYOK-m@)?

Addendum. Maureen Brian informs me that this site gives an etymology “from seven and knit” for “sennit.” I suppose it can’t be relied on too heavily, since the word was originally “sinnet” and the OED simply says “A nautical term of obscure origin,” but it’s an interesting speculation. Thanks, Maureen!


  1. last -e- of olenek sounds like -yo-, first -e- of olenek sounds like -e- of olekma. in russian there are different letters for -e- and -yo-.

  2. I know that (although the different letters are often not used), but all my reference sources say that the -e- of Olekma is a -yo- (as it should be if it’s from Evenk olookhunai, but Pospelov calls that derivation unconvincing). Do you have information to the contrary?
    By the way, in case it’s not clear, I’m using @ for the schwa; the AHD uses a completely different system of notation which I can’t reproduce.

  3. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    The umiak is also known as a konebåd (‘boat for wives’) in Danish. I think the world view represented is that only the men learn to use the qajaq, and wives are transported in the bigger boats like other goods.

  4. Stu Clayton says

    Along with the children. It’s only a matter of time before they too rise up to demand instruction in the use of the qajaq.

    Then the men will demand to be carted around in the bigger boats while the women and children work the qajaqs. But wait … haven’t we seen this before in history ?

  5. Trond Engen says

    I think I learned the word konebåt from a book by (or about?) Knud Rasmussen, which I must have read at an early age. I wasn’t sure if I the word should be understood as “wife-boat” or “cone-boat”. I also wasn’t sure what shape kon(e) and konisk described, except that it was somehow roundish, so I thought perhaps the boat was short, wide and deep like a bowl. I’ve known better for more than 40 years, but that’s still my mental image of an umiak.

  6. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    There are old pictures at da.WP. It is wider than a qajaq, but not round. It seems to be mostly for transport in the East, and for whale hunting in the West. It was probably the type of boat that allowed the Inuit to hop from one Aleutian island to the next; you can’t bring your tent and dogs and kids in a qajaq, never mind that women didn’t seem to be allowed to use those.

    Knud Rasmussen didn’t eschew the tall tale, I’ve been told, but the use of umiaqs is probably not one of the things he felt he had to embellish.

  7. Trond Engen says

    Yes, as I said, I’ve known better for more than 40 years.

    When you mention it, I think my early confusion also owed something to the fact that the boats were used for hunting with no women and children on board. Also, “wife-boat” gave a dismissive vibe, which I felt as misogynistic and thus unlikely as a term of art, even in a work from the early 20th century.

    I’ve also realized that the term never was meant as dismissive, only descriptive. The division of male and female domains is neither here nor there when it comes to gender equality. Staying away from danger as a breeding age woman is rational, and more so in harsh environments. Childbirths are more than enough risk already, and men are more expendable to begin with. The misogynism is in how society organizes, upholds and explains the system. I’ve seen no indication that inuit culture was particularly misogynistic.

  8. January First-of-May says

    but all my reference sources say that the -e- of Olekma is a -yo-

    I forgot where but I’ve seen a style guide that specifically pointed out Олёкма as an example of a word that should be spelled with ё even if you’re not otherwise trying to use that letter throughout, because that clarifies the pronunciation of an otherwise obscure word.

    …looking it up, this was not some mere “style guide”, but in fact no less than the official text of the 1956 codification of Russian orthography.

  9. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Well, konebåd is a Danish word, and even when Rasmussen was writing it would have been playing into internal Danish debates about the franchise and related subjects. (Greenland wasn’t formally a part of Denmark until 1953). “Look, the noble savages also think women should be freighted around like cattle!” Never mind that Danes were in general looking down on the Inuit at the time, consistency is not the strong suit of the chauvinist. umiaq just means ‘boat,’ it seems, the gender-related subtext is a colonialist imposition.

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