Vintage Canuck political humour

cariboo lake

A shallow stretch of Cariboo Lake (image credit: Google)

Untranslated Chinook Jargon in your local paper…

…meant you were in on the joke.

hiyou chuck and tenas skookum ice

WATER STRETCHES. — One day last week while Mr. Wm. Pattullo [1841-????] was crossing Cariboo Lake on the ice, with the Keithley Creek mails and express, he broke through the top layer into two feet of water and slush ice, but succeeded with some difficulty in reaching terra firma none the worse of a little ducking. Mr. P. is of opinion that propelling a pair of snow-shoes, without paddles, in two feet of water and slush ice, with 220 lbs. on board, is rather dangerous, and a poor way of utilizing [Prime Minister Alexander] Mackenzie‘s magnificent water-stretches. We would advise the public not to utilize these water stretches in that way this spring, as there is hiyou chuck and tenas skookum ice for safety. — COM.

— from the Barkerville (BC) Cariboo Sentinel of April 24, 1875, page 3, column 1

“Magnificent water stretches” was a popular phrase in the political debates of the time over railroad building in Canada. PM Mackenzie may have been dogged by it; I found a debate a decade later still turning on this expression.

Ah, and the Chinook in the above article — it’s pretty self-explanatory:

  • < hiyou chuck > is háyú chə́qw ‘lots of water’
  • < tenas skookum ice > is tənás* skúkum áys ‘(only) a little bit of strong ice’

The asterisk means that it’s somewhat hard to infer the pronunciation that was used for < tenas >. Using all the documentary evidence I know of, I lean towards something like “tun-ASS” or “ten-ASS” or “TEN-ass”. Hopefully with this guess I’m not making too much of an ass of myself.

Another little point: I recently drew your attention to the fact that < ice > is really a word of Chinuk Wawa. This is especially true in British Columbia, where you hardly find traces of old expressions for it like

  • laklas from French la glace;
  • the reduplicated (and therefore early creole) q’ə́l-q’əl-tsə́qw ‘hard-hard water’;
  • and Horatio Hale’s tíl-tsə́qw ‘heavy water’ (too bad because that would make a nice pun, ‘tired water’, in the above Barkerville article!).

And that fits with the pattern I like to remind you of, with Chinook Jargon losing old words when it moved to newer, later locales of use; new words from English then usually filled in the gaps.

william pattullo

William Pattullo (image credit: BC Archives)


What do you think?