SW WA Salish ‘stinky’ and CW snort of refusal?

The newest-named Washington State Ferry vessel, the MV Wishkah, got me thinking.


(Image credit: Looney Tunes Wiki)

It’s named after the location of Aberdeen, Washington, whose traditional Lower Chehalis Salish designation is xʷə́š ‘to stink; a bad smell’ + qál’ ‘water’. Elders have said this is due to the Wishkah River’s pungent mudflats.

Perhaps this xʷə́š ‘to stink; a bad smell’ is related to, or is the same word, as noted in Lower Columbia Chinuk Wawa by George Gibbs (1863:12):

< kwish >/< kweesh > “refusing any thing contemptuously. Equivalent to ‘No you don’t.’ Used on the lower Columbia.”

We might also define this as an interjection of disgust.

And perhaps it’s the xʷə́š ~ xʷə́s ~ xʷəʔšíʔ that begins several sentences, near synonyms of each other, documented in Lower Chehalis Salish. Here’s one, with provisional English equivalents for each word:

xʷə́s háy̓ tit sk̓ʷə́k̓ʷs
?stinky? easy this its.being.stuck
‘It’s easy to get off; it’s not stuck tight.’

None of the elders told us about this way of using xʷə́š ~ xʷə́s ~ xʷəʔšíʔ. But I’m taking it as an interjection of derision or dismissal — a conventionalized way of scoffing at an idea. So in the example sentence, I’m hearing something like ‘Hah! This is easy to unstick.’

Now let’s compare this with Natítanui (Shoalwater-Clatsop Lower Chinookan) from Boas 1894:89.4:

kuc ctexts

I very much suspect this < kuc > [kúš ~  kʷə́š] ‘well!’ to also be a dismissive snort.

kuc ctexts eng1

kuc ctexts eng2

In this English translation of the above Chinookan sample, < kuc > comes out as nothing more than the contrastive ‘Now’.

Therefore I think < kuc > is mistakenly translated in Boas’s “Chinook: An Illustrative Sketch” (1910:636) as ‘good!’ His field notes about the speaker (Q’ltí a.k.a. Charles Cultee) likely defined this word as something like ‘well all right’, which was probably conveyed to Boas as a Chinuk Wawa definition ɬúsh ‘okay’. The point being that this doesn’t mean ‘good’, but the opposite, like American slang word ‘bad’ meaning ‘wonderful’!

Very notably, Boas notes < kuc > as “also used by the Chehalis“.

Another potential connection for us to think about is Boas 1910:600, where we find the similar forms < -´q!Es > ‘sweet smell’ and < -´kux̣ > ‘smell (=to smell)’).

I’m suggesting that we see here a fairly solid pattern of word-sharing between Lower Columbia tribal languages and into Chinook Jargon. I’ve shown many times that it’s pretty common to find words used in common between Lower Chehalis Salish and Natítanui Chinookan.

So I think CJ < kwish > traces back to a Lower Columbia River word for, in essence, ‘pew!’

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?