“Stick shoes”, the mollusc (and a 4-way pun)

I was looking at clams and such…

Screenshot 2023-02-01 220836

I got this image from The Marine Detective.

…And in doing so, in Aert H. Kuipers’s 2002 “Salish Etymological Dictionary”, I noticed a couple of Central Salish (specifically Northern Straits) words with translations that Chinook Jargon speakers will recognize:

  • Saanich t̓əŋ’[-]səweč ‘stick shoes’
  • Klallam t̓əŋ’[-]suʔuéʔč ‘stick shoes’

This ‘stick shoes’ is a loan from Chinuk Wawa’s stík-shùsh ‘shoes (Euro-American style); boots’. (In CW, that’s literally ‘woods-shoe(s)’, forest footgear.) Neat! 

Neater still — these words are in a list of shellfish names presented by Kuipers. Eh???

So I looked into Timothy Montler’s awesome dictionaries of both Salish languages just mentioned, and it turns out these words don’t refer to boots or shoes at all. What’s referred to is, instead, chitons. (See illustration.)

Also known in local English as ‘gumboot chitons’. Actual ‘boots’ in Saanich Salish are kəmpúc, from English/Chinuk Wawa ‘gumboots’ — rubber boots. 

And, that term can be imagined to have also played a role in a multi-lingual pun here.

‘Gum’ (which is rubber in older English, but in the Northwest mainly = pitch, a.k.a. lakúm ~ lagóm in CW) is sticky.

The Klallam version of the ‘stick shoes’ word is parsed as — 

‘braid{Act[ua]l [Aspect]}-back{Actl}’

— by Montler (2018:1033).

But I would also suggest that the stem of this word sounded to the earlier Saanich speakers like this — 


…involving a modern “reflex” of Proto-Salish *t̓um ‘suck’.

That root is not otherwise reflected in ‘suck’ words in modern Saanich that I’ve noticed. But it seems to me that the indicated sense of ‘sucking-footed’ would be an appropriately evocative description of chitons characteristically clinging to shore rocks.

Apparently these molluscs locally came to be called ‘stick shoes’ for more than one reason.

This critter has a resemblance to an acculturated leather shoe, as various sources note. At least, to the “upper” of a shoe. 

But it is plausible that the Chinuk Wawa and English term stick shoes was translated, perhaps humorously, by Salish speakers as if it meant ‘suck onto with the foot’ / ‘sticky shoes’. 

Now even more fun: ‘Shoes’ in Saanich are qʷɬéy̓šən, a word common in the region’s Salish languages.

Unlike the ‘chiton’ word, this one may have been borrowed from other Salish languages, seeing as how it has the older form of the foot suffix, šən. If it were native to Saanich, we’d as a rule expect the sound change to -sən to have happened.

This word may have come from Puget Sound, from southerly sister language Lushootseed, where the Skagit dialect has qʷɬíʔ-šəd for ‘shoe’. Speaking of historical Salish sound changes, in that word the /i/ comes from /ə́y̓/, and the /d/ is from earlier /n/.

And qʷɬíʔ-šəd means literally ‘log/stick’ plus ‘foot’. Mighty close to Chinuk Wawa’s stík-shùsh ‘shoes’, literally ‘woods-shoe(s)’!

Lushootseed probably created that word as a “calque” on the CW term, and because southern Lushootseed folks (Nisqually for instance) were exposed to CW & to Euro-American material culture before many other Coast Salish people, their terminology could’ve gotten passed around among the tribes. 

Further, the Lushootseed word proves that the Salish ‘foot’ suffix also got used for ‘shoes’. Thus, the Saanich ‘chiton’ stem can be understood as ‘sucking-shoes’ / ‘sticking.on-shoes’.

Which supports my suggestion that Saanich folks were making puns involving 4 things: 

  1. The Saanich word for ‘chiton’ that means ‘braided (on the) back’,
  2. the Lushootseed word for ‘shoes’ (which they must have also understood in its literal sense, to translate it into Saanich),
  3. the CW term for ‘shoes’, and
  4. CW & English ‘gumboots’.

A quadruple-play pun!

Just another day of speaking Salish, as I’ve claimed in a research paper on widespread traditional punning. (“The Flip Side of Lexical Tabooing: Coast Salish Puns, Names, and Intangible Cultural Heritage“, 2018.) 

Bonus fact:

We can approximately date the above Northern Straits Salish pun.

It appears to come from an era when the speakers had sufficient exposure to both the intercultural lingua franca Chinuk Wawa (‘stick shoes’) and to the Settler language English (‘gumboots’, ‘sticky’).

This was relatively recent.

CW came to Saanich and Klallam country–the vicinity of modern Victoria–later than its circa 1840 appearance in southern Puget Sound, say with the establishment of Fort Victoria by the Hudsons Bay Company in 1843. The HBC didn’t move its seat of operations from Fort Vancouver to Fort Victoria until 1849. 

And English would have gained a foothold rather later than that, as settlement and development of the Colony of Vancouver Island was long discouraged by the Company, which directly or via its Chief Factor Sir James Douglas controlled it until 1864. (In essence, only some wealthier employees and retirees were able to officially settle there.)

So today’s pun can’t be any older than say 150 years’ vintage. 

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?