Antedating “Chinook wind”…back to Chinuk Wawa?

Chinook Winds

(image credit: Wikipedia)

One of those “I thought I’d already written about this” moments…

Up front I’ll admit I’ve always figured the expression “Chinook wind“, for our warm Pacific Northwest winds from the ocean, must be purely English. And that’s despite its containing two perfectly good Chinuk Wawa words.

Because all these years, I’d never seen the phrase used within a CW context.

And in English, it’s a regionalism used well beyond the known territory of CW. Folks use it a lot in Alberta, Canada, for instance, as well as in Montana. You’ll even hear Coloradans talk about these winds. You don’t get that kind of “isogloss” (boundary of a word’s geographical distribution) with other Jargon loans like skookum, tyee, or salt chuck…

One more point. To judge by a search for its earliest appearances in print, “Chinook wind” is a latecomer. The earliest I’ve gotten it from Google Books is a post-frontier, 1887 occurrence in Oregon’s The West Shore. Newspapers have it a generation earlier, which still seems a bit late in Jargon terms: an 1865 article in The Idaho World  contains the expression.


Yes, there’s a but.

Along comes the previously unresearched manuscript dictionary by Father St. Onge, finished in 1892 but composed of his Chinuk Wawa knowledge from ca. 1870 in the lower Columbia River-region heartland of the Jargon. Lo and behold, he gives an entry to Chinuk-win ‘west-wind’!

This finding could knock down two of my three objections (geographical and linguistic).

As for the third (timing), I see that as indeterminate, since 1870 is somewhat late in the CW game:

On the one hand, our 1865 southern Idaho find might be evidence of use in the Jargon, as folks still knew the language in that place during the Civil War era.

On the other, St. O. conceivably retrofitted an expression fashionable in 1890’s Pacific NW English onto the Jargon as he was then documenting it. (And we know he actively kept in touch, from his Quebec/New York locations, with folks out here; he was a major correspondent of the Native “Chinook Writers” of BC and of Kamloops Wawa‘s Father Le Jeune, for example.)

That’s what I have for you today. Puzzling evidence!

What do you think?