sup-uk from Salish & Chinookan, but really Salish

powerful path darrell thorne

“A Powerful Path” by Coast Salish artist Darrell Thorne (image credit: Pinterest)

A rare synonym for skúkum ‘strong’ in one old Chinuk Wawa dictionary is JK Gill’s 1909 < su-pukʹ > ‘strong; powerful’.

That unfamiliar word is marked “O.C.” by Gill, who gives this explanation on page 44:

Many good words, worthy of perpetuation from the original Chinook, are indicated by the letters (O.C.). These are given not so much for enlargement of the vocabulary as for comparison, and for the preservation of the old form, and have been culled from all existing words. In nearly every instance these words were actually in use in the time of Doctors McLoughlin, Tolmie and Birnie.

[It’s unclear where Gill got these words, but how tantalizing that by implication they reflect true early experts’ speech!]

I’ve previously observed that < su-pukʹ > is clearly Southwest Washington Salish c’əp[-]ə́q ‘strong’.

In specific, it’s from a coastal language of that group, i.e. Quinault or Lower Chehalis. The inland languages, Upper Chehalis & Lower Cowlitz, lack the final ə́q, although they use the root c’əp in all sorts of inflected forms, showing that it “feels” native to the speakers. (The suffix –ə́q typically connotes ‘head; voice’, though not always in any way that makes obvious sense to us foreigners in combination with a given root.)

Known facts give us a strong push toward a specifically Lower Chehalis source, as that language was spoken by many Chinookans, thus influencing both Lower Chinookan and Chinook Jargon.

Plus, there’s only one maybe-Quinault-derived word that I know of in Jargon. (See “A Quinault Salish Etymology for ‘Sea Otter?‘)

But now I’ve further realized, this is one of the many Jargon words that have a good etymological explanation in both Salish and Chinookan!

A word strongly analogous in both form & meaning turns up in not only Lower but Upper Chinookan as well. There, I’m not aware that it can be broken down into smaller meaningful parts, which inclines me to think it’s a borrowing from Salish.

It would’ve presumably come via Lower Chinookan and then been shared upriver, for reasons I’ve already alluded to. In addition, the pronunciations of it in the individual languages show Shoalwater-Clatsop very close to the Salish original, whereas Kiksht diverges a good deal.

So that you can look & evaluate for yourself, I’ve collected the words I find for ‘strong’ in the Chinookan languages, from the Pacific Coast going upstream.

  • You’ll see that a stem -łx̣iwəlx for ‘strong’ is found in all 4 languages; it’s the most frequent form, and I infer that it’s the basic native expression.
  • Forms of c’əp[-]ə́q are of limited occurrence, which may support the claim that they’re borrowed.
  • There are also specialized stems for ‘become strong’, ‘strong man’, and ‘strong’ (woman), plus un-inflected adverbial particles.



  • Boas 1910:633 particle č’pák ~ č’páq ‘strongly’
  • tgú[-]łx̣iwəlx[-]ma ‘strong people’ Boas 1894:89
  • ł[-]t’úx̣uyal ‘a strong man’ 1894: 203
  • łšta[-]x̣ílalak ‘strong’ (referring to a woman; see also Kiksht) 1894:261
  • pát ‘strong; really’ (referring to someone’s spirit power; an adverb; potentially a borrowing from Salish as well) 1910:666


  • ktiá[-]łx̣iwəlx ‘the strongest one’ page 95
  • łxamgəlxúla ‘he had made himself strong against him’ page 197
  • q’ə́lq’əl ‘strong’ (adverb and/or ideophone?) Boas 1894:63
  • pát ‘strong’ (adverb referring to spirit power, as in Shoalwater-Clatsop) page 208
  • wúk’ ‘real; strong’ (another adverb) page 221



  • čpág ‘strong’ (referring to an east wind) Sapir 1909:170;
    špák ‘strong’ (referring to how tightly a bundle of wood is packed) Sapir 1909:51
  • idmi[-]łxíwəlx ‘you will become strong’ Sapir 1909:62
  • a-t’ú-Gagilak ‘a strong woman’ Boas 1910:640

What do you think?