Dictionary.com

February 2 marks the annual Groundhog’s Day. This year’s winter has been particularly harsh on the East Coast, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed that Punxsutawney Phil does not see his shadow. While the frost is still thick on the ground, we want to explore the unusual origin of the common name for the herbivorous burrower Marmota monax.

Groundhogs are not at all related to hogs, so their initial compound name is only partially accurate: they indeed live close to the ground. The other common name for the marmots is equally confusing. Woodchucks do not chuck or throw around wood, despite the popular tongue twister that queries how much they would if they could. As burrowing rodents, they don’t have much to do with wood or trees at all. In fact, the name woodchuck is an anglicized loan word from the Algonquian word wuchak.

Pause here for a moment. That language of origin is Algonquian, a 3000-year-old tongue, now extremely endangered, spoken across North America before the arrival of Europeans. Algonquian language dialects dominated in the north and east parts of North America but were also used as far away as the Rockies. Tribes that spoke dialects of Algonquian include the Blackfoot and Cheyenne, Ojibwa and Potawatomi, Fox, Shawnee, Massachusett, Mohican, Powhatan and Shinnecock. Besides the humble woodchuck, English keeps several other Algonquian words alive as loan words. Native flora and fauna dominate the list, which includes chipmunk, caribou, hickory, squash, hominy, moose, opossum, and raccoon.

Like these loan words, Groundhog Day is a loan holiday that evolved into a distinct tradition. European festivals such as Candlemas and Imbolc share this holiday’s focus on weather forecasting. Regardless if a large marmot sees his shadow or not, stay warm, eat some chicken soup, and try to keep alive the rich heritage of American English.

82 Comments

  1. get lost -  March 9, 2014 - 2:26 pm

    that is one fat prarie dog but is not a woodchuck
    tararararara evryone, i’m going 2 bed

    Reply
  2. stephenf -  February 2, 2014 - 10:53 am

    Looks like a fat prairie dog to me, not a woodchuck/groundhog/insert-other-name.

    Reply
  3. Weird -  February 2, 2014 - 8:40 am

    weird

    Reply
  4. wolf tamer and coal miner -  February 2, 2014 - 3:20 am

    Wait a minute – I think that might have been me who posted “whatever. not interesting.” on November 26, 2013. But this is very interesting. Why would I have said that?

    Reply
  5. Ebony the wolf -  February 2, 2014 - 3:17 am

    I know this isn’t related to groundhogs, but I didn’t know the words “moose” and “caribou” came from Algonquian. Moose! Caribou! Yum!

    Reply
  6. wolf tamer and coal miner -  February 2, 2014 - 3:13 am

    Woodchucks, marmots, groundhogs, whistle-pigs – never mind what you call them, they’re cute! I hope Phil didn’t see his shadow today (haven’t heard yet)…it’s been a long, cold winter in Georgia. Although snow is cool (in more ways than one). ;)

    @wolf tamer and tree puncher:
    OH MY GOSH!!! YOU NAME-STEALER!!! THAT WAS MY NAME!!! But then again, since I’m now a coal miner, I guess you can have it… :-|

    Happy Birthday, Sarah S.! I hope you have a really great day! :)

    @Holly:
    I really like your name too. If that’s your real name, you’re lucky! ;)

    Reply
  7. Your article's title is exceeding dumb. -  February 1, 2014 - 2:30 pm

    Three thousand year old language? What is that even supposed to mean? If you are talking about PA, then perhaps. Though if you apply the same standard evenly, considering PIE, then arguably the English tongue is a SIX thousand year old language. That ought to warrant a double pause. Either that, or your idea of an old language is asinine.

    Reply
  8. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  November 26, 2013 - 4:48 am

    whatever. not interesting.

    Reply
  9. joe -  August 20, 2011 - 3:01 pm

    Interesting coincidence, part of the movie “groundhog day” was actually filmed in “Algonquin, Illinois” named after the said Algonquin indians. Makes you think…

    Reply
  10. john rhea -  February 12, 2011 - 3:32 am

    Are they good eating? I don’t believe I’ve heard Marmot mentioned on the food network.

