Mock Chinook Jargon

ignis fatuus

(Image credit: The Weirdo)

The other day, I shared a couple of genuine Chinuk Wawa letters from the far northwest corner of Washington State, the Bellingham area.

Today, from the same region but instead continuing my sporadic Halloween theme, I share a spectre of Chinook from a website devoted to Daniel J. Harris.

It has to do with the Salish place name Whatcom:

     Charles Independence Roth came to Bellingham Bay as a young lawyer in 1882, married Henry Roeder’s lovely daughter, Lottie, on Sept. 16, 1885, and took over management of Henry’s Chuckanut Quarry in 1888. Dan decided to plat his townsite of “Fair Haven on Harris Bay” on Jan. 2, 1883, and Dan hired Roth to do the legal work. Roth likely regretted the association immediately. When Dan mused over selecting a name, Roth opened his big mouth and suggested that Dan could benefit from Whatcom’s recent publicity by calling Fairhaven “an addition to Whatcom.” Haight describes the rage that followed:

“Whatcom? Do you know what Whatcom is? It’s an ignus fat you-wus-wus (Chinook Jargon), that’s what it is. Do you what that means? It means, ‘now you’ve got your hand on it and now you haven’t.’ It means, ‘it’s always comin’ and never comes!’ ” [Journal Ed. note: either Haight or Harris was creative with the Jargon or that phrase is a typo because it does not appear in any Jargon dictionary.]

I’d like to think that Ed.’s note is purposeful playfulness — because what Haight was hollering was the Latin-to-English loan ignis fatuus, literally ‘fool’s fire’ but traditionally will o’ the wisp’ back in the old country.

Maybe I’m just seeing skookooms everywhere 🙂 Out there boiling their blubber, you know

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