1865: Antedating “salt chuck” in English
The superb “Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles”, 2nd edition, tells us “salt chuck” is first known in written English in 1857…
…But the source it cites (Bruce A. McKelvie’s “The Black Canyon: A Story of ’58”) is quoting in 1927 from Wymond W. Walkem’s secondhand, post facto notes about the events in question.
And the frame in which “salt chuck” occurs in those notes is pretty obviously an English translation of a Native woman’s Chinuk Wawa.
So this doesn’t count for me as an an 1857 sighting of “salt chuck” having been in use in English.
Taking a moment to orient some of you folks —
I’m not discussing the phrase in Chinook Jargon, sáltsəqw (sál(t)-tsə̀qw ‘salt-water’), customarily expressing ‘sea, ocean’ in that language.
Instead, I’m looking into how early that CJ expression came to be used by Settlers in Pacific Northwest English.
Now that we’ve knocked 1857 out of consideration, the earliest definite find that DCHP-2 shows us of “salt chuck” in English is 1874, in Charles Horetzky’s book published that year, “Canada on the Pacific”.
Can we, with our accumulated prowess in Chinuk Wawa research, find anything earlier than that? The phrase existed in Jargon well before 1874. It’s known at least as early as Father Lionnet’s vocabulary, published in 1853 from circa-1849 lower Columbia River data. Its presence in Demers-Blanchet-St Onge 1871, from circa-1838 data, suggests it may be of even older vintage in CW. I’m fond of pointing out that early material built on English and/or “Nootka” words (chuck is apparently from Nootka Jargon), is probably among the earliest expressions in Chinook Jargon.
And there was plenty of English-speaking Settler presence in the PNW well before 1874, as we can infer from the 1853 splitting-off of Washington Territory from Oregon, the latter becoming a state already in 1859.
Sure enough, the search for an earlier “salt chuck” in our regional English pays off, with this terse morsel of regional reportage:
RESCUED. — A little son of Geo. Blankenship fell from Williams’ wharf on Wednesday last, into the “salt chuck,” and was rescued by an Indian named Louis.
— from the Olympia (WA) Washington Standard of August 12, 1865, page 2, column 5
There you have it, today’s discovery.
A careful lexicographer is obliged to qualify “salt chuck” — and virtually all other Chinuk Wawa loanwords into PNW English, such as “skookum”, “cultus”, “Siwash”, “kloshe”, etc. — as being informal, and frequently jocular.
Exceedingly few published authorities do so.
Did they not notice the context these terms were being used in?
Or that that they were often enclosed in more or less ironic “quotation marks”??
Does it take a Northwesterner to tune into the nuances of how we talk???
Do you reckon that the bland imprecision of English dictionaries’ treatment of Chinook Jargon-related expressions has spread some confusion among the general public????
A useful contrast can be drawn here.
A. In “northern dialect” Chinook Jargon, primarrily meaning British Columbia CJ, there came to be large numbers of borrowed PNW English words tkaen in; these as a rule were terms that more precisely expressed concepts previously phrased with complex CJ phrases and/or with southern-dialect words unknown up north.
B. In PNW English, there came to be a ew concepts expressed by borrowed CJ words; these as a rule did not displace the English words, but instead, functioned as synonyms. The English words continued being the usual, neutral ways of expressing their respective ideas, and the Jargon ones had a kind of in-group, chummy informality.