Bring out the wapsina! When the Redmen come to town, you go full Chinook Jargon

a.m. williams

A.M. Williams Dry Goods, est. 1870, The Dalles (image credit: Old Oregon Photos)

Does sex sell dry goods to Red Men? 

Among one newspaper page’s items pertaining to an upcoming convention of the Improved Order of Red Men is this advertisement, with an unexpected puzzle to challenge my readers with:

Hiyou skookum ictus copa A.M. Williams & Co.’s tomollow sun. Yaka ticke conoway Redmen tyhe chaco nanitch. A.M. Williams & Co. iskum moxt lumyi cloochmen pe ict tenas wapsina. 

— The Dalles (OR) Daily Chronicle of May 15, 1897, page 3, column 1

We’ve previously seen how Chinook Jargon was used to curry favour with this post-frontier era, non-Native, organization in Baker City, Oregon, so the above is no news in that respect. (See “Baker is Wide Open!“)

But, breaking this commercial-grade Chinuk Wawa down, we’ll see something really interesting (besides its foreshadowing of the classic strip-club marquee message, “50 beautiful girls and one ugly one’):

Hiyou skookum [1] ictus copa [2] A.M. Williams & Co.’s tomollow sun [3]. Yaka
Háyú skúkum íktas kʰapa A.M. Williams & Co.’s tumála-sán. Yáka
Many excellent things at A.M. Williams & Co.’s tomorrow day. He
‘Many fine items at A.M. Williams & Co.’s tomorrow. He’

ticke [4] conoway Redmen tyhe chaco nanitch. A.M. Williams & Co. iskum [5]
tíki kánawi Redmen táyí cháku nánich. A.M. Williams & Co. ískam
want all Redmen chief come see. A.M. Williams & Co. get
‘wants all the Redmen chiefs to come see. A.M. Williams & Co. has got’  

moxt lumyi cloochmen [6] pe ict tenas wapsina [7].
mákwst lamiyáy ɬúchmən pi íxt tənəs-???.
two old.lady woman and one little-???.
‘two old ladies and one young ?girl? [shop assistants].’

Can you believe I got 7 footnotes out of that? That’s why you Hire A Linguist!

[1] skookum, when used to mean ‘fine, excellent’ is more a reflection of the word’s use in local English than in Jargon, where it mostly means ‘strong, stout’.

[2] …ictus copa... ‘items at’ is again a close match for English-language conventions, this time those of newspaper ad copy. Otherwise, it’s just mediocre or bad Chinuk Wawa, since we’d expect the “be-verb” ~ mitlite ‘are located’, not the null (unpronounced/lack of a) be-verb, which is properly used in expressing identity or description as in “Nika Dave” (I’m Dave).

[3] tomollow sun is perfectly good Jargon, just a kind of rare synonym for plain old tomollow (see another Eastern Oregon example in “Tilakums Katsuk, Swastikas, and the Bannock War“).

[4] ticke ‘wants [them] to [do such and such]’ would, in more fluent Chinuk Wawa, be something like ticke spose ‘wants that [they do such and such]’. I sense the influence of English here as well.

[5] iskum ‘to get’, therefore ‘has gotten’, strikes me as a straightforward bad translation of English ‘has got’, that is, ‘has’. The verb iskum would never be used to express ‘have’ in fluent Jargon.

[6] lumyi cloochmen is yet again a clumsy, over-literal translation; it’s obviously based on English ‘old ladies’, but the Chinook Jargon word lumyi means ‘old lady’ all by itself. So lumyi cloochmen = ‘old lady women’, a phrasing I’ve never encountered in CJ and don’t expect to!

[7] wapsina is our discovery, and our mystery. I have not been able to locate this word in any existing Chinuk Wawa documentation. I’ve also checked in the tribal Chinookan and Sahaptin languages, thinking that those might’ve provided a loanword into Dalles-area CW. Should I be trying Paiute? Totally in the dark here, except that I’m convinced it means “[attractive nubile young] woman”, given the laborious emphasis on ‘old ladies’ that precedes it! Since we’ve seen a previous coded Red Men message in Jargon promising booze & sex, I’m convinced something similar is going on in this newspaper ad.

CROWDSOURCING CHALLENGE: can you help find the Native source of this wapsina? (Heaven forbid it’s some local English mock-Indian slang, yikes.)

Summary: today’s brief text is the work of someone who natively spoke English and assumed other Settlers would catch his drift.

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