Calling dogs & calling someone a dog

chinook lodge

Chinook lodge by Richard W. Dodson, after a drawing by the U.S. Exploring Expedition’s Alfred Agate (source: Britannica)

In honor of our poor dogs, who have to put up with us being home all the time nowadays!

(Because of the chxí kʰúl-sík-wám-sík…)

Some delightful information that’s easy to miss in the 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary of Chinuk Wawa, because it’s tucked into some side comments there:

chích ‘Grandmother’ … “And by extension, any elderly female member of one’s group with whom one feels a close bond of kinship. Also a name given to dogs when they become old” [my emphasis added — Dave]

chúp ‘Grandfather’ … “And by extension, any elderly male member of one’s group with whom one feels a close bond of kinship. Also a name given to dogs when they became old, remarked EJ. EJ remembered that her Molala father, Douglas Jones, a hunter, had one old dog named chup. Hunters in those days usually used dogs to track deer. When chup rolled on his back and kicked his legs up in the air, “that means they’re gonna kill a deer”.

It’s really nice to learn this kind of stuff, isn’t it?

We’ve seen a number of dog and horse names in old Jargon documents — I think of Theodore Winthrop naming his horse < Klale >.

He claimed “Indians do not love their horses well enough to name them”, but I’ve come across domestic-animal personal names in various tribal languages.

Seems like everyone appreciates animals.

Appreciating your fellow human being might be a different thing, though.

I recently came across some nice documentation showing that Chinuk Wawa’s insulting metaphor kʰámuksh ‘(you) dog’ traces back to an old custom in the Indigenous Pacific Northwest.

(We already knew this, but it helps to show examples that prove it.)

In the “Notices and Voyages of the Famed Quebec Mission to the Pacific Northwest”, page 149 brings Father JBZ Bolduc’s perception of Native slavery:


Who would have thought that slavery would be here in full vigor? However, nothing is truer, and what is more, they traffic in slaves as if they were low animals. They do not regard them more than dogs (that is the name ordinarily given them).

(My emphasis is added again.)

The equation of slave status with the worst qualities of dogs is revealing.

Both words, in fact, are insults found many a time in the historical documents of our region as the cause of fights and bad blood.

Stepping away from Chinook Jargon a moment, I’ve been told by Vancouver Island Salish people that to exclaim ‘dog!’ in their language is a vitriolic cuss word.

Paradoxically, dogs have traditionally been highly valued items of wealth in some coast cultures, as have slaves. It’s interesting that these are the two items of property that are hard to control…

It all goes to show you, it’s not so much the words you say, it’s how you say them…

What do you think?