Halo jawbone



At evening we walked up to Geary’s ranch,
which he ” runs ” as a kind of hotel for the few
travellers who pass this way. Conspicuous on the
wall of the only room was the jawbone of a horse,
with the word NO on one side of it and HERE on
the other, a quaint conceit which in the interests of
truth might be adopted in most of our English gun-
rooms and smoking-rooms.

— page 172 of “B.C. 1887: A Ramble in British Columbia” by J.A. Lees and W.J. Clutterbuck (London: Longmans, Green & Co.)

So far you’re wondering, where’s the Chinook?

Wait for it.

This takedown of typical English greenhorns (the above authors) in the Canadian West is the reveal:

It is also amusing to find that the
writers fancy that the words “no” and
“here” painted on the jawbone of a horse
behind the bar of a country tavern, meant that
there was to be no noisy talk—no “jaw”— there.
Jawbone in the “West is a euphuism [SIC] for
“credit.” Sometimes the same hint is given
by the Chinook jargon word, halo (none),
or “played out,” being painted on the equine

— page 301 of The Academy, Nov. 10, 1888, no.862

And as I’ve noted on my website, jawbone was an important word in Chinook Jargon.  Ilo shabon is a constant refrain directed at the subscribers of the Kamloops Wawa: “No credit”, cash only.

At all events, just as the Academy reviewer winds up conceding, “B.C. 1887” is a pretty decent read.

There’s even an appearance in this Kootenays travelogue by the illustrious Mr. Baillie-Grohman, whose connections with the Jargon I’ve written about previously.  (See “Stalking the Haplocerus in the Selkirks” and “Trophy Hunter Meets Klootchman“, and don’t neglect to visit the Baillie-Grohman Estates Winery if that sort of thing is your bag, baby.)

Grohman is another who corrects the ah remittance men:

Those who have read the first book ever written on Kootenay, by the witty authors of “Two in Norway,” may remember the description the authors give of how they found me lying on the floor in that miserable den. I would not mention this highly uninteresting circumstance, but for an amusing error into which these writers fell. The only adornment on the walls of the room was a horse’s jawbone, nailed to one of the logs over the bar. On pieces of paper nailed up to the left of it was the word “No,” and on the other side of it the word “Here,” the whole reading, of course, “No jawbone here,” which translated means, “No tick.” Ready money or gold dust, which latter, until the advent of the police, was the usual currency, had to be in sight ere “poison” could be tasted. The authors of “British Columbia in 1887” noticed this adornment also, but they misunderstood its meaning…

— page 281 of “Fifteen Years’ Sport and Life in the Hunting Grounds of Western America and British Columbia” by W.A. Baillie-Grohman and Mrs. Baillie-Grohman (London: Horace Cox: 1900).

(The cops being the necessary condition for guaranteeing borrowers’ honesty!)

I’ll leave off by linking to this 1892 book by John McLean that testifies to the exact same wording showing up on signs in Western barrooms.  You can see, jawbone became Jargon because it was street English.  This is one reason why more linguists should be working on pidgin languages — they give you this wonderful eyewitness documentation of how the languages around them were being spoken.  Nice way to get around the tyranny of written documentation!