From the “I Can’t Believe I’ve Never Said This Out Loud” Dept.

I Can’t Believe I’ve Never Said This Out Loud…

le ble

A French title that’s beyond my grammatical knowledge (image credit: cite-agri)

…Especially since I’ve written a good deal about the origin of Chinuk Wawa words for ‘wheat’!

The Canadian/Métis French noun le blé did indeed become part of the Jargon, in the early-creolized lower Columbia River variety.

Despite any theories folks may have put forth over the decades, this is separate from CW’s similar-sounding saplél, which means ‘flour’ and ‘bread’ more often than the grain ‘wheat’.

No less a sharp observer than James G. Swan, in his bestselling 1857 memoir (page 417), tells us of CW < la blee > on Shoalwater Bay, Washington in the frontier era.

John Kaye Gill, typically a reliable lexicographer, reports this word too, as < lĕ-blĕy > (1909:61).

I also take this opportunity to make it clear that Father Lionnet’s rare 1853 CW < la farine > is not intended by him as a synonym for ‘wheat’ — it’s only ‘flour’ for him, as it is in French. I say this because Samuel V. Johnson’s 1978 dissertation (which is a pretty useful dictionary for researchers) mistakenly groups this word into his lexical entry ‘WHEAT.2’, with < la blee > and < lĕ-blĕy >. 

In any event, saplél remained the all-purpose wheat word in all dialects, referring both to the grain and its derivatives, at least until later-frontier Jargon in the north — especially in BC — acquired < hwit >.

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