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HomeNL-2016-12 Origin of Tump

The Origin of the word "Tump"
November, 2016
by John Rich

In the October newsletter I talked about the seemingly odd word "gunwale" that we use in canoeing to describe the upper edge of the sides of our boats.  And in November, I explained the origin and evolution of the word "painter" and how it came to be used to describe the bow and stern lines on canoes.  For this month, I'll explain another one of those seemingly odd words, "tump", which is used as a term for turning over, or capsizing.
The dictionary gives two definitions for "tump", the first when the word is used as a noun, and the second for when the word is used as a verb.
As a noun, the word "tump" comes from England, almost certainly from the word "twmpath" where it means a small hill or mound, or a clump of vegetation.  The English got the word from the Welsh who used it the same way, but spelled it "twmp", using a "w" for the vowel before the English changed it to a "u".  Twmp appears in Welsh-English dictionaries from 1802.  It's first known use was in the year 1589 - 417 years ago.  Since the year is known so precisely, you would think I could find out in what context it was used, but I haven't located that.  There's a homework assignment for you - if you find it, let me know and I'll update this story.

In South Wales is a geographic location called Twmbarlwm, or "The Twmp" for short.   The twmp is a pimple mound at the summit of a hill, upon which a fort was built by the Celts in 48 AD to resist the Roman invasion.

But that's the noun version of "tump", and obiviously is has nothing to do with tipping over in a canoe.  So having dispensed with that, let's move on to the verb version of the word.

As a verb, "tump" is chiefly a Southern word in America, meaning to tip or turn over, especially accidentally, and usually used with "over", like "tump over".

Some suggest that "tump" is a onomatopoeic word, meaning that it's spelled so that when pronounced it mimics the sound to which it refers.  But this idea is given little credence.  And certainly, when a canoe tips over, the main sound heard is a splash, which may itself be onomatopoeic, and which is soon followed by various forms of cursing.  

Others suggest the word is a combination of "tip" and "dump", but there is also no research to support this, and it may just be a convenient coincidence that the word is a natural combination of those other two similar related words. 

So how did "tump" come to be used for the tipping over of a canoe?  The most likely origin of this usage of the word is that it comes from the English "tumpoke", which means to fall head over heels, as is happening to the poor lady to the right.  Sometimes it's spelled tompoke, and sometimes it's hyphenated, like tum-poke.  The first known use of "tumpoke" is only as far back as 1967, but once again, nobody wants to tell you in what publication or context.  And that date is not nearly as exciting Celts fighting Romans in 1589...


Okay, I confess - I chose this subject matter just so I would have a valid excuse to use those two pin-up girl art images!

Another similar sounding word is "tumpline", which you would think might have something to do with things tipping over.  But no!  A tumpline is a sling formed by a strap slung across the forehead to help support the weight of a backpack.  Nothing at all to do with tipping over!   Although if you didn't have a tumpline on a heavy pack, you might tip over backwards.  "Tumpline" seems to have originated entirely independently from the Algonquian Indians, who carried heavy loads in such a manner.

The author, John Rich