    Reply
  11. Tammy D -  February 6, 2011 - 5:58 pm

    Okay, I used to live in Vermont, where they have a lot of woodchucks. One used to live under the stairs outside one of the dorms at Norwich University and come out at dusk to graze on the bank between the dorm and the science building. And I spent some time in Philadelphia, where woodchucks actually live in the city. The animal pictured at the top of this article looks like a prairie dog, not a woodchuck/groundhog. Anybody else notice that? Yes, I realize someone probably already commented on this fact, but I haven’t read the comments yet, just the article. Google Punxetawny Phil and compare the picture to the one above. It’s not the same kind of animal. Sure, its a really fat prairie dog, but it’s no groundhog.

    Reply
  12. ms.karma -  February 3, 2011 - 5:33 pm

    holly. holly. i really love that name. holly. holly. oh my.

    i miss someone who used to be my friend. his name is holly. i used to call him hollybear.

    but i guess it’s cuter to call him hollywoodchuck. haha.

    Reply
  13. holly -  February 3, 2011 - 12:35 am

    and also @sarah s.

    thanks for mainly mentioning my name, i appreciate it especially since i dont know u! but anyway happy birthday hope its a good one

    and later to u all, esp sarah s. :) NO prejudice or anything btw everyone! just that she mentioned me so i want to return favour

    ~holly

    Reply
  14. holly -  February 3, 2011 - 12:30 am

    thanks everyone who said my name was pretty, i like it too. especially since its a beautiful flower (or whatever you want to call it) u all are great :)

    also thanks everyone who pointed out the answer to my question :) thanks if that was u! now i no, issue clarified

    i should get out of here now lol. i am addicted to it

    see ya and thanks
    ~holly

    Reply
  15. mike -  February 2, 2011 - 6:14 pm

    ummmm maybe I missed something but this article went offtrack and never actually answered the question. What was the word it came from? I understand that the word is from the ancient native language, but could that idea be investigated a bit????? What does “groundhog” specifically come from?

    Reply
  16. dirtyeuropean -  February 2, 2011 - 5:11 pm

    I think it is amazing how much we dirty europeans have stolen from Aboriginals.

    Reply
  17. whatever -  February 2, 2011 - 1:30 pm

    i meant prarie dog on tht typo

    Reply
  18. whatever -  February 2, 2011 - 1:29 pm

    um, i think tht is a groundhog not a prarie dog. i mean seriously, a prarie dont doesnt look like tht.

    Reply
  19. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  February 2, 2011 - 1:07 pm

    P.S. “Canada / Kanada” may also be related to the name of the island of Candia, the former name of Crete (also Iráklion Hráklion Herakleon), where the sea-going peoples of father-Sidon (p’Sidon Poseidon) lost their main city when the southern half of the island sank ca 2345 BC. (The later Greeks called it, Atlantis.)

    Reply
  20. Mr. Raymond Kenneth Petry -  February 2, 2011 - 12:49 pm

    The Al-Gonqui (American Algonquian indians) –arriving in America, long before St. Brendan, Leif Ericson/Erikson, Christopher Columbus, Barack Obama,– are far more interesting by their connections to Mesopotamian Sumer (Iraqian Sumerian indigens):–

    Not only words like Illinois Illiniwek (prob. Ellil or Enoch), but also their story of Noah’s Flood slightly-off, (cf the Greeks are famous for slightly-off god-story): TO WIT–

    The Algonqui said that the flood was caused when Manabush Ma-Nabu-uk/-ush killed two of the Anamaqkiu spirits who lived in the underworld, the mountain rift in which Apsu and Tiamut lived but whom Nabu’s fathers, Enki and Marduk had killed, before the flood, before the centuries of ‘wickedness’, in the era of Anu’s Anunnaki (prob. the same as Anamaqkiu if not their younger generations)….

    (In some ways…like the Pacific islanders: whose Maui came with the sungod captured aboard but was in fact sungod Ra’s navigator and Ra was principal passenger (not captured per se)– they knew some of “the old opinion….”)

    Reply
  21. whathehecko94 -  February 2, 2011 - 12:47 pm

    What is the point in groundhog day?

    Reply
  22. n1k2 -  February 2, 2011 - 12:42 pm

    i never knew that!!!!!!!!!!!!! oh well… who cares anyway?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

    Reply
  23. person -  February 2, 2011 - 12:38 pm

    how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood. haha!!!!!!! lol

    Reply
  24. Ooga Booga -  February 2, 2011 - 12:10 pm

    What ever you call them, I think they are cute!!

    Reply
  25. WiseOldMan -  February 2, 2011 - 12:09 pm

    How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

    He’d chuck as much as a woodchuck could if a woodchuck could chuck wood!

