Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Why chipmunks? from JacobOjacob

Dear Word Spy,

I was playing on my phone about the movie "Alvin And The Chipmunks" and wondered why on earth someone would call it that, because it don’t look anything like a chip or monkey.

From JacobOjacob

Dear JacobOjacob,

Well I had a bit of a spy around and it was fascinating!

Chipmunk comes from a native American word that is now often written like this:  "jidmoonh". This was the word for a kind of red squirrel. I guess if you said "jidmoonh" many times and weren't quite sure how to pronounce it, you can sort of imagine it might sooner or later turn into the word "chipmunk" - which as you say, has nothing to do with chips or monkeys! (Although you have probably heard of a mink, which is also a little furry animal a bit like a chipmunk.)

One place I spied on also said that the word "jidmoonh" originally meant "head first" or "upside down" which is how a chipmunk runs down a tree. (When I climb down a tree I ALWAYS try to go feet first....)

yours, the right-way-up,

The Word Spy

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