1867: A Cariboo cuss word

One of the most interesting points in this frontier-era BC news story (thanks to Alex Code for sending me it) is a Dene (Athabaskan) word for ‘boobs’ in Cariboo Chinook Jargon.


Scene of the crime? Cariboo Courthouse in Richfield (Barkerville) (image credit: Northern BC Archives)

That’s a word we’ve never seen before, but it’s presented to the 1867 readers as if everyone understood it in the Cariboo country of BC.

There’s also some really unseemly harassment of a female complainant by practically every man in the courtroom.

Here’s the entire article, but below, I’ll only transcribe the Jargon-related parts.a thorough paced ruffian 1

a thorough paced ruffian 2

A THOROUGH-PACED RUFFIAN — On Thursday evening officer Absom was accosted by a klootchman named “Mary,” who requested him to take in charge a fellow named James Kelly, who had stolen a gold chain from and assaulted her at a squaw dance house…Yesterday morning Mr Pemberton had the ruffian brought before him, and first heard the charge of theft preferred by “Mary,” who is rather a comely-looking clootchman. Mr Ring appeared to defend. The witness, upon entering the box, turned her back to the counsel.

Mr Ring (pathetically) — Oh! Mary! don’t turn your back on ME! (laughter.)

The Officer — Okoke man hyas tikke nanich mika sartsis (roars of laughter).

Mary (turning) — Ikta?

Mr Ring — That’s a klosch girl! Now look at me.

The Magistrate — She may be a princess for aught you know (a laugh).

Mr Ring — Yes; in disguise (renewed laughter).

Mary (indignantly) — Ikta he-he? piltons! [fools.] (roars of merriment.)

— from the Victoria (BC) Daily Colonist of February 23, 1867, page [3], column 2

Both klootchman and clootchman are Chinuk Wawa ɬúchmən ‘woman’. 

Okoke man hyas tikke nanich mika sartsis = úkuk mán hayas-tíki nánich mayka *sətsus* = ‘That man really wants to look at your boobs.’ The locally spoken Dakelh (Carrier) Dene language has < ‘uts‘oo’ > ‘a breast’; s- is its possessive prefix meaning ‘my; the final -s quite probably is the English noun plural. So it would appear we have (one of?) our first known pidginized Athabaskan word in the Jargon here. (Which is why I can only show you a *a guess* at its pronunciation.) 

Ikta? = ‘What?’

Klosch = ɬúsh ‘good’.

Ikta he-he? is most likely ‘Why laugh?’ or literally ‘What is the laughter?’ (It was somewhat hard to express ‘why’ in the pidgin northern dialect of CW.) The word piltons! = píltən ‘crazy’ with, again, the English noun plural suffix, which might have been added by whoever wrote down this anecdote.

The spellings used differ from the effectively standardized usages you see in the commercial dictionaries of that time, so I take them as evidence that this anecdote reflects someone’s actual witnessed experience and understanding.

What do you think?
qʰata mayka təmtəm?