1895: Olympia society has its way with Jargon loans

Technically just one step into the post-frontier era, 3 Chinuk Wawa words in the Oly paper aren’t really translated…


Knights of Pythias parade, Olympia, Washington (image credit: Olympia Historical Society)

Observe the casualness of the paraphrase in the following, my friend:

oly socy

oly socy 2

Olympia Society.

Olympia, June 1. — Special. — In honor of Maj. E.C. Macdonald, their representative at the session of the Grand Lodge lately closed at Walla Walla, Lincoln Lodge, No. 104, K[nights] of P[ythias], invited their gentlemen friends to participate in a grand “kloshe tillicum potlatch,” or smoker, as called by those not versed in the classic Chinook. […]

— from the Seattle (WA) Post-Intelligencer of June 2, 1895, page 10, columns 2-3

I normally claim that un-translated Chinook in a newspaper amounts to proof that everyone spoke the language in that place, at that time. And ‘smoker’ isn’t really a translation.

But let me say more.

Here, potlatch is being used for a generic ‘party’, which is a Settler concept far removed from the original idea of a Native-law ‘giveaway’ observance. In other words, potlatch is a Settler English word here, not the essentially identical-sounding Chinuk Wawa word.

In just the same way, tillicum is being used here in its Settler sense, where it was pretty much always ‘friend’ without any overtones of kinship. Again quite distinct from the word’s original CW cultural sense.

And, kloshe tillicum — also often spelled close tillicum in a nifty bit of folk-etymology — was itself a frequent expression within Pacific NW Settler English, for ‘good friend(s)’.

Not least important to realize, no such phrase as (kloshe) tillicum potlatch (a ‘(good) friends party’ ~ (good) people’s giveaway’) is ever to be found in any documentation of actual, fluent Chinook Jargon. And yet, when you read it while thinking in English, it makes perfect sense — it’s a ‘buddies hangout’, or a ‘girls’ night’.

So today’s news clipping is more a document of CJ’s influence on regional English at the time, and less an example of how to speak Jargon.

That’s my lesson for you today: When you find Jargon words embedded in a “matrix” of the dominant Settler language, English, and they don’t make much sense by the rules of Jargon, they’re almost always loanwords that the non-Native people had their way with.

Bonus fact:

Today’s clipping is probably the 100th example I’ve shown of Chinuk Wawa being used by a PNW “fraternal organization”. Boys will be boys, won’t they, with their secret handshakes, passwords, ipsut wawa, etc.!

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?