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Did You Know?
In Did You Know? the National Geographic magazine team shares extra information we gathered to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects.

We can credit the Powhatan and other Native American groups with some common words in English. When the colonists arrived on the East Coast, they encountered many new things, particularly plants, animals, and foods. Those native words were soon absorbed into English. Here are some well-known words from the Powhatan, who spoke Virginia Algonquian.


English Virginia Algonquian Meaning
caucus caucauasu counselor
hominy rokahomen cornmeal
moccasins mawcasuns shoes
muskrat muscascus red rat
opossum apasum white dog-like animal
pecan pakani nut
persimmon pasimenan dried fruits
pone apoan roasted
terrapin torope box turtle
tomahawk tamahaac ax
tuckahoe tockawhoughe reduced to flour
wampum wampumpeag white string of beads


The Powhatan's language died out around 1785, and most of the many Eastern Algonquian languages are extinct today. But every time we eat pecan pie or see a raccoon scamper in our yards, we have the original Virginians to thank.

—Taryn L. Salinas