kinikinik from Mississippi Valley French

Lots of us here in the Pacific Northwest know the word “kinnikinnick”. The spelling might be tricky. (I personally have to check every time I write it!)

It’s also sort of nebulous what plant product the word refers to.

I remember my dad pointing out Arctostaphylus uva-ursi, bearberry, to me as “kinnikinnick” on a hike. So that’s my association with the word.


Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (image credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve read any significant amount of regional lore, you may also know that the word kinnikinnick traditionally applies to a pipe-smoking mixture. A tobacco equivalent was concocted by mixing dried mullein leaves, willow bark, or any of a range of other botanical materials. My experiments making and smoking it a few years ago had…okay results, but I bet an expert could make a fine blend.

This is a word of Chinuk Wawa. The 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary enters it as kʰinikʰinik, with variant forms being kʰinik and kʰilikʰinik.

In that word’s entry, the dictionary notes that it’s “shared by Canadian French and local English, and could have entered Chinuk Wawa from either” (page 272).

I thought it might be nice to share a specific source as an authority on the French side.

John Francis McDermott’s 1941 “Glossary of Mississippi Valley French” gives the following entry:

kinikinik, kinikinick, Ind., n.m. An Indian smoking mixture made principally of various kinds of bark. By Ruxton spelled kinnik-kinnik…; by E. James, kinne canick…; by Townsend, kanikanik…; by Arese, canicanick… See bois roulé.

[At that entry, Coues’ edition of Lewis & Clark is cited as telling that the Sioux used the word kinikinik for what “the French traders call bois roulé“. My nonnative understanding of the latter phrase is as ‘rolled or smoothed wood’. Anyone have more insight?]

An interesting little bit of extra information for your Jargon appreciation.

What do you think?
kata maika tomtom?