1927: Correcting one Chinook etymology, inventing lots more

Way to give a linguist a headache, guys…


(Image credit: Le Hareng Rouge)

Some of the corrections that follow are correct.

See my after-comment for the rest of the story…




     The Seattle Business Chronicle disagrees with
Webster’s that the Chinook word “Siwash” is derived
from the Indian “Salish,” and insists that it came
from the French “souvage[sauvage] — or English “savage.”
However, it agrees with The Empire that “Siwash
is neither epithetic nor opprobrious, but is an authen-
tic Chinook word.


“Siwash” Is Chinook for “Indian.”

(Seattle Business Chronicle.)

     Unexpectedly, a new job has been cut out for
the Business Chronicle’s corps of etymological ex-
perts. It arises from the fact that in Alaska there
is fierce verbal warfare over the derivation and cor-
rect use of “Siwash.” Sitka Verstovian declares
Siwash” is an epithet intended to express contempt
for natives: and Juneau Empire insists that the
Verstovian is ridiculously hypersensitive, since “Si-
wash” is a word in Chinook jargon used to denote
the original race (Indians) and is neither epithetic
nor opprobrious. Each of the controversialists
quotes Webster to establish the point that “Siwash
is a corruption of “Salish,” meaning an Indian of
Salishan stock, especially a Flathead.

     The word “Siwash” has been doing business a
long time. It dates back to the romanic days when
French voyaguers and other white traders pene-
trated to the Pacific Coast, and in their commerce
with the Indians established the lingua franca which
took its name from a tribe at the mouth of the Co-
lumbia River, and today is known as “Chinook.”
This trade language is [a] conglomerate of French, Eng-
lish and Indian. Many of its terms are easily trace
able, since they are corruptions from French or Eng-
lish. due to the glottic inability of the aboriginals,
who were restricted to clicks and gutterals [sic], to do
more than approximate the open vowel sounds and
consonantial [sic] skill of the white man.

     Thus the Frenchman, who was a fish-eater, (pois-
son) became Passiouk [sic]; potato was corrupted into
wapato; berry was almost unpronounceable to the
Indian, and in his struggles with that word he
evolved olallie: Blakeley [?!] naturally became Molaklie [?!].
Also, there is a story of a trader, whom the hunters
saluted. “Clark, how are you” — at once shortened by
the Indians into “Klahowya,” which is the Chinook
word for “How do you do” and “Goodby.” There
are many similar instances of linguistic corruption
in Chinook.

     As to “Siwash,” there is a narrative to the effect
that both French and English applied the word
souvage” or “savage” to the natives. The trans-
formation into “Siwash” is both easy and natural.
Thus “Siwash” came to denote any Indian or
any tribe of Indians. It never was a term of con-
tempt — being on even terms with “Passiouk,” or
Boston man” for American and “King George man
for the English. Some writers, not sure of them-
selves, have fallen into the error of discussing “Si-
wash Indians” as a distinct tribe — a misuse of the
word as inaccurate and abnominable as would be
“Eastern Oriental.”

     By what mental process Webster has derived
Siwash” from “Salish’’ does not appear. Let us
remember, with Disraeli, that “the etymologist must
not be implicity [sic] trusted.” Business Chronicle feels
that its lexicographic staff is entirely justified in
subscribing to the belief that “Siwash” is a corrup-
tion of the French “souvage.”

— from the Juneau (AK) Daily Alaska Empire of April 19, 1927, page 4, column 2

First off, this article was of sufficient interest to be printed as long after frontier times as 1927 because it centres on one of the extremely few Chinuk Wawa words that was still used in Pacific NW English. And yes, of course sáwásh traces back to métis/Canadian French sauvage, the usual word for Native people. The supposed etymology in “Salish” is a flight of imagination only.

Second, both sides are correct. Within CW, sáwásh denotes Indigenous people without connoting anything negative. As a loan into English, though, it was normally freighted with racialized overtones. (Much as the Business Chronicle writer stumbles through a misspelled smug assertion that Native languages had fewer and simpler sounds than English or French!)

Third, the other etymologies offered the the otherwise sort of coherent Business Chronicle are hogwash, as you yourself can see when you check the reliable 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary:

  • The CW pʰasáyuks is more believably descended from Chinookan/CW pásisi ‘blanket’, Chinookan -uks ‘Noun Plural (usually animate)’, and métis/Canadian French français ‘métis/Canadian person (usually male)’.
  • We know wáptʰu to come from K’alapuyan and Chinookan.
  • ‘Berry’, úlali, is Indigenous as well.
  • I’m not sure what Molaklie is supposed to be — a version of púlakʰli ‘night; dark’? Why that would have anything to do with ‘Blakeley’ is beyond me.
  • The ‘Clark, how are you’ myth is long disproven; ɬax̣áyam is 100% Native.

Reader beware!

Cotter mica thumb-thumb? (ง •_•)ง
What do you think?