“toque” in Mississippi Valley French, eh?


(Image credit: BobAndDoug.com)

Also in the list of North American French-isms that became Chinook Jargon: “toque”.

As spelled in the Grand Ronde Tribes 2012 dictionary, that’s lachúk or chúk. It’s latuk in Father Demers’ 1871 dictionary, based on his 1830s experiences in the general Fort Vancouver “creole homeland” region.

The only reasons I’m putting up this post about it today are —

(A) I get to use Bob & Doug & Geddy for the illustration of toque’s meaning “cap with a tassel” (more fun when you bang your head), and

(B) the Grand Ronde dictionary doesn’t cite a specific French etymological source, so I can quote from my well-thumbed copy of McDermott’s 1941 “Dictionary of Mississippi Valley French”, which spells it (page 142) as toque whereas some sources have it as tuque.

I think you’ll be amazed and fascinated by its historical meaning there, and you’ll gain a deeper understanding of why the Jargon word properly refers just to caps with that fuzzy ball:

toque, n[oun].f[eminine]. A style of hair-dressing among the Indians.

“The toque among the Blackfeet is a tail, seven or eight feet long, made of horse and buffalo hair, interwoven with their own. But instead of floating behind in the ordinary way, this tail is located upon the party’s forehead and stands out spirally, something like a rhinoceros horn. Such a tail among the Blackfeet is a mark of great distinction and bravery; the longer the tail the greater the courage the bearer must display upon occasion” (De Smet, Life and Travels, II, 590). See also Hodge, Handbook, I, 524-526.

I was once offered a traditional hand-knitted voyageur toque, nice and long and with the little pocket at the end for your tobacco! (I guess the smoking mix substitutes for the tassel!) Sadly, the hand knitting never occurred 😦 😦 😦 Too bad, because the closest this longtime bald guy is ever getting to sporting a Blackeet toque will have to be artificial!

Fun bonus fact: Hodge, cited above, also has toque meaning a maple-sugar snowball in Québec! Okay, now I want more than one toque…

All of this, thanks to linguistic archaeology.

qʰáta máyka tə́mtəm?
What do you think?