    Reply
  26. lilly -  February 2, 2011 - 11:57 am

    wood chukky!!! they are soo cute!! no shado, please mr. groundhog! sping is a good time for animals!! <3 (0;

    Reply
  27. Greg -  February 2, 2011 - 10:23 am

    Have you ever seen how they get these varmits out of their holes? The have a huge fan that sucks them out. Of course it is completely humane. They wear little helmets, knee and elbow pads for protection. Is that okay PETA?

    Reply
  28. Greg -  February 2, 2011 - 10:21 am

    Are we now going to protect the endangered language, Algonquian? If you mispronounce an Algonquian word could you be fined and possibly imprisoned.

    Reply
  29. boo boo : ) -  February 2, 2011 - 12:42 am

    Happy Ground Hog’s Day!

    Reply
  30. ms.karma -  February 1, 2011 - 7:24 pm

    haha. here we go again.

    Reply
  31. ms.karma -  February 1, 2011 - 7:21 pm

    @ms. Karmi on February 1, 2011 at 3:29 am
    >>wrote what ms. Karmi? this wuchak woodchuck blog? you wrote this one?
    if so, <3 <3 <3. :)

    Reply
  32. Kal -  February 1, 2011 - 6:37 pm

    oh, and I’d like to think our language is not dying, but just in a bit of a temporary slump.

    Reply
  33. Kal -  February 1, 2011 - 6:14 pm

    Ah, boozhoo. Kal indizhinikaaz miinwash bahwating indoojiba. Hi, my English name is Kal and I’m from the Sault Ste. Marie Ojibwe tribe. I speak and am learning Ojibwe, an Algonquian language. For Evy: at least in Ojibwe as far as I know: racoon is esiban, chipmunk is agongos and moose is mooz. Sorry I don’t know the literal translation for those ones. My favorite animal word is for owl: gookooko’oo.

    Reply
  34. SQEEF -  February 1, 2011 - 4:12 pm

    Twirly, calm your raging teenage hormones. Who cares if somebody spelt ‘weird’ wrong?

    Reply
  35. david -  February 1, 2011 - 3:36 pm

    woodchucks hummmmmmmmmm

    Reply
  36. JW -  February 1, 2011 - 1:49 pm

    Nice peice, chocked full of info and is still intresting.

    Reply
  37. PhilPunx -  February 1, 2011 - 1:01 pm

    As a Pennsylvania native and someone who has actually been to Punxsutawney I can assure you that those things are everywhere and have many colloquial names: groundhog, woodchuck, whistle pig. Nobody from PA ever refers to them as marmots, at least not that I ever heard. I still can’t understand how the events that occur in Punxy tomorrow rate worldwide news coverage. I don’t know anyone who lives in PA who really cares about Phil. Personally, I’ve seen my dog kill dozens of those things in my lifetime. Weird excuse to throw a party in another boring PA town if you ask me. POLKA!

    Reply
  38. twirly -  February 1, 2011 - 12:53 pm

    hey!its groundhogs day eve!!happy groundhogs day eve everyone!!!… did you ever see the geico commercial with the woodchucks. they were actually chucking the wood haha funny as a purple bunny<<haha i rhymed there<<

    Reply
  39. sherryyu -  February 1, 2011 - 12:52 pm

    wow i nevr knw tht

    Reply
  40. twirly -  February 1, 2011 - 12:50 pm

    according to my calculations,groundhogs are called groundhogs cuz they hog the ground.its almost like a basketball player is a ballhog when he keeps the ball to him/herself

    Reply
  41. twirly -  February 1, 2011 - 12:48 pm

    i want a pet chinchilla now

    Reply
  42. twirly -  February 1, 2011 - 12:47 pm

    melanie, you spelt weird wrong.its W-E-I-R-D

    Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

    Reply
  43. robot -  February 1, 2011 - 12:35 pm

    “ay you dang wuchaks, quit chucking mah woood!”

    Reply
  44. Monisha -  February 1, 2011 - 11:11 am

    Great piece! Loads of information; lots of facts unknown, quite an interesting article!

    Reply
  45. sara -  February 1, 2011 - 10:47 am

    hey! you Woodchucks! quit chuck’en my wood!

    lol

    Reply
  46. Melanie Torres -  February 1, 2011 - 10:34 am

    hahahha, thats quite wierd. their cute animals though. lol ^ _ ^

    Reply
  47. headfood -  February 1, 2011 - 10:08 am

    We should dig holes to put all the snow and the groundhog.

