Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Q: My family is of French Canadian descent. There is a family tradition/lullaby of singing "Manush, Manush" while caressing a child's face followed by "tat-tat-tat" and lightly tapping the child's forehead.  I  believe we have Huron, Algonquin, & Abenaki  ancestors. I was wondering if this might be where this lullaby came from.

A: There's no word quite like "manush" in any of the languages you mention, but if it could have gotten corrupted somewhat, noozhis does mean "grandchild" in Ojibwe and Algonquin, and sounds a little like "noosh," so if that could have gotten mixed up with the French word for "my," perhaps?

"Manouche" is also a French word for Roma ("gypsy,") and it's not a derogatory one-- it comes from the Romani language itself. So maybe it's a Roma song that got borrowed at some point.

Hope that is helpful, have a good day!
Native Languages of the Americas

ETA: A Francophone friend has solved this riddle. "Faire minouche" is regional French slang for petting or caressing; it is used in both baby talk and lovey-dovey talk. "Manush" or "manoosh" must be corruptions of "minouche." It does not come from a First Nations language, nor from Romani-- it is derived from the French word for "kitten," minou. (The Cree word noted in the comments is borrowed from French, not the other way around. Housecats aren't native to the Americas.)

Hope that helps!

Further reading:
Algonquin language
Native American words
Cree language


  1. Minôs also means "cat" in Plains Cree. Minôsis means a kitten. Never heard of a song like this one though.

  2. Manouche is not a French word meaning Gypsy (which is derogatory, btw - Gypsy to Roma is like Injun to Native American). Manouche is a Romani word that means "human." Manouche refers to a French tribe of the Sinti-Roma.

    The Roma didn't consider Native Americans as gadji (means stranger in most cases but, in some contexts, the archaic meaning is implied - the gadji are the demon-blooded) so marriage wasn't forbidden with Native Americans (the Roma thought they had found a group of pure people unaffected by the gadji blood when they came to North America - the view has changed in recent years and now all people everywhere are infected with the demon-blood).

    Is it possible that your family married with the Manouche and remember a family custom? I know my Manouche ancestors (Baubo/Babo/Bobo, Hubbard/Hibbard) had multiple marriages with the First Nations in earlier centuries.

    1. Thanks for the information! A lot of us actually do call ourselves Indian, but we'll be sure to use "Roma" in the future if it should ever come up again.

  3. Hi there, I am also of French Canadian descent, and our family has done this game with babies through every generation as well. My grandmother spoke fluent Canadian French, but she didn't know the translation for this word. We wondered whether it meant "soft." The way we played this game is we'd softly rub a baby's cheek, saying "manush...manush.....manush" and then we'd gently pat their cheek really fast saying, "Pat-pat-pat-pat!" The babies LOVE it, they laugh every time. I never met any other family who played this game so it was really fun to find this post while looking for the translation of the word "manoosh" on Google.

    I don't have any of the Native American ancestry that you have, so I wonder if this is a localized French Canadian game?

  4. My French Canadian grandmother did the same thing. We don't know what it means either...

  5. oh my gosh, my Memere, who is from Quebec, also used to do this and we thought she was saying, pat, pat, pat, pat, at the end. I have passed this on to so many friends and family and have never been able to answer what it means.

  6. My French Canadian grandmother always said manush to my brother and i and our cousins whenever we would be rude/hurt each other. I have always thought that it meant “be nice” or something like that but im not sure