“Precious Waters”, fictional Chinook Jargon, & cussin’

Sorry! But we have here a BC writer who (accurately) combines Chinuk Wawa with other pidgins and a few swear words in his Western novel.Precious Waters illustration 1

Arthur Murray Chisholm (1871-1960) wrote “Precious Waters” (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Page, 1913) [illustrated by Clarence Rowe].

If you look at this piece of literature in one light, you’re going to see plenty of ethnic stereotyping.

Considered another way, Chisholm really nails the actual conditions on the later Northwest frontier, where we already know that the Jargon existed in a multiethnic mix with Chinese Pidgin English, pidgin Englishes of Native people, and generally informal “street” English, therefore including some cuss words.

Have a look.

Here we have the symbolic use of Jargon, in naming pioneer settlers’ landholdings:

Precious Waters 01

The riders drew up at the platform, and Casey Dunne hailed the agent. “Hallo, Corney! Any freight for Talapus or Chakchak?” The last was the name of his own ranch, and in the Chinook jargon signified an eagle.

— page 69 [“Talapus” (‘Coyote’) is the character Donald McCrae’s ranch]

And here is an explicltly acknowledged hybrid of Chinese Pidgin English with Jargon, as we have encountered in real-life documentation:

Precious Waters 02

“Hey, you, Feng!” Casey cried, to a white-aproned, grinning Chinaman, “you catch two ice drink quick — hiyu ice, you savvy! Catch claret wine, catch cracker, catch cake. Missy hiyu dry, hiyu hungry. Get a hustle on you, now!”

Feng, understanding perfectly the curious mixture of pidgin and Chinook, vanished soft-footed. They entered the living room of the bungalow.

— page 83

And here is a Native character in a misunderstanding staged for humorous effect. (In reality, the one occurrence of a “dam” on a stream that I know of in Chinuk Wawa comes from Chisholm’s neck of the woods, southern British Columbia!) The author adds a footnote that conveys his view of CW as a kind of pidgin English/French:

Precious Waters 03

Keeler brought up old Simon, and Farwell endeavoured to explain what was wanted in language which he considered suited to the comprehension of a representative of the original North American race. He had a smattering of Chinook*, and for the rest he depended on gestures and a loud voice, having the idea that every man can understand English if it be spoken loudly enough.

“Simon,” said he, “last night bad man come and mamook raise heap hell. Him blow up dam. You savvy ‘dam,’ hey?”

“Ah-ha!” Simon grunted proudly. “Me kumtuks. Me kumtuks hell. Me kumtuks dam. Dam good, dam bad; godam –“

* AUTHOR’S NOTE. — Chinook, the trade jargon of the Pacific coast, is similar in origin to the pidgin English of China. It is composite, its root words being taken from various tribal vocabularies and from the French and English languages. The spelling conforms to the pronunciation, and the latter in most cases is merely the Indian rendering of French and English word sounds. It is, in fact, an Indian Volapuk, used extensively by the tribes of Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. The number of words is comparatively small, probably not exceeding nine hundred. Therefore each has various meanings, rendered by shades of pronunciation or by combination with other words. Thus the word “mamook,” signifying to do, to make, to perform, or anything denoting action, begins some two hundred phrases, for each of which there is one equivalent English word. Its nearest parallel is the French verb “faire,” and its use is much the same. It is impossible in this space to attempt a vocabulary. “Halo” is the general negative. Throughout I have endeavoured to supply the meaning by the context.

— page 164


Precious Waters 04

“No, no!” rasped Farwell. “Halo cuss word — no bad word — no. D-a-m, ‘dam.’ Oh, Lord, the alphabet’s wasted on him, of course. What’s Siwash for dam, Keeler?”

“Search me, said Keeler; “but ‘pence‘ is Chinook for fence, and ‘chuck‘ means water. Try him with that.” And Farwell tried again.

“Now, see, Simon! Last night hiyu cultus man come. Bring dynamite — hiyu skookum powder. Put um in dam — in chuck pence. Set um off. Mamook poo! — all same shoot. Bang! Whoosh! Up she go!” He waved his hand at the wreck. “You kumtuks that?”

Simon nodded, understanding.

Mamook bang,” said he; “mamook bust!”

“Right,” Farwell agreed. “Cultus man come at night. Dark. Black. No see um.” He made a footprint in the earth, pointed at it and then to Simon, and waved a hand at the horizon generally. “You find trail, follow, catch um. Hey, can you do that, Simon? And I’ll bet,” he added to Keeler, “the infernal old blockhead doesn’t understand a word I’ve said.”

But Simon’s reply indicated not only comprehension, but a tolerable acquaintance with modern business methods. Said he:

“How moch you give?”

Keeler grinned. “I think he gets you,” he commented.

— page 165

Here we have a white leading character professing his frontier cosmopolitan bona fides:

Precious Waters 05.png

“And I talk United States, Chinook, and some Cree — we ought to get along almost anywhere,” he laughed. “Let’s leave this Europe business open. Now here’s a really serious question: When our honeymoon is over — what?”

— page 422

For fictional Chinook Jargon, I think Chisholm’s is a neat paradox. It’s not the pure item. But it’s a realistic portrayal of one important facet of the Jargon’s actual use.