Lost Navajo Word
March 3, 2006 10:01 AM   Subscribe

The last Tony Hillerman novel, Sacred Pig, used a Navajo term that translates into english as "She who tells a sheep which blade of grass to eat". This Navajo word would be useful for me to know. I have tried to find it by scanning the novel with no success. Does anyone know what this word is with the correct pronunciation?
posted by Raybun to Society & Culture (9 answers total)
Using "search inside" on Amazon, I can't see any reference to such a phrase in either Sinister Pig or his most recent book, Skeleton Man. Do you have any other details?
posted by Gator at 10:39 AM on March 3, 2006

Yeah, I assume you're talking about Sinister Pig, and it ain't in there. You can look for yourself:

Search Inside This Book
posted by designbot at 10:43 AM on March 3, 2006

This is second-hand, but I was told (by someone who would know) that TH is a wanna-be who's about as authentic as Taco Bell.

I wouldn't rely on his books for any sort of truth. Chances are there is no such term.
posted by unixrat at 11:32 AM on March 3, 2006

I just finished Skeleton Man, and read Sinister Pig recently. I don't remember anything like that. Is it possible you're thinking of a different book or author?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 1:09 PM on March 3, 2006

In any event, it's unlikely that any language would have a single word to describe so specific, and unusual, a thing.
posted by JamesMessick at 1:50 PM on March 3, 2006

JamesMessick writes "In any event, it's unlikely that any language would have a single word to describe so specific, and unusual, a thing."

Why would such a term be unsual? It sounds like it would/should be a single word in yiddish. And in fact that term would fit my mother perfectly :-).
posted by Araucaria at 2:32 PM on March 3, 2006

Googling points toward this being of Biblical, or at least Christianity-related, origin:

"Except for those things that are specifically commanded or forbidden in the Word of God, it is God's Will that we be free to exercise our own intelligent choice. The shepherd will lead the sheep, but he does not wish to decide which blade of grass each sheep will nibble. God's Will for us may not be one but any one of a dozen possible choices." A.W. Tozer.
posted by divka at 2:36 PM on March 3, 2006

I briefly studied the Navajo language; I don't know the particular word that Raybun is looking for, but in response to unixrat and JamesMessick, there is very likely such a word. That's not saying much, however, since Navajo tends to inflect its verbs with not just person and number, but with subject, object, direct object, manner, time and place, etc, etc... This leads to massive words that encompass concepts, thoughts and actions we'd be used to seeing in an entire english sentence.

But you might as well forget about pronouncing it right even if you did find the correct word. Navajo has several sounds that don't exist in English, and are therefore virtually impossible for a native English speaker to pronounce without a LOT of practice. Add to that the Navajo language's strong reliance on glottal stops within words (hard to explain, but it's something akin to a click in the back of the throat... It's the physical action you perform when differientiating between words ina sentence when speaking English... For example, the phrase "Johnny yearns" and "Johnny earns" are differentiated mostly by a glottal stop.), and you'll have a tough time coming even close to how the word is really pronounced.
posted by Eldritch at 2:56 PM on March 3, 2006

The Navajo tended sheep?
posted by furtive at 3:45 PM on March 3, 2006

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