Needle-hearted Coeur d’Alenes, a Native metaphor?

A sort of speculative piece for you today…

needle hearts

(Image credit: TodayIFoundOut.com)

tsiĥ-tomtom ‘shrewd’ is in Father St Onge’s Chinuk Wawa dictionary manuscript of 1892. That’s literally ‘sharp-heart’. In modern Grand Ronde tribal spelling it would be tsíx-tə́mtəm, although it’s not in their dictionary. This phrase got me thinking.

It brings to mind the north Idaho tribal name “Coeur d’Alene“, famously said to come from French “heart of an awl” and connoting that Salish group’s acuity in bargaining. Hmm.

A question I hadn’t considered before — exactly who called the tribe that? This is not the native Coeur d’Alene name for themselves…in their Salish language it’s snchitsu’umsh. And most of their neighbors know them by that name. Which has nothing to do with hearts; it means ‘the ones who were discovered’.

  • Could CdA (as we sometimes say locally, when we’re abbreviating what’s locally pronounced “Korda Lane”) be a translation from a Native metaphor?
  • Or did French-Canadians in the fur trade use such expressions?
  • Both could be the case, of course.

I have not found such an expression elsewhere in Chinuk Wawa, having searched the usual pile of reference materials. That’s a little surprising because the Jargon famously has a lot of idioms involving kinds of ‘heart’. I realize they’re not cross-indexed under tə́mtəm in your Grand Ronde dictionary so maybe you haven’t quite grasped the range of its uses, so here are some for you:

  • sáx̣ali-tə́mtəm literally ‘high-heart’ ‘feeling good, in good humor; awake’ (Kamloops usage: ‘arrogant’)
  • sík-tə́mtəm literally ‘hurting-heart’ ‘sorry, sad’
  • ɬúsh-tə́mtəm literally ‘good-heart’ ‘be glad, in good humor, happy’
  • iht tomtom literally ‘one heart’ (Kamloops) ‘in agreement; resolved’
  • mokst tomtom literally ‘two hearts’ (Kamloops) ‘dubious, doubt’
  • ayu tomtom literally ‘many hearts’ (Kamloops) ‘confused’
  • iktas tomtom literally ‘belongings-heart’ (Kamloops) ‘materialistic’

There are plenty more. Not just in the Jargon, but in the Native languages.

I suspect a lot of the Native “heart” metaphors escaped documentation in the various languages. For example, just three or so of these are to be found under ‘think ( /heart)’ in the Upper Chehalis Salish dictionary:

  • ‘good-hearted’
  • ‘brave person’ (literally ‘big/grown-up heart’)
  • ‘bad character’ (‘bad heart’)

But the languages that we have anything like actual usage data from confirm that ‘heart’ metaphors were common. Look in Boas’s [Lower Chinookan language] “Chinook Texts” book, searching for ‘heart’, and you see quite a variety of these expressions (I’m just giving literal translations to keep this simple):

  • ‘not good Bluejay his heart’ (page 12)
  • ‘tired gets my heart’ (page 12)
  • ‘my heart lonesome it got’ (page 22)
  • ‘dry became his heart’ (page 71)
  • ‘liberal his heart’ (page 267)

Could coeur d’alène have been a set expression beforehand in French? I’m not the expert but I put in some effort searching Google with the language settings changed to French, and I come away with the impression that the phrase first shows up in reference to the tribe. Maybe one of my francophone readers can contribute some wisdom.

Well, I haven’t definitively proven anything with this exercise, but my contribution today is a hypothesis that “Coeur d’Alene” is more a Native metaphor than a French one.

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