Another Salish word for “socks” in CJ?


A discovery?

Leave it to the extravagant Roman emperor Heliogabalus (the dangerous transgender Syrian immigrant, not to be confused with the friendly Martian autism-whisperer of that name) to show us something new under the sun…

I was reading a passage in the Chinook Jargon newspaper Kamloops Wawa, copying it down as follows:

Taii impror Iliogabal … mitlait kot kanawi silk, pi ayu
The leader emperor Heliogabalus … had coats completely made of silk, and lots of 

gol pi ayu pirls. Kanawi son iaka iskom
gold and lots of pearls.  Every day he took 

chi shus, chi kot pi chi kushkush.
a new pair of shoes, a new robe and new kushkush.

— KW #210 (June 1904), page XXIV

That kushkush threw me.

I could only connect it with a somewhat obscure, but documented, Salish-to-Jargon loanword kushis meaning “socks”.  It comes from an Aboriginal word for the grass liner that you’d fill your moccasins with.  (One of my clearest memories from Pauline Flett’s Spokan Salish language class 20 years ago was her telling a traditional story of Crow’s qʷúʔšiskushis.)

But a linguist pays the big money to get educated in arguing with himself.  And I said, Dave, I says to myself,

  • Why are the items of clothing listed as shoes, then robe, then kushkush?  Wouldn’t socks — if Roman emperors even wore them — be mentioned right in there with the shoes (sandals)?
  • And isn’t kushkush kind of a stretch from kushis?  It looks weirdly reduplicated compared to that.

Off I went to my files.

I quickly established that kushis was rejected by none other than Father Le Jeune, who wrote today’s quoted passage, as being “used only in other districts” than his Kamloops, BC, area.


On the other hand, I noticed for the first time in my life that the marvelous Horatio Hale documented in the US Exploring Expedition (1841 I believe; published 1846) a reduplicated kushis-kushis for “stockings”!


Reduplication of full noun words is not a thing in Chinook Jargon.  (As opposed to the numerous nouns that are reduplicative in shape, but not known in their expected simplex version, for example there’s musmus “cow” but no *mus.)

So this is an exciting find!  It might be hinting things at us about the early lower Columbia River creolizing CJ.  Certainly the only productive reduplication in CJ occurs in that variety, experiencing its rowdy maximum … among verbs and adjectives, anyhow … at modern Grand Ronde Reservation, Oregon.  Maybe in earlier stages, more kinds of words could be reduplicated.


The whole picture just looked “off” to me.  Having no explanation of my mystery word, I kept looking.  I went back to the original page of Chinuk pipa shorthand that started me on this chase.  And on second visit, I realized that what Le Jeune had written was a similar-looking but for him unusual spelling kuyukuyu “(finger) ring”.  (His usual spelling is koyukoyu.)

Which makes sense on every level — and is boring.

But look at the substantial linguistic discoveries that this one weird spelling, and my misreading of it, led to!

It’s a serendipity worthy of Emperor Heliogabalus’ flights of fancy.