Chinook Jargon Phrasebook
Kahta Mamook Chinook Wawa - How to speak Chinook
Critters & Livestock
NB: Terms for animals may also refer to their
meat and fur/hides.
Wildlife & Game
Itswoot, ikswoot, chetwoot
There are many potential variant
prononciations and spellings for this word. NB Man itswoot
- male bear. Klootchman itswoot - she-bear. All animal
genders may be designated via
man and klootchman.
Hyas itswoot -
grizzly bear. i.e. "great bear", "chief of bears" or "powerful bear"
Siam, shayam -
This term appears to be more
southern in origin and usage (it is of Chinookan origin), as hyas itswoot
was the common term for a grizzly in British Columbia and there might be
some confusion with the Halqemeylem/Hulquminum si:yam - chief.
Mowitch, mowitsh -
deer, venison, sometimes mountain goat or mountain sheep
Mowitch is a Chinook term
that is so widespread that most other language groups think it originates
with them; moolock is similarly widely-adopted but not as far widespread.
NB can also mean wild animals in general; e.g. huiloma mowitch
- a strange or different kind of beast. Man mowitch - stag.
mowitch - doe.
Moolock, moolack, mooluck,
moolask - elk
Like mowitch, moolock
is a word so widespread that most language groups think it is their own,
although this is not so widespread throughout the region as mowitch.Nonetheless,
the usage of this word (and of mowitch) ranged from Humboldt Bay
in what is now northern California all the way to Tlingit territory in
the Alaska Panhandle, and it was widely known in the Interior and Plateau
despite its origin in the Nootka language.
Hyas moolock -
moose. i.e. "great elk"
Moose - moose
This word probably came more
into use because of the ambiguity of hyas moolock, which could simply
mean a large elk, or a bull elk (which might also be man moolock).
is originally a Cree word, apparently brought to the region by the voyageurs,
and its proper plural (in Cree) is moosoutch. This word does
not appear to be related to moos-moos (cattle), although Anderson
says that moos-moos comes from the Cree moostoos, for buffalo.
See moos-moos and hyas moos-moos below.
Olehiyu, olhyiu -
The etymology of this may be
pure jargon - "used to be lots", although Gibbs gives a Chinook language
source-word, olhaiyu. I await correction on my guess at this
Siwash cosho -
Literally "Indian pig", the meat
of the seal being somewhat similar in appearance, if not in taste, to that
of swine. This is a purely jargon word, unlike olehiyu which
is Chinookan in origin.
Ehkoli - whale
This is a Chinookan word.
In other coastal regions, the local language word for whale would most
likely have been used because of the importance of whaling in coastal society..
Kwahnice - whale
Of Klickitat origin. The
Klickitat are upriver on the Columbia, well beyond tidewater; why they
would have a word for whale at all is an interesting question. Dolphins
and orca have been known to roam up the Fraser River on occasion, so it
is possible that whales may have swum up the Columbia to Klickitat territory..
Eena, ina - beaver
The English loan-word beaver
was also used, especially in reference to furs. This was a usage
adopted from the voyageurs, for whom the beaver-skin was a unit
of currency; the French word castor was not used.
Nemamooks - otter
(not the sea-otter) Inamooks is also given with the same meaning,
but may refer to otter-like creatures like the fisher, marten, weasel,
Suwelel, sukwellel -
mountain beaver, also known as a boomer; once common and now extremely
rare, this is a burrowing rodent similar to a beaver in appearance but
without the broad tail.
Kwitshaddie - rabbit,
Humm-opoots - a
skunk ("stinks behind")
Curiously there don't seem to be any words for
raccoon, porcupine etc.
Horses & Horsemanship
Kiuatan - horse
Stone kiuatan - stallion
("testicle horse"). Cooley kiuatan - race horse. Klootchman
kiuatan - a mare. Oleman kiuatan - old horse. Oleman klootchman
orlummi kiuatan - old mare, nag. Kiuatan
seems to have been used more in southern regions; this word is Yakima in
Cayoosh, cayuse -
Cayuse or cayoosh
is also applied to a specific breed or type of horse, especially in the
Interior of BC where the word means the strain of the Chilcotin mountain
pony. This small extremely hardy and brave breed is still common in the
Chilcotin district of BC. Its particular genetic line is often found in
quarterhorses and other breeds in the Cariboo, Fraser Canyon, Shuswap,
and Okanagan and is known somewhat in Alberta and the adjacent United States.
The placement of the accent varies between the first and second syllables,
and the "oo" may either be an accented "uu" or "oo" or a more relaxed sound
as in "hook". Either is acceptable. Cayoosh was the original
name of the frontier town that became Lillooet.
is more a word of Interior peoples (it is not even listed in Gibbs), kiuatan
being derived from the coastal Chinookan language; the Cayuse tribe are
one of the principal nations of the Washington interior. The compounds
using kiuatan above would also apply to cayoosh.
Burdash cayoosh/cayuse, burdash
kiuatan - mule, gelding
The term burdash by itself
could probably convey the same meaning if the reference was obviously a
horse or mule.
