“Skookum chuck” means different things…be sure to stress about it

A skúkum-tsə́qw (“Skookumchuck”) is a ‘rapids’ in a stream, right? Yes, and…

making a canoe

Just a good illustration, from page 799 of Coleman’s article

This famous PNW phrase, documented in many historical sources at least as far back as George Gibbs 1863, is surprisingly not in the Grand Ronde Tribes’ 2012 dictionary.

Maybe that doesn’t tell us a lot; maybe it’s a reflection of the relative tameness of the streams near Grand Ronde.

I venture to guess that the stress pattern we now use in the many PNW English place names, “skóokum chùck”, accurately reflects how the term was pronounced in Jargon. It emphasizes the first word, thus treating this as a compound analogous to “tumwater” (tə́mwàta) & “tumchuck” (tə́mtsə̀qw) ‘waterfall’.

But also, as I’ve previously mentioned on this site, “Skookum chuck” seems to have sometimes been used as one of the many Chinuk Wawa expressions for ‘alcohol’…and ‘medicine’!

How confusing life on the frontier must have been 🙂

But not really, because I believe the stress pattern was different. According to CW grammar, a sequence of an adjective plus a modified noun (here ‘strong water’) would have the stress pattern skùkum tsə́qw — emphasizing the “head word”.

This is a CJ-internal innovation, not modeled on any metaphor that I’ve been able to find in the pidgin-creole’s source languages.

Adding some evidence for this use of the phrase:

skookum chuck whiskey

In one instance the Growler, of Port Townsend, was entirely destroyed by their [Indigenous people’s] ravages in search of “possissee” and “skookum chuck” — blankets and whisky — which form their ideal of the chief good.

— from “Mountaineering on the Pacific” by Edmund or Edward T. Coleman, Harper’s New Monthly XXXIX:CCXXXIV (November 1869), page 794

Incidentally, page 796 of the above article looks like it brings yet more testimony of the mixing of pidgin languages on the West Coast, telling of

“Jim,” the Chinese cook. Jim gabbles away in a lingo which is one-tenth English and nine-tenths Chinese and Chinook, and grins with delight if you only nod your head occasionally and say, Cumtux — ” I understand.”

There’s also good evidence of frontier-era Chinuk Wawa on the Salish Sea in the article, as well as anecdotes involving the Catholic missionaries active there, including the famous Father F.N. Blanchet.

But anyway, “Skookum chuck(skùkum tsə́qw) also was some kind of homeopathic medicinal lake water! I wonder if this phrase reflected any existing usages in the Indigenous languages; that’s a question for future research. (Feel free!)

Here are a couple of links to start that investigation:

Materia Medica.

The Homoeopathic Recorder.

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?