Measuring cups

measuring cups

19th-century UK navy grog measures (image credit:

(File under cultural contact.) The conventionalized Salish measurements tended to be for two dimensions. Here’s a hint of 3-D.

Today I figured out a previously mysterious word in Upper Chehalis. Dale Kinkade’s dictionary rightly places one long-ago researcher’s < kotāʹnEmen > ‘cup’ under the entry for the root qʷó·ʔ ‘drink’. So that takes care of the < ko >  — but he doesn’t explain the rest of the word anywhere.

You might remember from George Gibbs 1863 a Chinook Jargon word for ‘measure’, < tahnim >. It’s also known from Father Lionnet’s 1853 Jargon lexicon, as < tanim >. That most likely came from Lower Chehalis, which has essentially the same word as Upper Chehalis’s root t̓ánimi- ‘to measure’. So now this takes care of the < tāʹnEme >.

And we know that in Upper Chehalis, there is a known variant form -n of the ‘instrument’ suffix -tin. So now we know:

Kinkade’s old mysterious word is in fact literally ‘drink-measuring instrument’! It’s seemingly a neologism to denote an artifact of acculturation, the European-style cup. One fact that reinforces that conclusion is that the other Tsamosan Salish languages each have their own similar, but I suppose independently coined, expressions. A second fact is that those words tend to include obviously recent loanwords that we know from the Jargon. Thus Cowlitz qʷóʔ-tn̓ ‘cup’ (drinking-instrument), Quinault qʷúʔ-kapi-tn ‘cup’ (drink-coffee-instrument), Lower Chehalis káʔp-uʔ ‘cup’ (cup-diminutive). So there’s no detectably old inherited native word being used for the new style of cup.

There are indeed ancient words for drinking vessels made from animal horn. I can think of one that got adapted into Chinuk Wawa: a ʹhorn or wooden spoonʹ used for food and drink is spelled mikwen in Father St Onge’s manuscript dictionary of 1892. That’s also from southwest Washington Salish: Cowlitz has məx̣kán- ‘horn, antlers, spoon [made of them]’, and Upper Chehalis has about the identical word for ‘antler’. These words don’t seem to go back to Proto-Salish, but I believe they’re native to SW WA Salish; I checked the Ichishkiin dictionary and Boas’s documentation of Lower Chinookan, and no loan sources suggested themselves.

The common word for ‘spoon’ in Jargon is spun, from way back, including St Onge’s sources. I take this as evidence that mikwen has a more specialized sense as a drinking vessel.

All in all I think we have here a very interesting little study where we see ancient Native words being pressed into service to denote brand-new objects!