    Reply
  48. Melissa -  February 1, 2011 - 10:06 am

    Steve… you are right! What difference does it make anyway? Hee hee hee!
    Evy, good point… I would like to know those words too…
    Lol @ Jim, Tamsin, GROUNDHOGDAY|Blogchi…, and The Demon Ira… You guys made me laugh!
    Also, Perdition, Lam Lam, Mojo, and Mike McKelvy… Awesome extra information! I think it’s cool how people go a little above and beyond to research a little extra work on their own time! :)

    Steve… Here ya go: “According to folklore, if it is cloudy when a groundhog emerges from its burrow on this day, it will leave the burrow, signifying that winter will soon end. If, on the other hand, it is sunny, the groundhog will supposedly “see its shadow” and retreat back into its burrow, and winter will continue for six more weeks.” Got that from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groundhog_Day

    And lastly, tamara, I didn’t quite understand your run-on sentence. It made no sense whatsoever. Sorry, but that was 3 sentences in one and I had no idea what you were talking about in the first place. You must be in about 5th grade? If so, no biggie. :) If not, take an english/grammar class. just sayin…

    As for me… I think the whole thing is a rather amusing story. It’s funny to imagine how the whole thing went down… The dude sees the woodchuck (originally the badger) come out of his hole look around look down at the ground at his shadow, thinking it’s something else coming for him and scurries back into it’s hole… The person laughs and keeps walking on… then, an unusally longer winter comes, and that dude who saw the creature, thinks back on it and has this “life-changing” realization… “This is all because of that groundhog! I just know it!” And that, my friends, is how it all came to be…. Lol!!
    Just playin!

    http://wilstar.com/holidays/grndhog.htm

    Reply
  49. Woody -  February 1, 2011 - 9:36 am

    How much praying does a prairie dog do? It do pay to pray, so it do pray, but it plays too

    Reply
  50. AMY-LOU -  February 1, 2011 - 9:30 am

    The Demon Ira on February 1, 2011 at 7:49 am
    i hate woodchucks

    hey buddy! I am watching you from across the class room! ROFL! Hey also how long do i have to read the book wizards first rule?

    Reply
  51. comment -  February 1, 2011 - 8:30 am

    Hi Holly, just in case you love this dictionary.com post enough to return to it, I thought I’d point out that the groundhog is also known as a woodchuck or a marmot. A groundhog is a marmot is a woodchuck is a wuchak. “…their initial compound name is only partially accurate…” I guess no one could make up their mind about what to call it… cute?

    Reply
  52. Steve -  February 1, 2011 - 8:16 am

    I never remember: if he sees his shadow is it 6 more weeks of winter or if he doesnt’t see his shadow? Either way, 6 weeks from Feb 2 is just short of the beginning of spring, so what difference does it make anyway?

    Reply
  53. Mike McKelvy -  February 1, 2011 - 7:48 am

    One of the sounds Marmots make sounds remarkably like “Wuchak”. This is Algonquin onomatope, a feature shared by many languages used by people who live very close to the natural world.

    Reply
  54. GROUNDHOG-DAY | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  February 1, 2011 - 7:31 am

    [...] Groundhog day the event — the Movie — Woodchuck Insurance commercials — The exploited Marmots need better representation. — Fortunately, they take a lot of work to prepare for a Mongolian Barbecue or in any other situation — depending on where you go — taste better than the shadow. –>>Rupert L.T.Rhyme [...]

    Reply
  55. kk -  February 1, 2011 - 6:59 am

    haha

    Reply
  56. mojo -  February 1, 2011 - 6:42 am

    The animal in the photo is not a woodchuck, but rather a black-tailed prairie dog. Black-tailed prairie dogs don’t hibernate, so emerging on February 2 is just another day in Prairie Dog Town. Whether is casts a shadow, or not, probably won’t affect anyone’s weather. Thought you’d want to know.

    Reply
  57. tamara -  February 1, 2011 - 6:30 am

    this is so cut i have seen this when i was 20 years old it was so awesome

    Reply
  58. Lando Calirissian -  February 1, 2011 - 6:04 am

    I hate to be that guy, but I believe those are prairie dogs, not groundhogs.

