Chinook Jargon & Freemasons: “Ours is not a dead language!”

What’s your take on this?  Looks like we can add “Freemason secret language” to the file on Chinook Jargon as “oldtimer’s secret language”, as “code talk”, and as “ipsət wawa” (secret language)!


A report from an Oregon chapter to an Iowa chapter of Freemasons, dated 1892, puts on record, and into print, a fairly extensive and original passage of Chinook Jargon bible lore.  This is a newly discovered addition to our knowledge of Christian materials in CJ.

This description in another place seems to refer to today’s selection:

Our old friend, T. McF. Patton, makes a brief appearance in his former role of Correspondent. He was called upon at the eleventh hour, so he did not have time to get into his old fighting harness, but showed signs that the ancient fire is not yet extinguished.

A portion of his report, under District of Columbia, is written in the Chinook dialect, which is not spoken in this locality, although perhaps it is the only known language which is not,—consequently we are unable to translate it. We think, however, that it is remarkably pointed.

Typical Western frontier attitude: this Oregonian writer takes a dig at Hebrew for being a mere dead language 🙂

I’ll factor out the obvious typographical errors — expectable in the circumstances — and add an English translation in brackets between the lines for you. My comments will follow this excerpt.

Companion T[homas]. McF[adden] [or McFadyen]. Patton commences his correspondence report…

In his review of the District of Columbia he takes off the Hebrew discussion between Companion Singleton, of the District of Columbia, and Dr. Love, of Georgia:

“His review of Georgia is principally in the Hebrew language, embellished with full page illustrations. We feel quite confident that our District of Columbia Companions will enjoy a perusal of Companion Singleton’s review of Georgia. Now it may seem strange, yet we feel inclined, as we examine this report, to quote from the same authority in another tongue with which we are far more familiar than we are with the Hebrew language, and which we feel quiet confident will be read and thoroughly understood by the average Oregon Mason much better than any extracts we could select from his review of Georgia. Our remarks are purely original, and are based on the first and second chapters of Genesis, but more particularly on two verses of the first chapter and first, second, twenty-first, and twenty-second verses of the second chapter:

     “Hyas Sah-a-le Tyee chahco — mitlite konaway karpo [SIC, prob. kar polaklie].         “Great God came along there was [night] everywhere.

Halo illahe — halo chuck. Hyas Sah-a-le Tyee mamook ikt sun — mamook mox 
There was no land no water. Great God worked one day worked two

sun. Halo illahe chahco, mamook klone sun, tenas illahe chahco. Wake skookum.
days. No land came, work three days, a bit of land came. Not so great.

Mamook lockeet sun, quinune sun, hyiu illahe chahco — hyas skookum. Hyas Sah-
Work four days, five days, lots of land came —  wonderful. Great God

a-le Tyee nanich siah kopa illahe. Halo tilakum. Hyas Sah-a-le iskum tenas illahe
looked all around the land. No people. Great God took a bit of land[,]

mamook tenas — wake tilakum chahco. Mamook hyas skookum, alki tilakum 
worked a bit — persons didn’t come. Work very hard, then a person

chahco — wake kloshe — wake nanich — wake wawa — halo tumtum. Hyas Sah-
came — not good — couldn’t see — couldn’t talk — couldn’t think. Great God,

a-le Tyee, kopa tilakum hyiu wind kopa nose. Oke oke tilakum nanich — wawa
to the person [put] lots of wind up the nose. That person could see — talk

hyiu — hyas kloshe. Hyas Sah-a-le Tyee wawa kopa name Adam. Oke oke tilakum
a lot — very good. Great God called [him] by name Adam. That person

Adam nanich konaway illahe — halo kloochman. Hyas tika kloochman. Hyas Sah-
Adam looked around the land  — no woman. Really wanted a woman. Great God

a-le Tyee wawa kopa Adam — moosum, illahe moosum skookum. Nika iscum saw
said to Adam — sleep, the camping (?) is great (!). I’ll take a saw

mamook mika rib, mamook kloochman mika.
(to) work (on) your rib, make you a woman.

     “Hyas Sah-a-le Tyee, wawa oke oke kloochman, Eve.
“Great God said (“)This is a woman, Eve.(“)

     “Tilakum Adam and Eve nanich konaway illahe. Kloshe illahe.
“The persons Adam and Eve looked at the whole place. Nice place.

     “Hyas Sah-a-le Tyee wawa kopa tilakum, mitlite kloshe illahe. Hyiu muckamuck      “Great God said to the persons, there’s a good place. Lots of food

— mitlite konaway garden. Hyas Sah-a-le Tyee wawa tilakum — kloshe 
— there’s every (kind of) garden. Great God told the persons — good

muckamuck — oke oke kloshe. Oke oke kloshe. Oke oke tree, wake kloshe. Mika
food — that’s good. That’s good. This tree is bad. You

iskum oke oke mika memaloose. Hyas Sah-a-le Tyee klatawa siah — nawitka. Alki
take that, you die. Great God went away — truly. Later

Hyas Sah-a-le Tyee chahco. Wake nanich tilakum. Wawa tenas. Kah mika mitlite?
Great God came. Didn’t see the persons. Spoke quietly. (“)Where are you?(“)

Tilakum wake wawa. Alki Hyas Sah-a-le Tyee hyas solleks. Wawa skookum. Adam
The persons didn’t answer. Then Great God was very angry. Spoke loud. (“)Adam(,)

chahco! Alki tilakum chahco kopa tenas tree. Kah mika mitlite — nika
come (here)!(“) Then the persons came from the bushes. (“)Where were you —  I

wawa mika. Kopa tenas house, wake — nawitka. Nika halo iktahs. Hyiu shame.
called you. In a hut, no?(“) — (“)Yes. I have no clothes. A lot of shame.(“)

Wake, wake. Nika iscum muckamuck oke oke tree. Nika memaloose. Klatawa!
(“)No, no!(“)  (“)I took food (from) that tree. I’ll die.(“)  (“)Go!


“A literal translation should accompany this remarkable discourse, but as we are somewhat hurried we must leave it to the reader to dig it out for himself. Of course the correspondents will find no more difficulty in interpreting this effusion than they would the review of Companion Singleton on Georgia. Ours is not a dead language by any means.

Transactions of the Grand Chapter of Iowa, volume VII, for the years 1891 to 1894, inclusive, pages lxxix-lxxx
My translation is charitable. I try to reflect how the CJ text’s grammar would be understood by an average fluent Jargon speaker of 1892, a point in time when the rules of the language were firmly settled.
My charity comes from the fact that this writer’s CJ is not the most fluent you’ll find, instead reflecting some selection among how folks spoke it when (A) they were out of practice, (B) laboured under the belief that this was a grammarless lingo (Michael Silverstein, we need to talk 🙂 ), and/or (C) felt they had to patronizingly talk down to Jargon speakers.  I do believe that T. McF. Patton (1829-1892) came by his Chinook Jargon honestly; he went way back in pioneer Oregon, having been elected to the territorial legislature in 1853.
In any case, as I often discover with historical documents of my long-ago white people, this production is fascinating but also reflects kind of poorly on its author. Especially if my guess is correct that tenas house towards the end is a bathroom joke!  (The phrase can mean literally “small house”, “room”, or “washroom”. I don’t recall Genesis suggesting that Adam was hiding in a hut.)