Tobias takes shit (pardon my Chinook)

This is my current #2 favorite Jargon word.

I’ve gotten to the book of Tobit/Tobias in the shorthand Bishop Durieu’s Old Testament History, serialized in our favourite 1890s newspaper, Kamloops Wawa.  There is a word used in the story of “Old” Tobias that I reckon had no synonym in Kamloops Jargon, making it inescapable in the context–but it’s a word that’s never included in Chinook Jargon vocabulary lists of the time:


Jay V. Powell has written about “Chinook Jargon words the lexicographers left out“, pointing out the sanitization of quite a few actual Jargon words by (especially) 19th-century compilers of word lists.  Jay actually doesn’t use the S-word in his article, even though he provides some alternative expressions from other regions, which he glosses as “feces” and “defecate”.

There’s no shit in the Grand Ronde dictionary, nor in Samuel V. Johnson’s 1978 dissertation with its compilation of old lexicons.  No surprise; look at dictionaries of any language you like, including English, until after 1950 or so — there’s hardly any juicy, aromatic, dirty stuff ever.

I’ve seen the word shit in just a couple Jargon lexicons that I can recall:

  1. The Demers (-Blanchet-St. Onge) 1871 Dictionary, catechism, prayers and hymns, which inexplicably slipped through the cracks of SV Johnson’s dissertation, has entries for shit “excrement, manure”, shit inpu “nit” [literally “shit flea”], shit hows “water closet” [seriously, talk about sanitization!], and shit lametsin “aperient” (“laxative”).
  2. The manuscript one from the early decades of the 20th century by Father Edward Griva SJ that I presented at our 1999 Chinuk-Wawa Luʔlu.  It occurs in Griva’s term for “physic”–again, we’d now say “laxative”–which is surely included because missionary priests often doubled as lay doctors.  The term is (from my memory) shit lamachin, that is literally “pooping medicine”, an alternate spelling of Demers’ last item above.

Imagine my delight to find just this earthy word in a Bible story!  Which also makes sense; there are words that are hard to do without when you need to express certain ideas in speech, but of course you can easily wipe them from the more selective environment of a dictionary.

Here’s what I’m going on about (the word in question is on the bottom line of the image):

shit (2)

Ukuk kalakala iaka shit chako kopa iaka siahus
This bird’s shit fell into his eyes 

pi mamuk paia iaka siahus.
and burned his eyes.

(Kamloops Wawa #132 [September 1895], page 140)

That was worth waiting for, right?  Textual confirmation of the actual usage of a hitherto heavily censored Chinuk Wawa word.  You know you can trust the source.  When a priest, a bishop in fact, translates a Bible story with the word shit, he means it.

By the way, notice how the only other documentation of Jargon shit is from priests?  Today’s find adds to the series of evidentiary points showing that Bible Chinook (in Canada’s Kamloops Wawa) is the Washington Chinook of 50 years previous.  That’s so because the Roman Catholic missionaries developed their strong command of the Jargon from about 1838 onward in present-day Washington state –and then trained successive generations of BC guys such as the future Bishop Durieu, Father St Onge, and Father Le Jeune.

For a contrasting untold story of Chinook Jargon…See also “Shit’s Chinook, chittim ain’t“.  No shit!