May 17, 2009

Word of the day: hubbub!


What's all the hubbub? A still from "After the Mayflower."

On Friday we watched the first episode of the PBS mini-series We Shall Remain, which explores different events in Native American history. Episode one, "After the Mayflower", relates the story of Wampanoag sachem Massasoit and his son, Metacom (aka King Philip) and their interactions with the English settlers. No spoiler alert needed here - it doesn't have a happy ending.

In one scene, the Wampanoags and the English get together for the first Thanksgiving. In addition to food, the Wampanoags bring a game of chance that involves bouncing colored pieces of bone or wood in a basket. While they're bouncing the basket, the players chant "Hub! Hub!" The game was called, naturally, hubbub.

Meaning a noisy uproar, hubbub is still a common word today. For example, if you hear some noisy neighbor kids outside, you can scream out the window: "Hey! What's all the hubbub?!?"

I thought the word "hubbub" was coined to describe this game, and came into English usage from Algonquin. I was wrong. Apparently, it was used in English as early as the 1500's, well before the Pilgrims came to America. Either it was just a coincidence the game required people to shout "Hub! Hub!", or the Pilgrims misheard the shout that way.

I got my information about the hubbub game from Howard Russell's Indian New England Before the Mayflower. A great book!

No comments: