California CPE: Heap big Odd Fellow


Conceptual rendering of a Chinese Odd Fellows hall (image credit: Wikipedia)

Pidgins as street languages in the late frontier period…

A California judge is invited off the street to join one of the five (or six) Chinese “companies”:

heap big odd fellow.PNG

As Judge Henley was walking through Fourth street, between I and J, yesterday, he was accosted by several Chinese in front of their Lodge-room. He was invited inside, treated to sweetmeats, beverages and cigars. He was asked to go into the sanctum sanctorum for a few minutes, and they would make a “heap big Odd Fellow of him. The Judge declined, saying he was afraid they would make him a “highbinder.” The spokesman replied “Alle same, you blong my club, you catchee some trouble, you heap catchee plotection, you sabbee.”

— from the Sacramento (CA) Daily Record-Union of February 17, 1885, page 3, column 3

I recently did a little poking around, and it seems the image of North American Indigenous people using “heap” as a pidgin intensifier (as in “heap big”, “heap much”, “heap good”, “heap bad”) goes back to the 1820s or earlier.

I was a little surprised, though, to find that that usage isn’t found in print in very great abundance, despite its occurring in factual accounts of Indians.

More investigation remains to be done on the question of whether and how US Settlers may have influenced Chinese Pidgin English to acquire this “heap” upon arrival in California in the mid-1800s.

What have you learned?