The worst insult in Chinuk Wawa?

Some of you are muttering “dog”, but hear me out…

chinook insult

(Image credit:

…reader and Chinook-Peipa savant Alex Code shared this, from a piece about the killing of Slumach:

worst insult

— from the New Westminster (BC) Daily Columbian of January 16, 1891

This is the first I’ve heard of ‘sorcerer’, ‘pagan’, and ‘devil’ being “in the Chinook language…about the worst epithets that can be applied to a person”.

These concepts, in BC Chinuk Wawa, might be t’əmánəwas-mán (spirit.power-person), hílu krí́styən (not Christian), and liyób, respectively.

They might well have been the biggest criticisms that the “halfbreed” Louis Bee had of the 60-year-old “Indian” Slumach. Judging from the sheaf of articles sent me by Alex, Slumach, born before there were any Whites in the area, was long known for retreating into the wilderness alone, perhaps on spirit quests. By contrast, a person known as mixed-race would’ve been vastly more likely to have been influenced by, or to practice, Christianity.

And the insults accordingly may have been delivered in Chinuk Wawa. A traditional old Native man at the time might have no other language in common with the presumably younger Louis Bee.

All of this is clear, and I don’t doubt the account of events.

I just think hardly any speaker of CW would spontaneously answer your question ‘What’s the worst insult in Jargon?’ with ‘sorcerer’, ‘pagan’, or ‘devil’!

There are a number of known insults in Jargon, which fall into three categories, both very different from the above.

First — just about every observer has agreed that the metaphor kʰámuksh ‘dog’ (or the simile kákwa kʰámuksh ‘like a dog’) is an absolutely terrible thing to call someone in “Chinook”. This is backed up by the existence of similar attitudes in Pacific Northwest Indigenous language communities. For example, speakers of the Vancouver Island-area (BC) Salish language variously known as Comox, Sliammon, Ayajuthem, and so on have told me that their word for ‘dog’ is also a cussing exclamation.

Second — in the ethnically diverse reservation community of Grand Ronde, stereotypes of the various tribes led to folks dismissively calling each other such things as k’alapúya (a Callapooya Indian) or t’ilímuksh (a Tillamook Indian).

Third — also at Grand Ronde, and perhaps by influence from European-origin languages (Canadian/Métis French and English), words for sexual organs came to be used as insults. The 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary documents ways to call someone a ‘pussy’ or a ‘prick’.

I mention the possibility of non-Indigenous influence there, because in languages such as the SW WA Salish group, there’s little evidence of these nouns being used pejoratively. The Upper Chehalis word for ‘vagina’ that looks to be a loan from CW is described as the ‘vulgar’ synonym for the purely native term. What’s more clear in those languages is a pattern of folks putting each other down as ‘weak hips’, ‘weak head’, and ‘weak penis’, as well as an epithet recurring in stories, ‘bad one(s)’.)

The Grand Ronde dictionary, I should note in the interest of thoroughness, additionally tells us hə́m-úpuch (‘stink-ass; skunk’) as an insult. But its wording in a note under that entry suggests that this phrase is not locally-sourced, instead being borrowed by local school teacher Eula Petite from Edward Harper Thomas’s popular book on CW.

Summing up, it seems to me that calling someone a ‘pagan’ and such is the worst insult in Jargon only for certain Christian speakers. The average, fluent, reasonable Chinooker might hear such phrases as quaint and ineffective, I’m guessing.

What do you think?