El Comancho’s Washington, DC newspaper column on Chinook Jargon (4 of 6)

Swastikas on the Boys’ and Girls’ Page!


The old trappers’ muckamuck? Who the heck traps cows? (Image credit: OldTrapper.com)

We’ve already explained why the Hackenkreuz shows up so often alongside Chinuk Wawa before World War 2.

Now notice how, this long after the frontier era, “Chinook” is equated with “old trappers”. That’s a stroke of historical revisionism that goes hand-in-hand with American pop culture of the time, which was beginning to romanticize White cowboys and frontiersmen at the expense of other players Western culture. We still deal with this; see the above illustration.

And so, on to installment the fourth from Walter S. Phillips, which displays some of his customary extravagance of definition:






MUCKAMUCK. — The word covers the
whole idea of food and eating in Chi-
nook, being both verb and noun.

MOWITCH. — Pronounce MOW- 
WITCH, accenting the first syllable. 
This is the Chinook word for Deer. 

MAN. — Same as English. It also 
means the male of any kind of animal, 
and may be used to denote strength or
large size in any object. [1]

NAH! — Hello, Hey and similar excla-
mations. It is used as a greeting, or to
attract attention, and also at the end of
a statement to get an answer. Thus
MIKA CHACO, NAH? is “You will come
 — no?” [2]

NANAGE. — Pronounce NAN-AHGE,
with the first syllable accented. Look,
See, Look Here, Behold, Sight, Vision
and all similar meanings.

NEM. — Name.

NIKA. — I, Me, My, Mine. The first 
personal pronoun.

NESIKA. — Pronounce NEE-SIGH-KA, [3]
with the accent on SIGH. This is the
plural of NIKA, and means We, Our,

NOWITKA. — Pronounce NOW-WIT-
KAH, accenting WIT. This means Yes,
and nothing else. [4]

OLLALIES. — Accent O, and pronounce 
OH-LAL-LIES. This means berries of 
any kind, and the preceding word de-
termined the kind. Thus SHOT-
OLLALIES are Huckleberries and PIL-
OLLALIES are Cranberries (red ber-

OKEOKE. — Pronounce OH-KOKE
accenting the second O. That, That
Thing, This. It is used a great deal,
often with a gesture to point to the
object meant. [5]

OIEHUT. — Pronounce WAY-HUT
accenting POOTS. Tail, Stern, Rear  [this line is mistakenly repeated from below]
Street, Course of Travel, etc.

OLO. –Hungry.

OPOOTS. — Pronounce OH-POOTS,
accenting POOTS. Tail, Stern, Read [sic] 
End, Back, etc. [6]

OW. — Brother.

PE. — Pronounce like Pea. (It is also 
spelled TE). It is a coupling word be-
tween clauses or sentences, and usually 
means And. but may also stand for But, 

Therefore, Then, Or. [7]

PELTON. — Pronounce PELL-TUN, ac-
centing PELL. Crazy, Foolish, Absurd;
also a Fool, Idiot, Crazy Fellow.

PIAH. — Say PIE-AH. Fire, Burn,

— from the Washington (DC) Star of September 2, 1928, page 7, columns 2 and 3


[1] The idea that mán “may be used to denote strength or large size in any object” in Chinuk Wawa is news to me. It sounds more like Settler thinking. It reminds me of the Washington state X-rated punk band The Mentors’ claim that the played “a MAN’S music”. 

[2] Comancho is confusing two separate CW lexical items: (A) the stressed interjection ná ‘hey!’ and (B) the unstressed enclitic (like a suffix) -na ‘Yes/No question marker’, which have distinct etymologies in separate languages. 

[3] The pronunciation NEE-SIGH-KA for nsáyka is also news to me; it’s probably a typesetters’ error for a handwritten NEH-SIGH-KA

[4] It’s mistaken to claim that nawítka “means Yes, and nothing else.” Beyond that interjectional use, this word also functions as an adverb ‘indeed, truly, of course’.  

[5] It strikes me as wrong to say úkuk is stressed on its second syllable, and trivial to note that folks sometimes point at things when they say it. Every language’s words for ‘this, that’, etc. are used that way. Heck, even us linguists call such words “deictics” (‘pointing’ words). I’m mighty leery of a racial stereotype creeping into Comancho’s column of the grunting, pointing Injun…

[6] Likewise, I’m unaware of any clear documentation that úpʰuch was ever stressed on its final syllable. 

[7] The idea that pi was ever pronounced with an initial /t/ is preposterous; this must be another typesetting mistake. Maybe Comancho meant to tell us that it’s also pronounced PEH /pe/? Giving points in his favour when they’re due, Comancho is doing you a service by accurately pointing out how pi sometimes functions as ‘therefore’. 

All around, this is the usual mixed bag from W.S. Phillips: entertaining reading but not entirely reliable facts.

What do you think?