A couple of weeks ago, I posted a story about a strange engraving, on an equally strange door, set in the brick wall that separates the train station parking lot from the lovely Stony Point homes just beyond it.
The engraving said “Kunepiam.” It was surrounded by what look like Native American pictograms, and perhaps settlers.
No one was quite sure where it came from, or what it meant. “06880” readers thought it might have been part of witchcraft; perhaps a Christian symbol; maybe even more modern than anyone imagined. Mary Palmieri Gai wondered if it came from the Native American word meaning “long water land,” which Quinnipiac College was named after.
Yesterday, the Westport Library reference department posted the definitive answer. Most readers may have missed it — they were busy mourning the impending end of Mario’s, just across the tracks — so here is the complete result of what the researchers found.
But first, cue the applause for our library!
We started working on this question a few weeks ago when we saw this post. We are happy to report that “kunepiam” is derived from the Algonquin word “koonepeam,” meaning “thou art welcome.”
Our success in finding this answer was due to the extra effort made by Lucianne Lavin, director of research and collections at the Institute for American Indian Studies in Washington, Connecticut. She reached out to Carl Masthay, retired medical editor, linguist, and Algonquianist, who in turn reached out to Dr. Ives Goddard, a nationally known professional, senior linguist and curator in the anthropology department at the Smithsonian Institution. He was the linguistic and technical editor for the Handbook of North American Indians, and is a specialist in Algonquian languages.
Here is Dr. Goddard’s answer:
“If (considering the picture at 06880, Westport, Conn.) you look up “welcome” in Trumbull’s Natick Dictionary [page 343], you find koonepeam ‘(thou art) welcome’ (cited from Josiah Cotton, with no page ). I type “oo” for Eliot’s digraph (rendered “8” in Goddard & Bragdon: Native Writings in Massachusett, 1988). Some knowledgeable person has slightly re-spelled this, perhaps someone at the Bureau of American Ethnology that a letter was referred to. The word is a calque* on the English (“you come well”) but perhaps in use in Cotton’s day. “
[Ives Goddard, pers. com., 25 March 2015. Carl Masthay’s note: “Natick” is now referred to as “Massachusett.” Morphemes**: k-ooni-pia-m ‘you-well-come-animate.final’.]
Mr. Masthay suggested that a small plate be installed next to the stone to help “clear up this issue for eternity.”
Please reach out to us for any follow-up questions or reference questions in general!
— Susan Luchars, Margie Frelich-Den, and Dennis Barrow, Reference Department, Westport Public Library 203 291 4840, firstname.lastname@example.org
*The meaning of “calque”: a loan translation, especially one resulting from bilingual interference in which the internal structure of a borrowed word or phrase is maintained but its morphemes are replaced by those of the native language, as German halbinsel for peninsula. (Dictionary.com)
**The meaning of “morpheme”: any of the minimal grammatical units of a language, each constituting a word or meaningful part of a word, that cannot be divided into smaller independent grammatical parts, as the, write, or the -ed of waited (Dictionary.com)
Amazing. Now all we need to know is:
- How do you pronounce it?
- And how did it get there?