Another new discovery: SMOKE HOUSE = aboriginal Indian houses

SMOKE HOUSE = aboriginal-style Northwest Coast plank houses.


Credit for this one goes to Dale McCreery, my absolutely crackerjack University of Victoria linguistics colleague.

We don’t have this phrase in any of the existing sources on Chinuk Wawa.

Dale noticed it in the speech of Native people up at Bella Coola, BC, as smuukhaws.  They defined it as the “long houses” they were raised in, say in the 1930s.  Dale wondered if this was a recognized Chinook Jargon phrase.

I guess we can go ahead and confirm this one, because here is what I’ve just found in the field notes of John P Harrington from 1942:

Inf[ormant Emma Luscier] uses “smoke house” of Ind[ian]=style house such as all the Inds. had at Shipley Beach.

[Shipley Beach is a name for the Indian community of Bay Center on Shoalwater Bay, Washington.]

[Edited to add this fact:] The phrase reoccurs later in the same microfilm reel:

Both [Mr. and Mrs. Deaf George] made their home at Georgetown + once gave a potlatch in their big “smoke-house” there.

[Second edit:] Still later in the reel is a mention of ‘the most primitive Indian around here’, who

had a smokehole house, would never permit a stove.

A traditional plank house had one or more fires burning indoors, with smokeholes above — thus ‘smokehouse’.

The occurrence of this phrase with the exact same meaning in Native communities hundreds of miles apart looks like decent proof that it was straight Chinook.

The fact that it’s recorded in English spelling by Harrington doesn’t undercut this analysis.  We often find Jargon words in various documentary sources masquerading as English or French, when their etymology was clear to the person doing the writing.

“Smokehouse” is less likely to be English — in both Bella Coola and Shoalwater Bay — for two reasons.  First, because it’s improbable that this innovative sense of the term would’ve been independently coined twice.  And second, because there was an established and quite different meaning of “smokehouse” already in English, referring to the smallish non-dwelling structure where you processed fish or meat.  (The earliest use noted by this Merriam-Webster site is 1746.)

I find the Jargon such an interesting language to study, because we keep finding more words of it.  (Poke around this blog for more such.)

Talk about revitalization, don’t you agree?