“Sick moon”

As important as mún (‘moon; month’) is for measuring time, terms for the moon’s phases aren’t necessarily easy to discover in Chinook Jargon.

Only 2 sources tell us anything about this. George Gibbs’s wonderful, but small, southern-dialect dictionary of 1863 reports a phrase sík mún, ‘the wane or old moon’:

sick moon

Gibbs 1863:17

As to the origin of this CW phrase, I don’t know. I’ve found no comparable expression yet in the major source languages: Lower Chinookan, SW Washington Salish, Métis French, or English.

Take note of the difference in meaning from “moon sickness” (mún-sìk), which is ‘menstruation’.

JMR Le Jeune’s more substantial 1924 dictionary from the northern dialect tells us a number of additional phrases in this semantic range of lunar phases —


Le Jeune 1924:23
  • < chī moon >     chi mun     ‘new moon’
  • < sit’kom moon >     sitkom mun     ‘first quarter’
    ‘Half moon’, literally.
  • < patl moon >     patl mun     ‘full moon’
    Literally a ‘full moon’, but this term gives me pause — I haven’t ever seen the word pʰáɬ used as an “attributive” adjective, modifying a noun. Maybe this is a real local Kamloops-area phrase, under the known heavy influence of local English. I’ve only found pʰáɬ as a “predicative” adjective, actually in Jargon grammar a “stative verb” meaning ‘to be full (of)’. So we would have expected patl moon to signify something that’s ‘full of the moon’! 
  • < sit’kom kope’t moon >     sitkom kopit mun     ‘last quarter’
    ‘Half finished moon’, literally. 
  • < kope’t moon >     kopit mun     ‘new moon’
    ‘Finished moon’, literally. A good description for the time when you can’t see the moon in a clear sky. 

The reservations I express above about patl mun made me realize something. Another ordinary and legitimate way to understand that phrase is as a full sentence: ‘the moon is full’. And that, in my understanding of the Jargon, is a normal way to use patl ‘to be full’.

So then..I realized that all of these “phase phrases” 🙂 from Le Jeune can be, and maybe should be, taken as complete sentences:

  • ‘The moon is new.’
  • ‘The moon is half.’
  • ‘The moon is full.’
  • ‘The moon is half finished.’
  • ‘The moon is finished.’

The expressions here that speak of amounts (half, full) are behaving just like any other Chinuk Wawa quantity expression, placing the word for that at the front of the phrase.

So I’m fairly convinced that these are legitimate and grammatical BC Chinook Jargon terms.

And I now realize that Gibbs’ sik mun also can, and I guess should, be understood as ‘The moon is sick.’

Bonus fact:

Le Jeune 1924 goes on to report terminology for other moon-associated meteorological phenomena. I’ll write about those in a separate post!

qʰata mayka təmtəm?
What do you think?