How sexy is ɬíx(-)ɬix?

My previous comments about the uncertain gender of Victoria Howard’s monstrous antagonist in her tale “Just One His Leg, Just One His Arm” lead me to talk about sexual behavior.


(Image credit:

Chinuk Wawa of course doesn’t have “grammatical gender” to mark words according to their femaleness or maleness (etc.). So, without extra clues from context, we never know whether yaka / ya means ‘he’ or ‘she’…

The lack of such clues is why, in the following passage from that story published in 1936 by Melville Jacobs, I translate the 3rd-person subject as ‘it’…


álta ya ískam yax̣ka, ya munk-ɬíx-ɬix kánawi-qʰáx̣
then he pick.up her, he make-tickle*-REDUPLICATION all-where
Jacobs: ‘Then he seized her, he tickled her all over’
DDR: ‘Then it picked her up, it tickled all over’

You might notice that in the second of these two clauses, in CW the monster doesn’t actually ‘tickle her’ (*ya munk-ɬíx-ɬix ya*), it just ‘tickles’. This is not a big important point, though.

More important to me at the moment is this question — does the monster’s ‘tickling’ its female victim have a sexual overtone, and is that therefore a clue that it’s a male monster?

ɬíx-ɬix would appear to be the normal and grammatical, productively reduplicated (distributive-action) form, of CW ɬíx ‘sexually aroused, horny’.

That root is also known in its simple form in the Grand Ronde localism ɬíx-tʰám ‘a woman-chaser, a womanizer’, apparently having a literal meaning of ‘a horny Tom’! Maybe like a tomcat?

(There are remarkably many words for horniness and for having sex in Jargon.)

Anyways, the 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary doesn’t explicitly (so to speak) point out the connectins among these words, so I thought I’d mention it.

ɬíxɬix ‘itchy, tickling, scratching’ is spelled without a hypen in that dictionary, as if it were one of those “inherently” reduplicated CW words like pílpil and tə́mtəm, which have no unreduplicated counterparts.

But I find it personally irresistible to comment on the probable connections among these words.

It’s not hard to see a possible Indigenous metaphor at work here. ‘Tickling’ as ‘sexually aroused’ is a linkage that we certainly see in other languages. In the SW Washington Salish languages that gave us CW músum ‘sleep; have sex’, that word apparently has the original meaning of ‘sexually fondle’.

And all of the example sentences for ɬíxɬix in the Grand Ronde CW dictionary have a male subject tickling (etc.) a female object.

I would also draw your attention to the GR CW ɬík ‘silly, “kind of goofy or silly”, “off” ‘ (also referring to a dude!), which in the original Chinookan source language(s) was possibly related to the above by a regular phonological rule.

Inferring from the limited evidence available to us, I want to suggest that the one-legged, one-armed monster in Mrs. Howard’s tale is implicitly male, and that his ‘tickling’ of his old lady victim is understood as sexual.

What do you think?