Thomas Doty – Storyteller


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Wuss and Wus

The Oxford Dictionary defines wuss as "a weak or ineffectual person (often used as a general term of abuse)." Wuss has its origins as a shortened version of wussy, a combination of wimp and, well, puss or pussy. Really? A weak cat? Here I think I'll pretend to be naive. In days past, puss was a form of affectionate address, right?

Enter Coyote in the native stories, that adorable spindly-legged buffoon of a trickster, whose name in the Klamath-Modoc language is Wus. I'm not kidding -- this is for real! A cross-cultural, unintended pun? A linguistic accident? A Modoc elder once told me, grinning, "There are no accidents, except for maybe Coyote himself." Coyote disagrees, not grinning, "I'm no wimp! I'm not a cat! And I'm certainly no accident!!" Right!

But myths are full of magical transformations that leap across cultures. In the wonderful world of folklore, Wus in Moccasins and Puss in Boots may be more closely related than either would ever admit. Really? No, not really. Just being funny, like referring to Coyote as Don Coyote. Punny! Mostly, I just call him Coyote. Just to be clear. Just to be strong. Just to be real.