Itchfoot klatawa copa h–l

It never gets old — reminding you that pidgin-creole languages like Chinuk Wawa are folk speech. They’re full of words that stodgy old regular languages disavow paternity of…

I think you’ll see what I mean in today’s quotation from the Daily Morning Astorian, December 29, 1888, page 2.

It comes from Heppner, northeastern Oregon, roughly 50 miles south of the Columbia River’s bend at the Tri-Cities of Washington and Hermiston/Umatilla in Oregon. The editors felt readers in that day would catch the drift, but I’ll give a translation. Some comments of mine follow all that, below.

Tough luck at Heppner

Tough Luck At Heppner.

A siwash [Indian] relates to the Heppner Gazette his ill-success at hunting as follows:


[1] Wake iscum hiyu moose-moose [2]; iscum totlum — halo gleas. Wake
Not get many cow; get ten — no fat. Not get
‘(I) haven’t got(ten) many deer (?); (I’ve) got ten — skinny ones. (I) haven’t’ 

iscum itchfoot [3]. Itchfoot klatawa copa h–l [4]. Halo tipso [5] memaloose
gotten bear. Bear go to hell. No grass die   
‘gotten any bear. The bears have gone to hell. There’s no grass,’

cuitan. Stick [6], hyas cultus. Mox sun midlite copa Ferguson illahe,
horse. Wood, very worthless. Two day stay at Ferguson place, 
‘the horses are dying. The woods are good for nothing. (We) stayed at Ferguson’s ranch,’

nika klootchman mamoke hiyu ictas [7]. ‘Spose nika marsh [8] hiyu itcas [sic],
my woman make many thing. If I get.rid.of many thing, 
‘my wife made a bunch of things. If I can unload a lot of stuff (and)’

iscum hiyu chickamon, klatawa copa Columbia chuck.”
get much money, go to Columbia River.
‘get a bunch of money, (I’ll) be heading for the Columbia River.’


[1] The speaker is represented as leaving out pronouns in most places where we’d expect them in Chinuk Wawa. This may be an indication that a place as far from the main stream of commerce along the Columbia as Heppner was saw less vigorous, less fluent Jargon usage than we find several miles northward. Nonetheless, keep reading for some highly skilled self-expression in the Jargon.

[2] moose-moose is ‘cow(s), cattle’. If we’re to interpret the editor seriously and take this as a hunting story, this is a fairly novel usage for ‘deer’. Very interestingly, Howard Berman’s scholarly article “The Position of Molalla in Plateau Penutian” (International Journal of American Linguistics Vol. 62, No. 1 (Jan., 1996), pp. 1-30) points out on page 17 that mosmas, mosmos (etc.) in that nearby language mean ‘black-tailed deer’! Berman notes that it may be a loan in Molalla, in which case it’d be quite an early one. [He doesn’t spell out that it’d be ultimately from Chinook Jargon, and would require many passing years to change meaning from ‘cow’ to ‘deer’.]

[3] itchfoot is a novel spelling for ‘bear’. When you compare it with the Grand Ronde spelling ítsx̣(w)ut, you can see that the “F” does a pretty good job representing the whispery (w) sound of Chinuk Wawa.

[4] h–l: need I say, this English word is a novelty in Chinook Jargon. I wouldn’t agree that it’s a synonym of the more widely-found kikuli paia (as they spelled it around Kamloops), which was a theological term. In today’s quotation, klatwa kopa h–l instead looks like it’s modeled on the slangy English expression ‘go to hell’ as in ‘become ruined’.

[5] tipso here could mean either ‘grass’ or, by extension, ‘hay’. Since the speaker is talking about a pretty mobile existence, I’m going with ‘grass’.

[6] There is also ambiguity in this stick. The word can refer to ‘the woods’ where the speaker has been hunting. Since he just discussed the difficulty of keeping horses alive and goes on to mention an idea for making some money, he could mean he’s considering cutting and selling ‘wood’, but rejecting it as not worth his time. As with tipso, I’m leaning towards taking him as commenting on the local environment.

[7] mamoke…ictas here would seem to refer to making baskets, moccasins, etc., the sorts of women’s handicrafts that were reliably sellable to White people.

[8] marsh is the answer to your prayers. I’ve lost track of how many times the question has come up about how to say ‘sell’ in the Jargon. Often we get hung up on the fact noted by several dictionaries that one and the same word can mean ‘buy’ and ‘sell’. Today’s speaker cuts right to a solution by using the word for ‘get rid of’!