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American Speech 79.1 (2004) 32

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Correction: Etymology of Missouri

Michael McCafferty
Indiana University

In the recent article by the late Donald M. Lance, "The Pronunciation of Missouri: Variation and Change in American English" (American Speech 78 [2003]: 255-84), there is an error that I, Lance's Algonquian linguistic consultant, am responsible for. This concerns the meaning of Miss-, the first segment of this place-name. Miss- represents mihs- in the Illinois language. This term can be an allomorph of the word for 'big'. It occurs in terms such as mihsisiipiiwi 'Mississippi; lit. big river' and mihsihkinaahkwa 'painted terrapin; lit. big turtle'. This is how I interpreted mihs- in Lance's article (256-57). However, there is better evidence showing that the first segment of this place-name is in fact the homophonous Illinois term mihs- meaning 'wood'. In this light, the ethnonym that Father Jacques Marquette was the first to write down, in the form Vemessvrit, which in time gave rise to the modern place-name Missouri, can be parsed in this way: |wi-mihs-oor-i-t-a| 'third person possessive prefix-wood-watercraft-inanimate noun suffix-third person animate intransitive participle marker-third person animate intransitive participle ending'. This Illinois language name for a member of the Siouan-speaking Missouri Indians can be pronounced weemihsoorita or weemeehsoorita. It means 'one who has a wood boat' and designated the Missouri Indians as especially noteworthy to the Illinois for their dugout canoes. The place-name Missouri itself literally means 'dugout canoe; lit. wood boat'.



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