A different Chinookan source for “ɬíx-tʰám”

Just in passing, I’ve previously brought up the Grand Ronde local expression…


(Image credit: Amazon)

…ɬíx-tʰàm ‘a woman-chaser, a womanizer’

That’s how it’s written in the excellent 2012 Grand Ronde Tribes dictionary. (But I’ve added the detail of a secondary stress mark on the last syllable.) 

Apparently, with that frequent Chinookan ideophone ɬíx in it, this would be a compound noun, with a literal meaning of ‘a horny Tom’!

Maybe like a “tomcat” in informal English?

That etymology was suggested by the elder speaker who knew the word, Eula Petite, so I respect it.

Well now, a thing happened, which happens a lot when you’re a dictionary type of person.

I stumbled on a quite probable and quite different etymology for “ɬíx-tʰám”: lixtmax

From Grand Ronde elder Victoria Howard, via anthropologist/folklorist/linguist Melville Jacobs’ 1958 publication of “Clackamas Texts” (volume I, page 78), I noticed a Chinookan word ɬíxtmax̣ ‘others’.

Here I’ll show you the context it’s used in:

lixtmax context

lixtmax english

íxtmax̣ix aɬx̣ɬuxʷayda aliɬx̣əlmúx̣ma, yáxa ɬíxtmax̣ nέ•šqi aliɬx̣əlmúx̣ma.
sometimes they.will.think they.will.eat.him, him.contrastive others not they.will.eat.him

‘Sometimes they will think that they might eat him, but others will not eat him.’

(And no, “chub” is not a penis joke. This is from a story listing the origins of many edible plant and animal species, here a fish that not all tribes eat.)

The word ɬíxtmax̣ breaks down, in my understanding of Clackamas grammar, to ɬ-íxt-max̣ (Neuter/Indefinite – one/other – Collective.Plural), thus expressing ‘some other ones’.

(Recall my constant admonition that lower Columbia River languages, including Chinuk Wawa, use their words for ‘one’ to mean ‘another (of the same kind)’, especially in complex sentences saying “one … (and) one …”. The word for ‘other’ as in ‘different in nature’ is formed from different roots in Chinookan.)

By chance, there’s a similar word in the same sentence, íxt-ma-x̣ix translated as ‘sometimes’ (one/other-Collective.Plural-those), showing a sequence of two of the same morphemes.

The connotation of ɬíxtmax̣ might have been, among the circa 1900 Grand Ronde Reservation community’s Clackamas speakers, of someone who’s never contented with a single partner, and always wants ‘some other ones’.

That’s certainly a different picture from a ‘horny Tom’, at least in the semantic details.

But from a linguist’s perspective, this is a very good match for “ɬíx-tʰàm”

Because, it’s a single, well-formed, known word of Chinookan, as opposed to the 2012 dictionary’s speculation about a compound using an otherwise unknown element in Jargon, “Tom”.

And, the Chinookan collective noun plural suffix -max̣ varies in form with -ma, giving an even better match of shapes with the mysterious Jargon word. (See íxt-ma-x̣ix above.) Plus, within Chinuk Wawa, that -ma seems to have sometimes gotten further simplified, to -m, as in CW iɬukum(a) ‘a gambling game’.

Thus, at least hypothetically, we can account for virtually the exact word shape “ɬíxtʰam”. 

I have no proof against, nor a lot of doubt about, Grand Ronde Reservation residents about a century ago having folk-etymologized Chinookan ɬíxtmax̣ ‘other ones’ into ɬíx-tʰàm ‘a horny Tom’. That kind of reanalysis makes total sense in a community where Jargon was much more widely known than Chinookan was.

And I’m not the first person to note that G.R. Chinuk Wawa contains a heck of a lot of earthy expressions.

My contribution today is just a more definite ultimate etymological source for ɬíx-tʰàm that’s 100% compatible with the ‘horny Tom’ theory.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?