“Less familiar words” in the Northern Dialect (Part 1A: Shaw 1909)

One of the smartest things the old-school Chinook Jargon dictionary makers sometimes did…

rare words

Image credit: Youtube

…was to point out which CJ words from previous dictionaries (which they were usually stealing from) were “not used around here”!

These specialized lists tend to be super-subjective, often containing some mental oversights. I’ve seen Jargon dictionary writers use a certain word all the time in their own Chinuk Wawa, but then call it a local rarity. For example, the word bit listed below was almost certainly being used in both local Jargon & local English in 1909. Comb, too, but Shaw may have listed it as obsolete in the sense of ‘plowing’ land.

But, mini-vocabularies of this kind tell us lots of great things, when we take them all together. We already know that CW varied a pretty good bit, from region to region. We don’t always have solid usage data (good examples of actual sentences, stories, dialogues, etc.) for each of those areas.

So it’s nice to find someone taking the time to try telling us, which words “we know here” and which ones we supposedly don’t, as well as words thought to be “of only local use”.

All of these lists that I’ve so far found are from the Northern Dialect of Chinook Jargon, so they’re among the simplest & easiest ways to illustrate how much difference there is with the Southern Dialect. (Of Grand Ronde & the lower Columbia River region.)

Thus, I think it’s a good idea to start my newest mini-series on this website — “Less Familiar Words”.

Today let’s get into George Coombs Shaw’s 1909 dictionary, where he highlights a list of such words on pages 34-36.

I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that these 3 pages are the most valuable contribution made by Shaw. For most of the words in the following list, it’s true that if you find them in a Northern Dialect text, they’re “book words” artificially borrowed by someone who didn’t even know how to pronounce them or use them correctly.

And lists like this one also help us understand the Jargon in the “linguistic archaeology” way that I constantly advocate — they help us to establish chronological “layers” in the vocabulary, eras in which various words came into and fell out of use.

(I’ve also pointed out that Shaw 1909 is perhaps the first useful Northern-Dialect CJ dictionary!)

I have some comments on the items listed. For starters, I can see Shaw’s list draws much (spellings; observations on ‘local use only’) from the great George Gibbs 1863 dictionary. But he adds knowledge of his own. I also see that a great many Chinookan and SW Washington Salish words have to be considered southern-dialect only; they typically got replaced by English words in the northern dialect. Words having deep Indigenous associations, such as interjections and words for pre-contact cultural customs, also tended to disappear or get replaced in the northern dialect. The most surprising thing for me to realize from Shaw’s list is that quite a few Métis/Canadian French words also got displaced in the development from the older southern dialect to the newer northern one.

Let me move one explanatory paragraph up from page 36 to here:

Note — The letters (C), (E), (F), (N), and (S), refer to the derivation of words, and signify Chinook, English, French, Nootka, and Salish. (See explanatory notes.) Words marked (J.) or (onoma.) are considered to be the peculiar property of the Jargon, as having been formed either in imitation of sounds or by some casual invention. (Gibbs, Hale, Chamberlain, Boas, Shaw, Anderson, Pandosy, Cook, Jewitt, Tolmie, Dawson, St. Onge, Scouler, Eells, Walker, Gard, — authorities.) See Pronouncing Vocabulary.

Page 34

Less Familiar Words — Not Strictly Jargon — or of Only Local Use


Ab’-ba, (?) [i.e. of uncertain etymology, but we now know it’s Métis/Canadian French], well then.

Ad-de-dah’, (S), exclamation of pain, sorrow, surprise.

Ah-ha, (C), yes.

Al-ah, (J), expression of surprise.

A-mo’-ta, (C), strawberry.

An-a’h, (J), exclamation of pain or displeasure; ah! oh! fie!

Ats, (C), a sister younger than the speaker.

A-yah’-whul, (S), to lend; to borrow.


Be’-be, (F), a kiss; to kiss.

Bit, (E), a dime, or shilling.

Bloom, (E), broom.

Bur-dash, (Canadian F), an hermaphrodite.


Cal’-li-peen, (F), a rifle.

Chak-chak, (C), the bald eagle.

Chet’-lo, (S), oyster.

Chet-woot, (S), black bear.

Chil-chil, or Tsil-tsil, (C), buttons; the stars.

Chitsh, (S), a grandmother.

Chope, (S), a grandfather.

Cho’-tub, (S), flea.

Chuk-kin, (S), to kick.

Comb, (E), a comb.

Coop’-coop, (C), small dentalium, or shell money.

Cou-lee, (F), a valley [not a Chinook Jargon word, but Métis French].


Ee’-na, (C), beaver.

Ek-kah-nam, (C), tale; story.

Ek-ko-li, (C), whale.

Ek’-keh, (C), brother-in-law.

E’-la-han, (S), aid; assistance; alms.

E-li’-te, (C), a slave.

E-salt’h, or Ye-salt’h, (Wasco.), Indian corn; maize.

Eyeh, (N), yes.


Haht-haht, (S), the mallard duck.

Hoh-hoh, (J), to cough.

Ho-ku-melh, (S), to gather; glean.

Hool-hool, (C) a mouse.

Howh, (J), turn to; hurry; ho!

How’-kwutl, (C), inability; unable.

Hunl’-kih, (C), Crooked; knotted; curled.

Hwah, (J), surprise; admiration; earnestness.

Hy’-kwa, (N), shell money; large dentalium.

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