Cultus cod

You learn a lot when you think about who borrowed what…

My readers know that I often discuss where Chinook Jargon got various words from. And I’m fond of showing Jargon words, sometimes in covert form, in the Native languages of the Pacific Northwest.

Then there are the CJ words that got taken into regional English. That’s typically a whole ‘nother vocabulary from those that the Native languages picked up.


Well now, English already had a lot of the concepts (like denominations of money) that the Native languages found Jargon a useful source for.

But what did English lack when it came to the PNW?

Right, names for local species and local cultural practices. Some of those became entrenched and well-known (“Chinook wind”, “potlatch”).

Others are more obscure.

Such as?

Cultus cod.

The Cultus Cod, Ophiodon elongatus, is universally called “Cod-fish,” where the true cod is unknown. About Puget Sound the English call it “Ling.” Among the Americans the word “cod” is used with some distinctive adjective, as Cultus Cod (“cultus” in the Chinook jargon meaning of little worth), “Bastard Cod,” “Buffalo Cod,” etc. The name “Blue Cod” is also given to it from the color of its flesh The name “Rock Cod,” applied to other Chiroids and to Sebastichthys, and thence even transferred to Serranus, comes from an appreciation of their affinity to Ophiodon, and not from any supposed resemblance to the true cod-fish. The Cultus Cod reaches a length of five feet, and a weight of fifty or sixty pounds, the largest specimens being taken in northern waters. — ibid.

The adjective cultus was one of the top 10 Jargon loanwords into our regional English, I’d estimate. You find it all over oldtime newspapers, books, and personal documents, and plenty of humans (usually male…) were known by names like Cultus Dave.

And this name cultus cod was pretty widely used at one time. I find it in a newspaper search as far back as 1862 in Washington state (overtly distinguished as a name used by White people, i.e. a loan into English, because Chinook Jargon was then in daily use by others).

It must have remained largely a spoken, not written, usage — the next occurrence in WA newspapers is twenty years later, twenty-seven for Oregon. Google Books first finds it in 1887.

By 1889 newspapers outside the Pacific NW, apparently in ignorance of the word’s meaning, are trumpeting the “discovery” of cultus cod as a new food fish on the market.

The latest occurrence of the word in my brief newspaper search is a 1914 Alaskan occurrence; after that, it seems to have faded away.

So there you go, a long-lost piece of our region’s Chinook Jargon history, hidden in an obscure dialect word in English.

PS: An extra challenge: Does anyone have any evidence of Chinuk Wawa loans into French as used in the Northwest? We know that that flavor of French carried a number of Eastern Native loanwords, and in turn, donated a ton of vocabulary to CW. Did it borrow back?