This is a word from my childhood, in more ways than one.
There is of course that hoary old chestnut about a monastery opening a fish-and-chip shop with a fish friar and a chip monk; I’m sure I first heard that somewhere in elementary school.
But there’s also the actual animal, the chipmunk. I saw them often when we were hiking in the hinterlands (e.g., up to Lake Agnes, above Lake Louise). Cute little things, always darting and chattering and trying to get seeds and nuts (maybe not hoary old chestnuts) with which to stuff their cheeks.
And then there’s this: www.youtube.com/watch?v=2l5ap0p_3-o – that great old TV vignette series, Hinterland Who’s Who, in this case on the chipmunk. It has that wandering, wondering, almost haunting flute music. A more emblematic piece of Canadiana from the seventies could hardly be imagined. (But Hinterland Who’s Who has not gone away – it’s gone on web: learn more about the chipmunk at www.hww.ca/hww2.asp?id=86.)
And, of course, there’s that Christmas song from Alvin and the Chipmunks, www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dnrosVyamY, featuring the step-out solo “Me, I want a hula hoop” (which in my younger years I couldn’t understand at all – “Mi, a waa na ooooo la oooo”?!). I regret to have to inform you that that, too, was more recently brought “up to date” – see www.youtube.com/watch?v=vjz8lG-SsnY , and I’m not surprised if, like me, you hit stop within a half minute.
I mean, seriously, the music is a trite guitar-heavy “rock” arrangement (the polar opposite of the Hinterland Who’s Who theme), and the chipmunks are dressed up like hip-hop homeys or something equally inane. Crap rock with hip-hop getup? Come on – if you want cute rodents with hip-hop, try this Kia ad: www.youtube.com/watch?v=miC1VZ9UVCQ.
And if you want a hip-hop singer named Chipmunk, by the way, there’s a bloke from Tottenham who will fill your bill: www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDwI7KQAlD8.
But that of course has nothing to do with my childhood. Other people’s for sure, such as the ones writing the comments on the YouTube video. I might say, though, Chipmunk’s rapid rap has a certain chipmunkiness to it, and is about as immediately comprehensible to me as what I was hearing from those little seed- and scene-stealers in the hinterlands.
The rodent in question is of course not a monk, nor does it eat chips (well, OK, I think it ate some of mine at least once, but usually it goes for seeds and nuts). The present form of its name is almost certainly an English reconstrual of an Algonquian word – the Ojibwa word ajidamoonh “squirrel” (literally “headfirst”, because that’s how it goes down trees) is a very likely cognate.
The word chipmunk also has a quick and chattery feel to it, doesn’t it? It has two quick syllables and darts from one to the other. And hey, do this: say chipmunk chipmunk chipmunk chipmunk chipmunk chipmunk chipmunk chipmunk chipmunk chipmunk chipmunk as fast as you can. Look in the mirror and tell me it doesn’t look like a chipmunk chewing its seeds. Stuff your cheeks with snacks for an even more impressive effect.