Fleas, lice, & history

rats lice and history

(Image credit: Amazon.com)

Rats! This may be a tangle of coincidences, I’m not sure…

Etymologies haven’t to my knowledge been established for a couple of old words in the Chinook Jargon world…


Lower Chehalis Salish speakers have ʔácəpu / ʔácəpuʔ for ‘flea’. The version with a glottal stop at the end maybe shows that some folks thought of the word as ending in Lower Chehalis -uʔ ‘Diminutive’.


This word bears a resemblance to ʔínəpu ‘louse’ in Chinuk Wawa.

Both words look Chinookan to me. Thus, unrelated to Lower Chehalis.


The Chinookan neighbors of Lower Chehalis folks, as Franz Boas (1894, 1910) understood them from Charles Cultee, had -uqšt for ‘louse’, and no word for ‘flea’.


There is a potential world in which I am capable of imagining the cəp in ʔácəpu(ʔ) as being related to Chinookan and Chinuk Wawa supna ‘jump’…

…and the  nəp in ʔínəpu as being related to Lower Chehalis’s root nəp, as found in words for ‘angleworm’ (earthworm, right?) and ‘thousand-legs’ (millipede, right?).



…French pou /pu/ is ‘louse’ (and puce /püs/ is ‘flea’).

Which leads back around to a Lower Chehalis view! Because LC’s “Stative” prefix ʔac- / ʔəc- can go with a root as short as *pu, to mean something like ‘just being ___’.

Meanwhile, my basic understanding of Chinookan suggests that i- makes a Masculine noun, and n- a Locative reference, thus inpu might mean something on the order of ‘thing on a louse’ or ‘louse on a flea’. (???)

I can’t figure this out quite yet. Mental note for future research.