Printable Version
Pronunciation: wahm-pêm-peeg Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, mass

Meaning: Beads made from shells and used by the Algonquian tribes as money for trade at the time the first Europeans arrived in Massachusetts; usually shortened to wampum in English.

Notes: Today's word was used widely by early settlers in New England but later it was cut into wampum and peag, which were used with the same meaning as the original. A similar currency of less value, called roanoke, was used by the Native Americans in Virginia. Roanoke today is a lovely city located in central Virginia.

In Play: Don't bring me to the casinoIt is difficult to believe that the first settlers in the North American colonies used the monetary system of the Native Americans. The early colonists traded a lot with Native Americans, but initially had no means of securing printed money. So article 154 of the General Laws of Massachusetts of 1643 reads as follows: "Wampampeag shall pass currant [sic] in the payment of Debts, to the payment of forty shillings, the white at eight a penny, the black at four, so as they be entire without breaches or deforming spots."

Word History: Wampumpeag came from one of the Algonquian languages, probably Abnaki. The original was probably wampampiak "white beads". This supposition is based on the existence of related words such as Abnaki wambambiar "string of beads" and Delaware wapapi "white wampum". The word is a compound of two elements, wamp- "white" + *ampi "bead" + the Algonquin plural ending -ag. The division of the word into wampum and peag resulted from Europeans misanalyzing the compound under the influence of English syllable structure.

Dr. Goodword,

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