Idaho’s fictional Chinuk Wawa

fred g mock

Fred G. Mock (image credit:

A Romance of the Sawtooth is a novel of Idaho authored by Ogal Alla, a pseudonym for F[red] G. Mock (1861-1956).

And a dead giveaway of a pen name at that! That’s Lakota Sioux, as in the Oglala tribe, which has nearly zilch to do with Idaho but was one of the most recognizable Indian names at the time of publication. (1917, from the Press of the Syms-York Co., Boise.)

That already puts us on the alert for Chinuk Wawa, if any, being used as a mere dramatic device, likely to be really shaky as a model of how the language worked. You know me and my eternal vigilance against “fictional Chinook Jargon”!

Indeed, “Ogal Alla” starts right out with two dedications, the first of them in poetically arranged Jargon words [as usual, my explanatory comments are interpolated]:

Nika tikeh nika ole tilikums.
náyka tíki nayka úl tílixam-s

I want/like my old friend-s.
‘I love my old friends.’

Nika tikeh nika chee tilikums. 
náyka tíki nayka chxí tílixam-s.
I want/like my new friend-s.
‘I love my new friends.’

Pee ole tikeh elip hyas markook kopa konaway.
pi úl tíki íləp háyás(h)-mákuk kʰapa kánawi.
and/but old want most much-cost from all.
‘But old love is the most precious of all.’

I love the sentiment of that last sentence. (Pause.) It’s ungrammatical — not real Chinuk Wawa. Never in two centuries of documentation do we find tíki used as a noun!

This is a typical example of a non-Jargon speaker ignorantly or arrogantly (which view do you hate least?) grabbing a dictionary and dramatizing or dignifying (how do you see it?) their thoughts with foreign words shoved into English-language patterns.

The author overtly acknowledges the permission of none other than the J.K. Gill company of Portland, Oregon for permission to quote their famous multi-edition Jargon dictionary. He reproduces its “Lord’s Prayer” late in this book. It’s safe to assume he also mined their dictionary to concoct the above “Catch Phrase” (read on).

“Ogal Alla” did exactly the same in the flow of the plot, on page 148, when he slapped together this goofiness, which ironically or not echoes that of the dedication:

He would follow Chip about day after day. He wanted a Catch Phrase for his book. Chip couldn’t stand his annoyance any longer, so he gave him this one: ‘Anah klatawa kopa Peshak pekahta iskum wawa.’ The fellow was overjoyed with it, it sounded so nice he had it all wrote out; little Chip helped him with it, but when he asked the lad to say it over in our language, packed up his grips and left. Sure I’ll tell you what it means: ‘Ah, go to h— for Catch Phrases.’

Analyzing this morsel more than it deserves:

< Anah klatawa kopa Peshak pekahta iskum wawa. >
aná[,] ɬátwa kʰapa pʰishák pi qʰáta ískam wáwa
ah, go to wilderness/ and how/why get/catch words
‘Ah, go to a bad place, and what’s with the Catch Phrases!?’

Need I say that this is a newly invented and not entirely sensible or grammatical term for ‘catchphrase’. Nor do we have previous evidence that < peshak > ever meant the Christian ‘hell’.

There’s a tiny bit more of Jargon in this novel, which I’m not going to bother with here.

While “Romance of the Sawtooths” is no stupendous work of art — just a light regional diversion — it’s kind of neat to have a look at, for what it tells of people’s attitudes a century ago.

But man oh man, don’t use it as evidence for Chinook Jargon having been used in Idaho — or of how the Jargon was actually used at all!