‘Quahogs’ a-popping?

Subtitled, nope, they just suck. Subtitled, even John Peabody Harrington wasn’t infallible.

Subtitled, what’s this got to do with medicine men?


smit’áqs (image credit: Puget Sound Shellfish)

In the wonderful 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary of Chinuk Wawa, which you know you need to own a copy of, there’s an entry for an older / regionally used word smit’aq’s ‘a kind of large clam’.

That critter is locally known in English as < quohog >, according to JPH’s expert consultant Emma Luscier.

That would appear to be one of the New Englandisms in earlier Shoalwater Bay (Washington) English, due to the presence of such important early Settlers as published CW expert James G. Swan, who recorded the word as < sme-tarx′ > or < me-tarx′ > ‘large sea-clam’

I suppose it refers to geoducks or a very similar bivalve. 

In any case, this spelling smit’aq’s based on JPH’s field data (among other sources) is fairly on the nose, as a representation of an originally Salish word.

All that I can add is that it must actually have a “plain” q, not a “popping” q’.

The original, apparently Lower Chehalis, word must have been of the morphological structure s- ‘Noun’, mət’ ‘suck(ing)’, -áqs ‘nose’. If you’ve ever been on a geoduck beach, you know that that’s a clear description of these big guys’ siphons at the surface in the wet sand. 

A fun connection can be drawn between that etymology and another Lower Chehalis-sourced word of CW, t’əmánəwas ‘spirit power’, which is morphologically t’əm (a “metathesis”, that is, reversal of mət’ ‘suck(ing)’, because Salish languages are totally odd that way) and -ánəwas (one shape of the suffix for ‘belly’)!  

Just to make sure I explain what I think led the 2012 Grand Ronde dictionary team to think there was a popping /q’/ in the ‘geoduck’ word … well, I’ve worked with Harrington’s field notes. He was wonderfully meticulous about noting the slightest perceptible details of pronunciation. So much so that he typically distinguished whether a uvular voiceless stop was popping (which he wrote as < K’ >, with a capital K and a “right quotation mark”) or aspirated (which he wrote as < K‘ >, with a “left quotation mark”).

See what I mean? It’s easy to write the wrong sort of quotation mark once in a great while, and Harrington did mess that up in some cases. But in this instance, we know that Salish languages’ suffix for ‘nose’ has a plain, non-popping sound. So we can make this minor correction to JPH’s still unparalleled documentation of a PNW language. 

What do you think?