“Cumtuxiana”!

I transcribed this jocular musing on rampant borrowings into frontier-era Western US English, from the Daily Alta California newspaper, 3 August 1851, page 2, column 2 (top).

There’s quite a trove of what were evidently then new expressions: coursing, sparrow-hawking, bolt, five-bar-fence, cut and dried, make no bones…and I was a little surprised to see a reference to chili (carne con chile) so early.

Here’s an image of the article, then comes the transcription of it, with Chinook Jargon stuff bolded.  This is CJ at second hand, so take the use of “cum tux” for “so-so” with a grain of kosher salt.  “Hyas cloocherman” would be a noblewoman, and “sit cum tiee” would be a subchief.

— David Douglas ROBERTSON

Cumtuxiana

Cumtuxiana, or, How you Talk!

It is one of the most remarkable facts of Yankee history that, go where they will, our people can never let alone the “lingo” of the country they adopt, but must adapt it, in some shape, to every-day use. The King’s English, like English dominion, is never broad enough, nor sufficiently diffuse for their purposes. Change is demanded under the head of reform in everything. The older States are each peculiar in their colloquial English, and instead of breaking the thraldom of barbarous provincialism, it is a species of Yankee Doodle glory to construct a wall of words and idioms around about the sectional concerns of each part of the country, making it a species of reservation, or State rights, to torture language into the most indefinable shapes and sounds. We agree with them in the propriety of establishing for each State a few distinctive features, that the national honor and glory may be variously and well represented by striking characteristics, bat this barbarous perversion of the “mother tongue” is as bad as interpolating speech with French, Spanish, Italian, or any other outlandish phraseology — we don’t admit the right to belong anywhere. “Ours is a noble and a beautiful language,” says Southey, “and he who uses a Latin or French phrase, when a pure old English word does as well, ought to be hanged, drawn and quartered for high treason against the mother tongue,” and so he ought! The provincialisms of some sections of the Atlantic States are truly alarming in their tendency, which is, to deprave the use of speech in the most unpardonable manner; and if the system succeeds — and succeed it will, for what’s going to stop it?— a few dozen generations more will dissolve the only existing link remaining between England and America by making it necessary to translate English into Anglo-American for “common schools.” Come, this won’t do. Let us have no such misfortune entailed upon us! But lo! the progress we are making on this “side of the land” towards such a consummation! Look at it! Already we have gulped down the best (or rather the worst) part of a mongrel dialect in Oregon, bit off a large slice of the tongue of TongaWanga. King of the Kanakadom Islands, and minced up the Greaser philological fragments in this country into such a came-con-chile insufferable stew that our mouths are all a-blaze whenever we open them to speak. What are we coming to! Worse than the barbacue of King’s English by our Atlantic brethren, we spit the morsels of other and responsible languages, to broil them over a slow-fire, as dainties for our delicate and insatiable tastes. Magnificently magnanimous, we offer to teach the stern rudiments of such English as we have retained in our possession to all nations in the path of our “Westward-the-Star-of-Empire” progress, and so propitiate them to our conquest of their territory and despoilation of all the assailable portion of their vernacular. Truly what are we coming to!

Not a newspaper do we take up now-a days, bearing the imprint of Oregon or Polynesia, but we are confronted by a jargon that completely riddles our capacity for comprehending signs, characters or sounds. In “coursing” or “sparrow-hawking” its columns for game, such as bits of news and scraps of relishable reading, we are sure to “‘bolt” at a big five-bar-fence of a phrase, or beat our brains against the meshes of meaning in an entanglement of words such as no mortal ever encountered in the antiquarian researches of the profoundest lore. We have “cut and dried” a few of these remarkably vigorous graftings in the family of words, for the purpose of making ourselves familiar with the species. “We have obtained for the People a right to take firewood, house timber, aho cord, thatch, and ki leaf, from the lands on which they live, without the consent of the konohikis, or their limas.” What in the name of all that’s merciful do Kamehameha’s white men mean by aho cord, ki leaf, and kono— well, we won’t try to pronounce it! “All men are entitled to fish on the Kilohee, the Luhee. and the Malolo grounds; and no portion of the fish that may be taken on any of those grounds, will hereafter belong to the Aupuni.” Worse and worse! This address to the Maka — to the Makaainan — there ! we give it over to the types: “THE MAKAAINANAS OF THE HAWAIIAN ISLANDS.” Here again is a delectable school of jaw-breakers: “For the road between the sea-beach at Kawaihae Eleio. in Hamakua. Hawaii.” The Sandwich Islanders made “no bones” of eating up Capt. Cook, with a sauce of such unconscionably tough “vernacular.” “Those of you who have no Kuleanas,” says the Polynesian, in the same address to the “fishers of men,” and with as much apparent ease of utterance as though it were discoursing its native eloquence. And thus the press of that realm deliberately lends its intelligence to contortionist-feats of uncompromisingly difficult speech, without so much as designating its use by “italics” or “points.” Oregon “outherods Herod,” however, and the “jargon” of that territory is enough to drive a mild man of nervous temperament distracted. Yet the news papers rejoice in the proficiency which they have acquired in the refined and sententious Chinook. They treat their readers to a sputtering of jargon in the very “leaders” indited. Now listen to an Oregon editor on the new costume: “As we have not seen any lady, other than a Chenook hyas cloocherman, wearing the’ dress ‘a la Turk,’ of course we cannot say anything about it.” Female costume can never be reformed among such a barbarous people. “Some 20 miles from the Dalls is the old farm and home of Skuloo, a sit cum tiee” We should like to tie-ee that phrase around the neck of the editor and cast him into the Columbia. He would never rise to the surface. Speaking of the Port Orford party, one of the papers says: “They accordingly set out, the Indians keeping a close nanage on them all the while.” Pity ’tis that the Indians by close nanaging could’nt secure one of these Chinook editors, to exhibit to their people as a rara avis. Here is a colloquial scene between papers, all about the 4th of July : How was it with you, brother Schnelby— that is, your city. — Oregonian. Well — “So so. or cum tux.” — Spectator.

And now we have done with these precious bits of “cumtuxiana” and feel prepared to denounce this system of palaver as the most solemn of humbugs. To be as serious as we can with the subject, it is high time that we begin to clothe our home spun Yankee ideas in the sound, substantial fabric used by’our forefathers, altogether, and to extirpate from the prolific and beautiful gardens of English language the many uncouth and tawdry weeds of foreign culture that have taken root with us. Here in California the language of the press is not at all free from graftings of the slang or jocular phrases of the Spanish. We bandy about the common nouns “hombre,” “casa,” “caballo” and propound “quien sabe?” with most imperturbable gravity: indifferent as to the perceptive powers of readers, or whether it sounds well to “ears polite” or not. We should say not. and we think our brethren of the quill will agree with us that however great the relief from monotonous expressions, the use of these words disturb the grace of composition and amount to vulgarisms, besides distracting and misleading those who perchance may not be “constant readers.”

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