    Reply
  59. imjustsaying -  February 1, 2011 - 5:52 am

    This article inspired me research my Blackfoot ancestry more. I am always interested in how things originated, so it will be exciting to see how I came to be! :)

    Reply
  60. Sarah S. -  February 1, 2011 - 5:08 am

    I like your name, too, Holly. :) My birthday is tomorrow, and I want him to see his shadow!:)With all this snow, I want more! :) I don’t agree with you boo boo! Well, gotta go! Later, all of you, especially you holly! :) :):) bye! and thank you http://www.dictionary.com!

    Reply
  61. jellymae -  February 1, 2011 - 5:04 am

    Groundhogsss.. Let us save every living creature here on earth.
    :P

    Reply
  62. EW -  February 1, 2011 - 4:37 am

    Holly – you missed the point. Groundhog and wood chuck are both common names used for the same animal – the Marmota monax.

    Reply
  63. Tamsin -  February 1, 2011 - 3:59 am

    I think I’ll call one a ‘wuchak’ from now on. Because these European Settlers just can’t pronounce anything right.

    Reply
  64. ms. Karmi -  February 1, 2011 - 3:29 am

    took me half an hour to write that so show appreciation to how much i love them and the name <3

    Reply
  65. Jim -  February 1, 2011 - 2:34 am

    How much wood would a woodchuck chuck…? Well, if his name was Woodchuck Norris, he could chuck all the wood he would want! Oh, and he would never be afraid of his shadow, so there would always be an early spring :) Bow before chuck!

    Reply
  66. Fabricio -  February 1, 2011 - 2:19 am

    @ holly, a woodchuck = a groundhog

    Reply
  67. Lam Lam -  February 1, 2011 - 1:47 am

    thanks for the definition, but the picture you posted is of a prairie dog or a ground squirrel, not a woodchuck, wuchak, groundhog, or any other permutation thereof.

    Reply
  68. evy -  February 1, 2011 - 1:47 am

    now please give us the Algonquin for racoon, chipmunk, moose and opossum

    Reply
  69. ms.karma -  January 31, 2011 - 11:59 pm

    oh, holly. i love that name. holly. holly. :)

    Reply
  70. boo boo : ) -  January 31, 2011 - 11:57 pm

    No shadow this year please Phil.

    Reply
  71. ms.karma -  January 31, 2011 - 11:38 pm

    knock knock on the woodchuck!

    Reply
  72. holly -  January 31, 2011 - 11:36 pm

    i love animals .so it’s good that dictionary com included a interesting post about woodchucks! they are very cute. just like squirrels!

    also who is celebrating groundhog day i am we celebrate every occasion whether its not very famous or very famous!

    dictionary com please include more posts about animals !they’re very important in the world and also we are animals have u ever known that

    and also dictionary com i love this post on woodchucks but no offence what does a woodchuck have to do with groundhog day anyway? dont worry i still love this post it is very interesting .dont think that just because of this i hate it altogether!!

    ~holly

    Reply
  73. holly -  January 31, 2011 - 11:32 pm

    wow, i’m first! anyway, i enjoy dictionary com’s interesting posts!

    Reply
  74. Fine..It's -  January 31, 2011 - 11:13 pm

    wooo….first comment?

    Reply
  75. Cyberquill -  January 31, 2011 - 9:27 pm

    Seems like it’s the same Groundhog Day every year. I feel I’m living in a movie.

    Reply
  76. ms.karma -  January 31, 2011 - 9:24 pm

    how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? huh? am i right? i don’t know. haha. i don’t memorize that tongue twister.

    after arguing about the english language, here comes a dying 3,000-year-old algonquian.

    wuchak. woodchuck. ok!:P

    Reply
  77. ms.karma -  January 31, 2011 - 9:11 pm

    hmm.:D

    Reply
  78. Perdition -  January 31, 2011 - 9:09 pm

    Interesting name, isn’t it? Another word that is not in common use today.. But, I’ve been using it since 2007, when I learned what the definition of Perdition actually means: Perdition- Final state of spiritual ruin; damnation.

    This was a very informative article and thank you for the insight. Here in Canada, many names of cities, provinces, and even the country come from either: Iroquois, or Algonquin languages which were used from the maritime provinces to the Rocky Mountains. Such as, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Tecumseh, Toronto, even Canada has its roots to misinterpret of the word “Kanata” which means Village!

    http://www.histori.ca/minutes/minute.do?id=10123

    Knowledge is power, the more you know!

    Reply

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