“Siwash ducks”

Here’s a lexical item that could only come from Pacific Northwest English: siwash ducks.

This is a Chinook Jargon loanword siwash ‘Indian, aboriginal’ modifying a native English word.  It refers to the various species of seashore ducks, such as scoters, that Euro-Americans haven’t tended to hunt.

Changming Yuan’s “English Kanata pays homage to Canadianisms including this one.

(“We live in the buttes and parklands / With the chutes running through the muskeg…”)

The same term shows up in the Canadian legal record; 1918 game regulations invoke it: “Provided, however, That- Indians and Eskimos may take scoters or ‘Siwash ducks’ for food at any time of the year, but scoters so taken shall not be sold.”)

Although it’s not a Canadian usage only…One of the earliest uses I’ve spotted is an 1899 piece that seems to refer to the Puget Sound or Olympic Peninsula region.

Does anyone still use this term?  I haven’t found much evidence of it past the 1930s.  Leave a comment if you’ve heard people say ‘siwash ducks’, eh?

–David Douglas Robertson–