1895: How to say trout in Chinook

Voici l’anglais avec son sang-froid habituel!

voici l'anglais

(Image credit: “Fractured French” by FS Pearson II) 

Here comes that Englishman with his usual bloody cold!

Victoria, BC has always been insufferably “more British than the British“. I lived there, old chap, I should know 🙂 

That’s my take from the following 1895 anecdote of genuine Chinuk Wawa. Thanks to reader Alex Code for finding and sharing this!

As you read this, I wonder if you’ll sense the same über-englisch mentality that I’m perceiving. Lemmy count the ways, one finger at a time:

  1. We get the good ol’ “disgusted Indian” trope,
  2. along with the “Indians are stoic” one, 
  3. and plenty more stereotypes of Native people, like the ever-popular “Natives are simpleminded” cliché (from Whiteys who are suffering from mad confirmation bias),
  4. plus the ridiculous “Indigenous folks are red-skinned” idea,
  5. & the scurrilous “these Aboriginals are always frittering away their money, be it on gambling or their stupid potlatches”;
  6. not to mention the self-serving nonsense about British people always keeping their cool and their ironic wit while supposedly lesser races jabber & gesticulate apoplectically. 

I’m feeling some sniffles and a cough coming on, King George Man. You’re making me sick!

Let me ask you, my reader: is the tone of the following newspaper piece one of second-rate, snooty, class-conscious anglophilia with a gratuitous layer of anti-Indigenous racism? Your mileage may vary.

Does the newspaper editor translate the Chinook here? Why or why not? 

Are the spellings standardized ones, from a published dictionary? Why or why not? 

an indians opinion 1

an indians opinion 2


Of the Painted Casts of Fish in the Provin-
cial Museum.

During the Queen’s Birthday holidays a
number of Indians visited the Provincial
museum. They were, as usual, interesting
as well as interested visitors, from their
knowledge of natural history and the infor-
mation that can be obtained from them re-
specting the curios in the Indian room.
They were also quiet and attentive, inter-
fering with no one, handling nothing, and
apparently enjoying the whole thing in their
own quiet way.

On Friday last some fifteen or twenty of
these dusky natives, headed by a venerable
chief, entered the museum, and after a
while found their way into the
fish room where the painted casts
of the fish appeared to engage their atten-
tion. The old chief, who had evidently been
there before, was doing the honors of the
occasion, and in the course of some discussion
with his tribesmen, Curator Fannin
brought from the work room a painted cast
of the large trout presented to the museum
by Captain Jones, and laying it down in
front of the old chief asked if he knew what
it was.

With a look of utter disgust for any one
to ask so simple a question, he replied
“Tlout, okoke,” and then waived [sic] his
hand as if further discussion was out of

“That’s not a trout,” calmly replied the

“Delate tlout! nika kumtux! hiyou nika
nanitch,” continued the old chief, while his
face began to take on a redder hue, and his
companions stood by prepared to back the
old fellow up for every cent they had left
from the potlach.

The curator coolly turned the cast over,
exposing its unpainted side.

For a few moments the old chief’s face
was a study for a painter. The corners of
his mouth were drawn down, his lips parted
with a perceptible snap, while his eyes be-
gan to take on that bulged appearance often
noticed in an octopus when just taken from
the water.

Presently it dawned upon him that his
knowledge of natural hiatory was under-
going a severe test, and that in the presence
of prominent members of the tribe. Slowly
and cautiously he reached out and took hold
of the uncanny looking thing, and picking
it up looked at it long and earnestly. He
bent it back and forth and pressed the ends
of his fingers into the yielding cast. Then
that stoical look so characteristic of the
noble red man stole over the old fellow’s
face, and laying the cast down with its
painted side up and slapping the table with
his hand to give force to his words he ex-

“That’s a tlout all the same and done’
you forget it.”

Then he led his companions out in front
of the group of eagles, leaving the curator to
enjoy the joke by himself.

— from the Victoria (BC) Daily Colonist of June 4, 1895, page [8]

Anyhow, “Tlout, okoke” is excellent Jargon for ‘That’s a trout’, properly placing its intransitive subject last. Tlout is a new word to me, but it rings true for BC Chinuk Wawa, being a newer acquisition from locally spoken English.

“Delate tlout! nika kumtux! hiyou nika nanitch” = ‘It’s really a trout! I know! I’ve seen plenty of them.’ Also very good Jargon. The speaker places the “quantifier” word hiyou first in the clause, as fluent speakers do.


Trout Mask Replica replica mask (image credit: Chief T-Shirt)

I have serious doubts that the speaker mistook the replica for a real dead fish. I instantly took his words as an identification of its species, just as he’d have give in response to a 2-dimensional picture. The entire story was relayed to the journalist by the Settler curator, who spun it for his own purposes.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?