1900: The Northwest Jargon + William Jennings Bryan

In the post-frontier period, a traveling salesman in western Washington managed to avoid the already popular “sitkum dollar” joke…


Wa-Wa Willie (image credit: Office of the Historian, US Department of State)

But his colleagues treated him to some other jocular Jargon.

They also inscribed a keepsake photo for him in the effectively standardized spellings of Chinuk Wawa that you found in popular phrasebooks / dictionaries.

I won’t go into depth about what they wrote, aside from highlighting how the provided translation of spose as English ‘suppose’, in a function of an imperative that gently suggests an action, is not something you find in fluent Chinook Jargon.

northwest jargon 1

northwest jargon 2

• • •

northwest jargon 3


The Queer But Expressive Chinook Language Is Not Difficult to Learn.

“When I was in Seattle about a month ago,” said a travelling man, “I got into a political discussion on general topics, and one of the men in the party asked me what I thought of ‘Wa-Wa-Willie.’ I didn’t know Wa-Wa-Willie from Adams’ [sic] off ox, and thinking the gent might be some local politician or other I asked who Wa-Wa was. ‘Why,’ said the other fellow, ‘it’s Wa-Wa Bryan; you know [William Jennings] Bryan, don’t you?’ I had heard something of a man by that name, and forthwith asked why they called him Wa-Wa, and was informed that Wa-Wa was Chinook for ‘talk’ and I saw the application. I also caught on shortly after that to other expressive Chinook terms and read up a little on the subject. 

• • •

On a photograph given to me when I left Seattle this inscription was written: ‘Spose Mika chaco alki nanitch ancott a tilicum. Close tum-tum mika;’ which, being translated, is: ‘Suppose you come back by and by to see your old friends. Good heart you’ — that is, ‘you’re all right.’ 

— from the Freeport (IL) Daily Bulletin of January 4, 1900, page 2, column 4 (reprinted from the New York Sun)

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?