Our Jargon, and frontier humor

From the real olden days when frontier California, for US settlers’ purposes, was northern California, and an integral part of Cascadia.

Here’s an early commentary from a newspaper whose relationship with Mark Twain seems like it may’ve rubbed off on the editor.

That region had a historic acquaintance with Chinuk Wawa, but it must’ve been somewhat less close to the heart than we know the Jargon to have been for the neighbors up in Oregon.

Our Jargon.jpg

OUR JARGON. — The Alta California in speaking of the propensity of Americans to incorporate the language of the country they happen to reside in into the English language, says:

Oregon “outherods Herod,” however, and the “jargon” of that territory is enough to drive a mild man of nervous temperament distracted. Yet the newspapers rejoice in the proficiency which they have acquired in the refined and sententious Chinook.

The Alta censures the senseless practice of newspapers constantly using these jargon phrases as follows:

And now we have done with these precious bits of “cumtuxiana” and feel prepared to denounce this system of palaver as the most solemn of humbugs.

To be as serious as we can with the subject, it is high time that we begin to clothe our home spun Yankee ideas in the sound, substantial fabric used by our forefathers, altogether, and to extirpate from the prolific and beatiful gardens of English language the many uncouth and tawdry weeds of foreign culture that have taken root with us.

— from the Weekly Oregon Statesman of August 12, 1851, page 2, column 4

This rings like the humorously hyperbolic opinions of Twain — did you ever read his ear-scorching thoughts on the Book of Mormon? It can’t be entirely serious.

[See also: Randall V. Mills, “Frontier Humor in Oregon and Its Characteristics“, page 341 of which incidentally quotes Dr. McLoughlin’s Chinuk Wawa “hiack ‘tsuck!” (‘hurry, water!’) before getting to Cumtuxiana on page 344. There, he footnotes, “Often overlooked is the extent of the use of the Jargon in the humor and common affairs of the white men of the Pacific Northwest.” I would expand that; we’ve seen Chinuk Wawa humor from all sorts of people. Mills additionally quotes on page 349 from “A Melodrame…” whose dialogue includes konaway kawqua, Jargon for ‘all like that’.]

randall mills konaway kawqua

[Mills comments after this:]

randall mills yokel

[Another Chinook Jargon tinge on Oregon humor appears on page 355, in the discussion of a scientific hoax announcing the discovery there of an animal called the Gyascutus, which Mills astutely notices is mighty similar to hyas cultus, ‘a great fraud’.]

But, back to the Alta California now: these five paragraphs also reflect factual conditions. Californians as a rule never needed to be quite as conversant with Chinook Jargon as Whites farther north had to become. Thanks (?) to the late-1840s gold rush, California fast got overrun with non-Indigneous people, so they could usually get along just fine with English from the start of the state’s American history.

This is why Californians might indeed feel exasperation at the more Chinuk Wawa-tinged speech habits of Webfeet, be it in person as visitors or via the few — therefore very widely circulating — newspapers yet in operation on the Pacific Coast.

(As my readers often see on my site, frontier-based newspapers, especially in Oregon, exhibited quite a propensity for printing uninterpreted Jargon.)

San Franciscans felt excluded from the oldtimers’ club, if you ask me! This anti-Jargon sentiment is cloaked in the existing, dominant anti-White sentiment that ruled American California. [Randall Mills’ article in fact notes on page 351 an already existing rivalry between California and Oregon.] 

What do you think?

And can you explain “outheroding Herod” to me? I’m that rusty with my Bible knowledge…