Adding a wrinkle to French blankets

We’ve discussed blankets plenty in this space…

french blanekt

(Image credit:

Chinuk Wawa’s word for them is pásisi and it’s known to come from Chinookan.

We also know that CW’s word for ‘French’ (really denoting ‘French-speaking Canadians’), pasáyuks, is Chinookan.

It’s documented very early in CW’s known history, by Lewis and Clark, that there was a local term ‘cloth men’, combining pásisi with the Chinookan noun plural suffix -uks. At that time (1805-1806) there were very few French speakers on the coast or the lower Columbia River. The majority of them that the Chinookans had ever encountered were those in L&C’s exploring party. These folks were a new presence. All of this is to say that originally the word for non-Indigenous, or anyways non-local, folks was ‘blanket people’.

(It’s entirely likely that bástən ‘American’ and kinchóch ‘British’ were already current, having come in from the known previous contacts with maritime traders.) 

Later it seems clear that CW pásisi-uks was folk-etymologized into pasáyuks, under the strong local influence of Canadian/Métis French fur-trade workers, most of whom would describe themselves as français. Thus, français-uks

But the fairly vivid association with ‘blankets’ never quite faded. Still (at that early stage of contact) spoken locally, Natítanui (Shoalwater and Clatsop Lower Chinookan) commonly used forms like the 2 occurrences of ‘blanket’ in the following passage:


Boas 1894:24

That is, there was a “bound” root -uk, typically occurring at the end of an inflected word, meaning ‘blanket’. Following a stem whose last sound is a vowel, there’s a -y- connector, so you often heard -yuk. Also, ‘blanket’ as a free word (with the masculine noun prefix) is yuk/iuk, as seen twice in the next snip:


Boas 1894:38

Based on these observations, I want to make an admittedly tiny new suggestion about the etymology of CW ‘French’:

I suspect that this suffixlike -(i/y)uk may have been another influence on Shoalwater-Clatsop people’s understanding of pasáyuks, making that word sound like ‘French blankets’ to local ears! That connection would make close to no sense at all, if it hadn’t been for the previous history of calling the newcomers ‘blanket-people’. 


In Kiksht (Wishram-Wasco) Upper Chinookan, I notice the word for ‘blanket(s)’ as it[-]pásis[-]kʷaperhaps containing a cognate of the above suffix. I haven’t found any words for ‘blanket’ in the published Clackamas Upper Chinookan texts, but a cognate among the many blanket words in the Kathlamet Lower Chinookan texts is ɬ[-]gə́[-]pasis[-]kʷa ‘my blanket’

What do you think?