Over the Hill: Definition

In my studies of the Western Abenaki dialect of the Algonkian language, I came across a memorable word that I can use to describe myself (and my cohort of poker players).


pronounced ~ pon-zee-DON-kee-wee

It means “over the hill” — and the “wi” ending identifies its use as an adverb.

Tôni alosaan?

Nd’elosa pôzidôkiwi.

Literally translated, this means “To where are you walking? I am walking over the hill” — but the root alosa is more generally taken to mean “going to” so a contemporary translation would be “Where are you going? I’m going over the hill.”

In my understanding of Algonkian culture, personal names are fluid. A name given to an individual at birth may have some significance relating to the circumstances of their arrival, or their family connections, or may, I suppose, be just a name. But, during the course of their lives, people could take on (or be given) different names, to reflect their achievements or their character traits.

This strikes me as being similar to the practice of awarding “Trail Names” to through-hikers on the Appalachian Trail (AT). Such hikers cover long stretches of the AT in a single season, some of them hiking the entire Trail from Georgia to Maine. Along the way, people encounter each other many times and develop friendships; which may lead to the affectionate nicknames known as Trail Names. [The word “nickname” btw comes from the Middle English “an eke name” meaning “an additional name”]

In the Colonial culture, our “real” names are fixed at birth (although they may later be changed by some legal procedure). People may use pseudonyms as long as they are not used for the purpose of deception or fraud. My father, for example, wrote poetry under the nom de plume Gray Fox, and his family called him “Sonny” to distinguish him from his father, since they shared the same name. As a young lad, I asked him, “Dad, why do they call you Sonny?” and he said, without hesitation, “Because I’m so bright!”

Also, when I was young, like most youngsters, I imagine, I asked my mother why she named me “Michael” — she told me she had named me after her favorite dog, a German Shepherd. I thought that was pretty cool; I had never heard of anyone being named after a dog — usually it was a favorite uncle or other family member (my youngest sibling was named Sarah because — besides it being a pretty name — there are so many Sarahs in my family tree).

One day, when I was probably around 11 years old, a friend was visiting, and asked me why I was named Michael. I told him what my mother had said, and she overheard my explanation. “Who told you that?” she wanted to know. “You did!” I asserted. “Well, that’s not true,” she told us, “I never had a dog named Michael!” So I asked, “Then why did you name me Michael?” and she responded, “Because I just liked the name.” Of course, so did lots of other people, and for many years Michael was the most popular boy’s name in this country. So much for my pride in being named for a dog.

Years later, after my mother had gone blind because of her diabetes, my brother gave me a photo album he had found among the things she would no longer be able to use. There were some pictures of me as a young child, and as I was flipping through the pages, I came upon a photo of a handsome German Shepherd in profile. Underneath the picture was written simply “Michael” — so now I knew that the earlier story was true, and my mother had somehow forgotten about her dog.

Despite the English practice of using nicknames, the early colonists seemed to be confused by the Native naming practices. Perhaps it was because the natives didn’t use family names, and individuals might have more than one name in concurrent use. Also, except for missionaries and teachers, colonists usually didn’t bother to learn the native language. So they had trouble understanding (and even pronouncing) the native names. To accommodate this ignorance, natives often added a Christian name to the beginning of theirs. [Some examples of the mixed names being used in the Colonial era are given in this piece about King Solomon (and others). As an aside, this past summer I helped with an excavation at the property shown on the map and evidence was found of a dwelling; possibly King Solomon’s longhouse.]

For most of the time I have been studying Abenaki, I have been the only Michael in the class. This moon (Skamonkas, Corn Maker Moon), there is another Michael, and I feel a need to have a distinctive moniker. I’ve decided that it would be suitable to call myself Missal Pôzidôkiwi. Abenaki orthography was heavily influenced by early efforts of French Jesuit missionaries to learn and record the language. There are many loan words that come from the French, such as adio. Abenaki did not have a word for goodbye (God be with ye) and the French adieu (“to God” — similar to adios in Spanish) was coopted. Missal probably comes from Michel, the French version of Michael.

Although I think pôzidôkiwi suits me, I reserve the right to take on other names in the future. One immodest moniker might be masalawigha = mark or write a lot; a prolific writer or artist.

“Over the hill” obviously has a literal meaning, and I’m sure that’s how it is used in Abenaki, but in English it has taken on a figurative meaning.

Definition of over-the-hill
1: past one’s prime
2: advanced in age

Synonyms & Antonyms for over-the-hill

aged, aging (or ageing), ancient, elderly, geriatric, long-lived, old, older, senescent, senior, unyoung

young, youthful

Interestingly, this phrase was first recorded in the year of my birth. Now that I am no longer youthful (although I still feel pretty spry), I can claim to be over the hill.

Ni ga, Missal Pôzidôkiwi nia


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