J.A. Meyers of Meyers Falls, Washington remembers…

“Many residents”?Amend that to “everyone”, and what follows is a pretty accurate recollection of Chinuk Wawa from the northeastern corner of Washington State, where it once flourished in use between settlers and Salish people.

meyers fallsMany residents of Stevens county are living on historic Indian ground. Wood and vale, valley and stream were early delights of the hunters, trappers, anglers and roving bands of Indian predecessors. We retain many of the Indian terms in our geographical expressions, and we likewise have with us a number of words which were adopted during the Hudson’s Bay days, these words being the commonly termed Chinook, which language is claimed to have less than 100 words. Such words as skookum, tillicum, potlatch, are commonly used, yet the original meanings are becoming lost in present usage.

J. A. Meyers of Meyers Falls, one of the earliest white settlers of this valley, is an authority on the original meanings of most of the Chinook words. During last Yep-Kanum, when Indian terms were largely in evidence, he noted the extravagant meanings which are now being given to some of the old Chinook words, and on his authority we give some of the terms most widely known.

Skookum — Strong.
Hi yu — Plenty, much.
Tillicum — Blood relative.
Potlatch — Gift, or to give.
Cultus — No account, trifling, little value. Thus a cultus potlatch would be a free gift, with no consideration or ulterior motive.
Mokook — Trade, barter.
Muck-a-muck — Food.
Close — Good.

Spokane ladies have a “Cultus Club.” The Chinook version of such a name would not be complimentary to the membership. The word cultus when applied to a person is an extremely derogatory term, and has become a word in general use in this country. Potlatch and pow-wow are now widely known.

— from the Colville (WA) Examiner of December 13, 1913, page 1, column 3

The implied claim that pow-wow is a Jargon word is one of the earliest such for that word, which also appears in the Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary of 2012 as both a verb an a noun. Because other Eastern Indian loanwords into American English (including “papoose” and “squaw”) made their way into at least settlers’ Chinuk Wawa usage, this is worth noting.

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