Tokitae in the media


Tokitae (image credit: Whale Sanctuary Project)

A recent news story redefines a Chinuk Wawa word for us…

When Tokitae [a killer whale/orca] arrived at the Miami Seaquarium on Sept. 23, 1970, she’d already been named by the veterinarian who oversaw her capture and transport. In Chinook jargon, Tokitae means, “Bright day, pretty colors.”

That’s news to me!

I’m accustomed to t’úkti meaning ‘pretty’ in Chinuk Wawa.

Where did the aquarium folks, and then the reporter, get this spelling and definition of < tokitae >, I wonder?

That spelling isn’t turning up in my search of the CW literature.

We know the word first from John Scouler’s 1841 vocabulary, where he spells it < tooktee > and glosses it as ‘handsome’.

It’s a genuine lower Columbia River CW word, but wherever it turns up in the documentation, it’s spelled differently from < tokitae >, and it refers to human physical beauty.

If you use Google to help you find “bright day” + “Chinook Jargon”, you’ll find plenty of references to the Grand Ronde Tribes’ Jargon-immersion preschool, t’wax̣ san chaku. (That same expression for ‘bright day’, spelled < te’wagh sun >, is used by Laura Belle Downey-Bartlett in one of her song translations.)

There’s a Washington State Ferries vessel named the MV Tokitae, christened in 2014, whose website assigns the same puzzling translation to the moniker.

Some sources are even less reliable, claiming that this word is either Chinuk Wawa or Coast Salish (!), and that it’s a traditional greeting among Indians (!!). Outlandish ignorance.

Because it’s looking mighty hard to pin down how the folklore started that < Tokitae > has such a suspiciously flowery meaning, I’m going to guess that it’s someone’s misguided poetic inspiration.

So, at all events, please ignore the claims that this Jargon word means anything other than ‘pretty / handsome / good-looking’.

What do you think?