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Posts tagged etymology


Don’t think I’ll bother much with a nuts-and-bolts update today. Suffice it to say that we went to Nibs, moved a carload up to Davis, unpacked it, and came home. And packed some more.

What’s really on my mind tonight is home – the make up of the mental space that is occupied by all these disparate associations. When you change major locations as often as I have, home gets to be a big mish-mash of unrelated items. But every now and again, something floats to the surface that can’t really be explained in any way other than it warms my heart that these very things even exist and are a part of my being.

There’s a feeling, more than a place, that Seattle-y things remind me of. I was in Redmond for my first Christmas break from college. I had been so homesick and had not at all made particularly good friends in LA. I had broken with almost all of my friends from the south end, and had recently been actively fighting with the remainder. I was dating someone on the other side of the world, and it wasn’t going particularly well either. My parents had moved to this new house just the year prior (the latter half of my senior year) and it wasn’t anywhere I felt attached to.

Yet somehow this all combines to create what has become my most cherished memory, and the feeling I was referring to. It’s late at night, and I’ve been reading Annie Dillard’s The Living, a wonderful novel about the original white settlers in Seattle. Annie Dillard herself holds a very special place in my heart, and anyone who has read her other works should probably be familiar with her naturalist bent. Anyway, I’ve been reading alone late into the night, and as I decide to turn in I realize it’s been raining softly for a while. Seattle has this indescribable soft rain that just delights me. It’s not so loud as to wake you, not so wet as to drench you, and not infrequent enough to ever really be missed. The skies open up, like one eye peeking out of sleep, and the smallest, steadiest, most comforting rain whispers at you all night. I cracked my window open, and was so surprised at the smell outside. When you’ve lived your whole life in the area you don’t realize how special rain on pine smells, but there’s nothing like it in the world. And I hadn’t realized that I missed it until that moment. In all my loneliness, my heart was full of comfort and wonder, and I fell asleep supremely happy. This is home in my heart.

That was a rather long preamble to my primary point – there are a lot of silly things in this world, like the smell of the wind, that take me straight to this place. Today I realized that place names are one of those things. A while back I blogged about how I thought I heard someone say something Seattle-y on the BART and got all nostalgic, and this is pretty much the same thing. Lewis and I were trying to puzzle out posible etymologies for Suisun (City) on our drive back in, and it got me started on etymologies for Northwest cities which we had been forced to learn in Pacific Northwest History in Junior High. Our teacher had pounded in the idea that the “-mish” morpheme means “people”, and spent a seemingly interminable amount of time listing off words that ended in “-mish”.

I rattled them off to Lewis in the car, pausing ridiculously before the suffix, as she did: “Skyko…mish. Snoho…mish. Stillagua…mish.” It got me to wondering about other potential morphemes we could maybe figure out — what about the “muk” in Mukilteo, Muckleshoot, and Tillamook? Or the “coom” of Steilacoom? I have a book that has etymological information about many of the Northwest Tribes, so I spent a while this evening looking it up while unwinding from our moving adventures. And that’s when I realized that the very words themselves seemed to have some kind of power in them. If not for everyone, for me. There’s something really special about these names… almost like being in a secret society, where only the members know them, let alone how to pronounce them. And the just dance off the tongue — say a few with me: Tulalip, Snoqualmie, Skagit, Nisqually, Loomis, Nooksack! Semiahmoo!

Where ever home is in my mental atlas… it’s peppered with these names. All said cherishingly.