Just in time for April Fools Day — a new word for ‘trick’?*

*(Sorry, but this post is NOT a joke.) Readers, help me figure out a puzzle…have we found a new Chinuk Wawa word?

I’ve been reading my way through the longest book in British Columbia’s Chinuk Pipa alphabet (it’s also the longest book in Chinook Jargon), the 1902 “Chinook Book of Devotions“.

That’s where I’m finding this song in Jargon that I’d never heard of:

crudelis herodes

Transferring this into the Roman alphabet, with an asterisk to show something I’m not sure about, that’s:

Tlun taii son shanti:
łún táyi sán shánti:
three king day song:
Three Kings’ Day Song:’

<Crudelis Herodes.>


Kaltash Irod, ikta mamuk
kʰə́ltəs (h)erod, íkta mámuk
worthless Herod, what make
‘Worthless [King] Herod, why’

maika kwash sahali taii?
máyka k’wás(h) sáx̣ali-táyi?
you fear above-chief?
‘are you afraid of God?’

Wik iaka trik* maika iktas
wík yáka trík* máyka íkta-s
not he trick* your thing-NOUN.PLURAL
‘He won’t trick* you (out of) your property,’

iaka lolo nsaika sahli [SIC].
yáka lúlu nsáyka sáx̣li
he bring us up
‘he’s (just) going to raise us up.’

— from page 47

The word trik* there is new to me. It doesn’t resemble anything I’ve seen in 20 years of research on Chinuk Pipa.

To check whether this is a reasonable translation by me (so that I’m inferring the meaning of trik* sensibly), we can look at an English-language version of the same hymn. I’ll bold the words corresponding to trik*:

Why, impious Herod, vainly fear,
That Christ the Saviour cometh here ?
He takes not earthly realms away,
Who gives the crown that lasts for aye.

We can also look at a Latin version of that:

Crudelis Herodes, Deum,
Regem venire quid times?
Non eripit mortalia,
Qui regna dat cælestia.

Google Translate tells me eripit means ‘she or he snatches’ (grabs away).

These are sort of close matches for my guess of ‘trick (someone out of something)’. Is there any other clue we can consider?

Let’s zoom in on trik*:


Now, you be the judge. Have I read that word right?

Here’s a chart of the Chinuk Pipa letters you’d need to decipher it — except it leaves out the letter “H”, which is a simple dot:

see how easy

(image credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve taken the minute or so that’s needed to puzzle this out, you’ve noticed that the part I’m reading as a “K” is actually broken into two segments. So the word might be read with that “H” dot, as trih or maybe tlih.

  • I’m not persuaded by that reading; look at the last word (sahli) in the image at the top of this article, to see how the writer (Father Le Jeune) consistently made his “H” round, which is really different-looking from the short line segment here.
  • Besides, trih is nonsense as far as I can make out…
  • …while tlih would match Grand Ronde Chinuk Wawa łíx ‘sexually aroused; horny’…not a good match in a Christian hymn!

An even more involved argument against my trik* reading could be made using information I haven’t shown you yet:

Very very rarely, Le Jeune would write some Chinuk Pipa vowels with “accent marks”. The alphabet table above shows the letter “I” (a short tiny curve) with accent above it, although in actual use, the accent could go below or to one side, depending on the always changing direction of writing that characterizes this cursive “shorthand”. Accent marks were a way for Le Jeune to specify vowel sounds more exactly, so here, he might’ve meant to show a pronunciation like trí or even tré (because the same Chinuk Pipa letter can have various sounds). The problem I have with this view is once again that I can’t think of any words that sound like those AND would fit into the meaning of this hymn. Can you?

If the part I’m reading as a “K” really is a single letter, one more problem is that it seems to have been a single long line downward — therefore technically a “G”. (Hopefully you can see in that alphabet chart that the difference between these two Chinuk Pipa letters is just in their length.) Would trig* make any more sense as a reading? I confess I can’t imagine how that could be. The 1800’s hymn writer wasn’t talking about trigonometry or one of the Palin kids.

A last idea: trik* could be a miswriting of tiki ‘to want’. (So: “he doesn’t want your stuff”.) My objection to this: Le Jeune was indeed prone to certain kinds of miswriting, but it was nearly always due to him leaving out a whole syllable. (Chinuk Pipa was written in cursively-joined-up syllable-sized clusters.) That’s really different from misspelling tiki as trik*!

Making an effort to sum up all of this: what seems most likely to me is that we have here a previously unknown Chinook Jargon verb trik meaning roughly ‘to trick (someone out of something)’.

This would be a recent loan into the Kamloops-area Jargon of circa 1900, from English as spoken “on the street”, which was indeed the source of a large amount of new vocabulary in that dialect.

Among the dozens of examples of that trend were:

  • ai ‘eye’
  • hai ton ‘high-tone = excellent quality’
  • sha bon ‘jawbone = buying on credit at a store’
  • ask ‘to ask’
  • etc. etc.

I’m able to imagine that Le Jeune’s odd writing of this word trik shows him — uncharacteristically — hesi

tating while writing it. Maybe he was translating “Crudelis Herodes” from Latin into the Jargon as he wrote; he was a fantastic polyglot who knew a dozen or so languages. I’ll keep on researching in archives to try finding an earlier Chinook Jargon version of this hymn that he might have been copying from.

But I doubt such an old hymn will emerge having this word trik, which by its nature should be a newly borrowed 1890s expression.

Really, think about it — there were lots of old words for (Indigenous-style) gaming and gambling in Jargon, but was there a widely understood expression for ‘to cheat’ or ‘to cheat someone out of something’? I mean, we know you can always make a compound with ípsut ‘secretly’ + a verb, to indicate doing stuff sneakily. But what about an actual way of saying ‘cheat’?

My research materials indicate that the early lower Columbia River heartland region did have a word, approximately láx̣w-lax̣w or láx̣-lax̣, meaning ‘to trick, to play a joke, to deceive’ and therefore also ‘to cheat’. This early reduplication (therefore possibly a creolized form) was likely an Indigenous metaphor based on the root we know as láx̣w or láx̣ ‘tipped, lopside, leaning’ (from old Chinookan) in the 2012 Grand Ronde dictionary. Compare láx̣w-lax̣w ‘rocking, swinging’, which is used in an expression for ‘rocking chair’ at Bay Center, Washington. And sure enough, there was mamuk-láx̣w-lax̣w ‘to deceive, to cheat’, going all the way back to the 1830s in the dictionaries of Demers and of Lionnet.

But crucially, this láx̣w-lax̣w was one of the countless Jargon words that didn’t make it “through the bottleneck” in the sudden transplantation from the lower Columbia to BC’s 1850s gold rush setting. We find BC dictionary makers both implying and pointing out this word as being unknown up north. John B. Good in 1880 (page 12) has only < kapswalla > ‘cheat’, otherwise having its literal meaning of ‘steal’.

And none other than Father Le Jeune’s 1924 dictionary (page 16) has him calling < lala > (see, he’s even guessing wrong at the pronunciation, maybe from George Gibbs’ 1863 spelling < lahlah >) a “word used [only] in other districts”, and informing us that Kamloops people instead use another recent English borrowing, < chit > ‘cheat’.

The multiplicity of words for a concept, I find as a rule, can reflect the recency of that concept in a language. For example, I’ve found quite a variety of ways that Southwest Washington Salish languages express the Christian concept of ‘confession’, and the European concept of ‘wild’.

So, if we find trik* as yet another word for ‘cheat’ in the Kamloops area, I don’t think it’s Father Le Jeune playing an April Fool’s Day joke on us.

What do you think?
Kata maika tomtom?