húyhuy ‘trade’ as a Canadian French word


Huyhuy, a film by Sky Hopinka (image credit: Youtube)

A word you wouldn’t think of as French…George Gibbs 1863:5 cites a personal communication from Alexander Caulfield Anderson (1814-1884) as his authority:


Huy-huy, n[oun], v[erb]. Canadian French, HUI-HUI. A bargain or exchange; to barter or trade. Ex. Huyhuy la sille, change the saddle; huyhuy tumtum, to change one’s mind. Mr. Anderson says this is a cant word of the Canadians, signifying a hasty exchange. Its origin has been suggested in oui oui, yes yes. 

Anderson had worked at Fort Vancouver in 1832 and again in 1840 and 1851-1854, and ran Fort Nisqually in 1840-1841, as well as spending years on BC’s coast and in (New) Caledonia (its interior).

He’s credited with one published Chinook Jargon dictionary, although he himself disclaimed its authorship.

In any event, he can be relied on as someone well acquainted with CJ and with Canadian fur-trade French.

Huyhuy is not necessarily known from written documentation of Canadian French.

But then again, neither is another Jargon word of reduplicated form and mysterious etymology, bibi. Gibbs (1863:1) thinks this “word used toward children”, which he writes as < bé-be>, is “probably a repetition of the first syllable of BAISER”.

And we hadn’t realized Jargon lakamín for ‘soup, stew, dumpling(s)’ is from Canadian French la gamine ‘coarse (flour)’ until just a few weeks ago.

It’s good to keep in mind how typical illiteracy was among the French-speaking employees in the fur trade; they kept almost no diaries.

Their French was noted down by others only in sporadic fragments, much less often than Indigenous words were. I imagine the feeling was “we already have dictionaries of French”–!

It’s a funny thing, that. We’ve wound up with better materials to argue for an Indigenous source of huyhuy:

The Grand Ronde dictionary of 2012 notes a good Nuuchahnulth (“NCN”, Vancouver Island) source for it, ḥaʔuyi. I’d point out, however, that (A) we don’t know of that in a reduplicated form in NCN dictionaries and (b) I’m not finding it (yet) in Nootka Jargon word lists, which was the way the NCN words got into very early Chinuk Wawa.

There’s also a case to be made for a Southwest Washington Salish origin. Cowlitz and Upper Chehalis have xʷíy(‘)xʷiy(‘) ‘stingy; won’t share’.  I can just about imagine that being a source of huyhuy as well.

What do you think?