Of course Chinuk Wawa was printed in Oregon’s first newspaper!

flumgudgeon gazette

Indian dialogue with a Boston (image credit: The Handwritten Newspapers Project)

It’s ridiculously Western.

The first newspaper published in Oregon carried the smartass name,

Flumgudgeon Gazette (and Bumblebee Budget): A Newspaper of the Salmagundi Order and Devoted to Scratching and Stinging the Follies of the Times“.

(Definition of “salmagundi“, with its connection to “Solomon Grundy”.)

It was edited by “Curltail Coon”.

And it was written by hand.

That bodes well for us Chinook Jargon types. The earthier the personality, the more likely they hung out on the street talking Chinuk Wawa. Which means, good Chinuk Wawa.

Sure enough, Mr. Coon’s eight issue (volume 1, number 8, August 20, 1845) devotes a leisurely page-plus to an:


Which contains a bunch of untutored, creatively spelled, Jargon that I hear as fluent in a recognizably Oregon accent. This is quite a discovery from early in Oregon’s settler history.

[I’m working mostly from Lawrence Clark Powell’s OHQ article here, with some reference to the above image. However, I’ll leave out Powell’s few comments, which don’t demonstrate enormous understanding of Chinuk Wawa.]

The Editor was accosted by a savage Tilicum [s(h)áwásh tílixam, ‘Indian friend’] [1] a few days since, with the inquiry, as to what they were doing in the “wawa house” [wáwa-háws, ‘talk house; legislature’] [2] — with that striped and spotted sail [t’sə́m-síl, ‘printed cloth; calico; flag’] [3] waving over it. Now as the Editor would have been at a loss to explain their movements in English, on account of their varied evolutions, manoevuring [sic], marching, countermarching, double dealing, and tangling up of affairs, it proved a much greater difficulty to translate it into the jargon — a language in the vulgar tongue which he but imperfectly understood, having only acquired enough of it to do the small necessary trading. But as Mr. Tilicum was a particular friend of ours, and paused for a reply from us, we thought we would do our best to enlighten him. So says we — 

Conoway Willamette Boston Tilicum mammuc ocoke tatalum pe clone
kánawi Willamette bástən-tílixam mámuk úkuk táɬlam pi ɬún
all Willamette American-people make those ten and three
‘All of the Americans have made those thirteen’

tilicum tiees, and wawaed Klaska chokco [4] cuppa Tumwater pe mamuc
tílixam táyí-s … wáwa … ɬáska cháku kʰapa Tə́mwáta pi mámuk
people chief-Plural … tell … them come to Oregon.City and make
‘people chiefs, and told them to come to Oregon City and write’

close papier.
ɬúsh pípa
good paper

‘good papers.’

Icta close papier? [íkta ɬúsh pípa? ‘What (kind of) good papers?’] says he. Now as we could not undertake to explain all the laws, we commenced telling about one in which they are much interested, as many frauds are committed on them in their trading operations with the Bostons, in the shirt[,] blanket and skin line. 

This was the law compelling the payment of debts…We then told him of the currency bill, with which he seemed pretty well pleased; but offered an amendment…that…an addition be made in the variety of the circulating medium, and regarded as legal tender, to wit: olilleis [úlali-s ‘berries’], cammas [kámas ‘camas roots’], salmon [sámən ‘salmon; fish’] and salmon skin [sámən-skín ‘salmon skins’] [5], mowitch skin [máwich-skín ‘deerskins’], as well as all other kind of skin [skín ‘hides, pelts’] usually traded by them. 

But says he, you told me they come to mammuc papier [mámuk pípa ‘write’], why do they mamuc [mámuk ‘make; do’] so much hias wawa [háyásh-wáwa ‘big talking’] [6]? O says we,

wake seia conoway ocoke wawa — cultus wawa — cokqua hias wind; hias pilton
wik-sayá kánawi úkuk wáwa — kʰə́ltəs-wáwa — kákwa háyás(h) wín; hayas(h)-píltən
not-far all that talk — worthless-talk — like big wind; much-crazy
‘Almost all of that talking is idle chatter — it’s like a big wind; very crazy’

wawa; wake seia conoway ocoke tillicum, wake cumtux icta Klaska wawa.
wáwa; wik-sayá kánawi úkuk tílixam, wík kə́mtəks íkta ɬáska wáwa.
talk; not-far all those people, not know what they say.

‘talk; almost all of those folks don’t know what they’re talking about.’

Nowwitka six! [nawítka s(h)íks ‘true, friend’] says he. Clonas nica cumtux cokqua. [t’ɬúnas náyka kə́mtəks kákwa ‘I reckon I can understand (it like) that.’] 

But says he, cotta icht man mamuc hiu hias sollux wawa hias poo? [7] [qʰáta íxt mán mámuk háyú háyás(h)-sáliks-wáwa[,] háyás(h)-pú ‘How is it that a person can make (so) much angry noise (and puffing and) blowing?’] That’s Buncombe [“bunk”, ridiculous] wawa [‘talk’]says we. Icta ocoke? [íkta úkuk ‘What is that?’] Now as an explanation of this would have been unintelligible to our friend from Clackamas City, as they have no such thing known in their legislative proceedings we concluded to drop the subject by saying Clahowayou six ulta nica clatawa cuppa theatre. ɬax̣á(w)ya(m) s(h)íks(h)[,] álta náyka ɬátwa kʰapa theatre ‘goodbye friend, I’m going to the theatre now.’]

— reproduced from page 208 of Oregon Historical Quarterly 1940:2 article “Flumgudgeon Gazette in 1845 Antedated the Spectator” (pages 203-211)


[1] < savage Tilicum > very possibly reflects both Chinuk Wawa shawash tilixam ‘Indian friend’ and an awareness that shawash is related to English ‘savage’, a word still in use at the time to refer to Native people.

[2] < “wawa house” > is a new find. It may have been coined by Mr. Coon for humorous effect.

[3] < striped and spotted sail > reflects genuine Chinuk Wawa. George Gibbs (1863) records < tzum sail > ‘printed cloth or calico’ in the same general region. It would be a recognizable description of flags as well, although editor Coon could have concocted this new expression too for maximal laughs. Existing documentation of the language tells us that < Sunday sail > was the known term for ‘flag’.

[4] < wawaed Klaska chokco > is absolutely fine Jargon if it’s a direct quotation ‘told them, “Come” ‘. It’s nonstandard and less fluent if it was intended as an indirect quotation ‘told them to come’, which we’d expect to mark the subordinate clause with pus as in wawa ɬaska pus chaku. 

[5] < salmon skin> is a new expression to me in Jargon, but I’ve got no doubt that it comes from actual circumstances. Salmon skin was useful in making certain baskets, for instance, as well as in making leggings, moccasins, bows and other products.

[6] < hias wawa > is also new to us, in this sense of ‘self-important talk’, which is confirmed by the following English-language slang word “Buncombe”. Most existing sources report this phrase with a meaning of ‘shouting’.

[7] < hias poo >, given the preceding context of < hias wawa > and < Buncombe wawa >, seems humorously connected with then-current idioms in English of sometimes comical exertion, like ‘puffing and blowing’.  I don’t believe that this < poo > is the Jargon word for ‘shooting (guns)’! (Grand Ronde’s p’ú.) Nor ‘farting’. (Grand Ronde’s p’úʔ.) Instead I connect it with some dictionaries’ < poh > etc., ‘blow’, seen in the Grand Ronde Tribes 2012 dictionary as the distinctly Salish-derived p’úx̣ən.