All about barfing

The idea for this post came up as I revisited Victoria Howard’s tale “Just One His Leg, Just One His Arm”…


(Image credit: NicePNG)

That’s the title given to it by anthropologist Melville Jacobs when he published “Texts in Chinook Jargon” in 1936. On a side note, it’s interesting that Jacobs translated VH’s yaka as ‘his’, since the gender of the one-legged being isn’t made entirely clear by her.

In re-reading this story I noticed a sentence on page 2. I’ll show it to you in modern Grand Ronde spellings, with Jacobs’s translation:

Pus íkta ya pálach yáx̣ka, ya ískam, ya munk-wáx̣ kʰapa yáx̣ka, kʰapa uk lamiyáy.
‘Whatever she gave him, he took, he threw it back at her, the old woman.’

Hey, there’s a “silent IT” object with that red, bolded verb!

But what I focused in on was the meaning of munk-wáx̣. Literally that’d be ‘make-pour(ed)’. But this action occurs in the context of the old lady, her home having been invaded by this ‘inhuman thing’, desperately feeding it all kinds of food. So ‘pouring’ isn’t necessarily the most relevant translation.

What else might make sense? Well, old dictionaries of CW such as George Gibbs 1863 tell us, wáx̣ also means ‘vomit‘. Which would indeed make sense for a gross, menacing monster that’s eating all your food!

So we can add this munk-wáx̣ as a synonym of the onomatopoeic ʔóʔ in the Grand Ronde Tribes 2012 dictionary.

Checking old dictionaries for this concept reminded me that there are a number of known expressions for barfing in Jargon. Father Lionnet’s 1853 lexicon (1849 data) and Granville Stuart’s of 1865 (1850s data) both document ancestral versions of ʔóʔ, which also gets glossed as ‘cough’. Stuart has it in a productively reduplicated form, we can note, which can be a clue to a Chinookan “ideophone” origin.

This is one bodily function that (exceptionally) the English-speaking lexicographers had no problem telling us all about!

There’s also hayu-spít in British Columbia, documented by John Booth Good in his 1880 lexicon as the word for upchucking. Typical for BC, it makes use of a recently loaned English root, and is perhaps influenced by the English-language synonym ‘spit up’.

I’ve got more in there, hold on…

We also find ’emetic’ (medicine to make you puke) in George Coombs Shaw’s 1909 dictionary. In Grand Ronde-style spelling, his expression is lamatsín yaka skúkum kʰapa hélp mayka másh mayka mə́kʰmək, ‘medicine that’s powerful (enough) to help you toss your food’! I won’t go into great detail about that technicolor talk, but know this — it’s post-frontier, Settler-style, not super-fluent CW.

James G. Swan’s frontier-era diaries from western Washington Territory appear to connect t’əmánəwas ‘spirit power’ with ’emetic’. Details remain to be investigated.

I think the most reliable term for an ’emetic’ is the one is Father St. Onge’s unpublished 1892 dictionary of lower Columbia CW He gives us, guess what, mamuk-wáx̣-lamatsín ‘vomiting medicine’, confirming the observation that I started today’s article with!

What do you think?