Testicles: a European metaphor in Chinuk Wawa

Set phasers on stón! But I doubt you’ll be stunned by this one.

From very early in its history, Chinuk Wawa is known to have a word for ‘testicles’, which is stón.

This stón also means ‘stone; rock’, and of course it derives from the English language’s stone. There are several kinds of stón in Chinuk Wawa, such as łiʔil-stón ‘coal’ (‘black-stone’), tk’úp-stón ‘quartz’ (‘white-stone’), and mə́skit-stón / páya-stón ‘flint’ (‘gun-stone’ / ‘fire-stone’).

Mineral ‘ore’ is stón-chíkʰəmin or chíkʰəmin-stón (‘rock-metal’ or ‘metal-rock’), which makes the 1880s Okanogan-country personal name of prospector Horace L. “Chickamin” Stone a good pun!

But in colloquial, informal English — which I always remind you is the level of language that interacted with Chinook Jargon — stones has a long track record in an extended meaning based on shape: ‘testicles’. It’s known as far back as 1154 AD, in fact. So that particular metaphor is totally European — it’s mighty White. I’d infer that the sailing ships bringing White folks and encountering Native people in the Pacific Northwest in the late 1700s and early 1800s also brought this metaphor.

And it makes the aforementioned Horace Stone’s nickname even funnier, in a “brass balls” sort of way.

(Which reminds me of my Spokane great-uncle back in the day who had a “Newton’s cradle” — see illustration — and always joked about it being “Nixon’s balls”!)


Newton’s cradle (image credit: How Stuff Works)

Extensions of this metaphor within Chinook Jargon include stón-míłayt ‘non-castratus’ and hílu-stón ‘castratus’, in the now quaint and prissy-sounding language of Catholic missionary Demers quoted in the Grand Ronde tribal dictionary of 2012. That’s literally ‘(whose) testicles are there’ and ‘(who has) no testicles’, respectively. ‘To castrate’ is másh-stón (‘remove/throw away testicles’) or mamuk-łáq-stón kʰíyutən (‘take off testicles (from a) horse’). A stón-kʰíyutən is a stallion.

I’ve personally heard one or two new coinages from present-day Chinuk Wawa speakers, too, which I’ll leave to your imagination.

A separate development of stón within the Jargon, this one based on the physical property of hardness, is the word’s early use as ‘bone; horn; (finger/toe)nail’.

Meanwhile, another English loanword into Jargon, ball(s), also meant ‘testicles’ in Britain as far back as the 14th century. But it failed to take on any meaning except ‘the little bits of lead that get shot out of a gun’ in Chinuk Wawa. This has to do with the simple fact that it was mostly Métis/Canadian French la balle / les balles that brought us Chinuk Wawa’s word, lapál. My main evidence for an English-sourced version of the Jargon word is J.B. Good’s 1880 vocabulary from southern Interior BC, with its < ball > ‘[lead] ball’ and < musket yaka ball > ‘bullet’. Rev. Good being a minister, I imagine he didn’t do much talking about testicles anyway — I only know of two relevant but minor Bible passages, both involving “crushed testicles“!

Linguistic history can be capricious.

What do you think?