Tenass cayoosh, tenas kiuatan-
pony, colt, filly
Siskiyou - bob-tailed
Pil kiuatan, pil cayoosh-
a bay or chestnut horse, i.e. red horse
Lablow, leblau -
a sorrel horse, or chestnut-coloured
- a cream-coloured or light dun horse
a gray horse, from
le gris, i.e. the grey
Also as an adjective for the
Lekye, lakai -
a piebald horse, an appaloosa, from la caille.
Also used in the jargon to refer
to the speckled salmon, or dog salmon.
- a roan-coloured horse, from cendre, or from English sandy.
Also used as an adjective for
roan or ash-colour.
Teh-teh - to trot
NB Kalakala - bird.
There may be an etymological link between these words - a horse "flying"
as it gallops.
Klatawa kopa kiuatan or
kopa cayoosh - to ride
Youtl - spirited,
Kiuatan yaka kumtux cooley
- racehorse, lit. horse he knows (how to) run.
Lasell, lasill -
Lableed - bridle
Lapishemo - saddle-blanket
and trappings of a horse
Leseeblo - spurs
Tupso, tipso -
Moos-moos, musmus -
Anderson says this word is derived
from the Cree moostoos (buffalo), but Pandosy says it is of Yakima
origin. Since hyas moos-moos was the term used for buffalo,
the Cree derivation seems unlikely. See moose above.
Gibbs says that moos-moos can also mean buffalo. Tenas moos-moos
- calf or heifer.
Hyas moos-moos -
The presence of a term for buffalo
in Chinook seems surprising, as there were no buffalo west of the Rockies
until modern times (except perhaps in the southern Rocky Mountain Trench),
but buffalo hides would have been rare and extremely valuable trade goods
brought to the region in the earlier native trade era as well as by the
HBC and its Metis employees and by American settlers and traders arriving
from the Plains via the Oregon Trail or from California.
Burdash moos-moos -
The term burdash by itself
could probably convey the same meaning if the reference was obviously a
steer. Shaw also gives tenas man moosmoos -
little male cattle, i.e. not quite male cattle - for steer, but
this could simply mean a male calf.
- sheep, mutton
Cosho, gosho, legosho, lecosho-
hog, pig, swine, pork
Camel, camoo -
Camel were in experimental use
in the Interior of BC during the mid-19th Century because of the dry climate
and relatively waterless landscape typical of many areas. There
is a creek flowing into the Bridge River near Lillooet
called Camoo Creek, and the mountain range lying in the angle of the Bridge
and Fraser Rivers is the Camelsfoot Range. Some of the camels were
said to have gone wild, and there are apocryphal stories of people seeing
camels in their vegetable gardens for some decades after the gold rush,
when the camels were introduced by entrepreneur and hotelier Frank Laumeister.
The last surviving camel of this enterprise died in the Kelowna area in
This is - if I recall correctly
- a derivation from a Nahuatl (Aztec) word (coyoacan) that became
adopted into English and Spanish and was known among the tribes of the
Interior Plateau of BC, although whether it came there via English or Spanish
or came overland from Mexico tribe-to-tribe is not clear. The second
spelling is pronounced "kay-oat", as is still a common prononcation in
Interior BC and throughout the West, and appears to be of English derivation/corruption.
It is recorded as part of dialogue in jargon between one of the "Wild McLean
Boys" gang of outlaw halfbreeds and the Grand Chief of the Nicola during
deliberations over an aborted uprising in the 1880s.
Talapus - coyote,
wolf. Hyas talapus - wolf. In
the Lower Columbia, t'alapus was used, with t' denoting an "ejective" consonant.
E-t'apalus means "the coyote", i.e. the Coyote, the Trickster
spirit/deity, in many Columbia basin languages.
In areas where kayooti
was used for coyote, talapus appears to have been used for wolf,
but I am uncertain if there is any hard and fast rule about this.
Lelou, leloo -
From the French "le loup". There
are a couple of score French words adapted into Chinook, and other French
or Mechouf words may have also been recognizable to Chinook speakers; most
of the French words in Chinook are also found in Michif and among prairie
natives. But one has to wonder why a French word was used for wolf,
rather than an Indian one, other than talapus or hyas talapus,
the root-word of which can also refer to coyote. Some early fur company
records also use the Spanish term "lobo", although this was not known as
a part of Jargon speech (but probably would have worked). Perhaps
also hyas leloo, for timberwolf. There is a terrifying
tale from a Northwest Company outpost in the Shuswap Lake area from 1815
concerning a pack of giant white wolves leading a troop of coyotes, wild
dogs and other varmints (raccoons, weasels, etc.) in a rampage across the
Interior, killing horses "in the hundreds". When the pack reached
the NWC outpost, the head trapper helped exterminate the half-dozen timberwolves,
whereupon the "army" of other animals dispersed; in what might be a self-aggrandizement,
the chief trader's journal claims he shot one of the wolves with a muzzle-loader
musket at a range of 400 yards.
This is the origin of the place
and tribe name Comox on Vancouver Island, apparently implying a
totemic dog legend - or simply a large number of canines in the community.
Lashen - dog
NB also used for "chain".
Dog - dog
Interestingly, the natives of
the entire region raised a certain species of dog as livestock for wool
and meat (this species is extinct) but there is as far as I know there
is no word for this breed of dog in Chinook lexicons I have reviewed. As
with other words, the older native term was slowly replaced by the French
and then the English loan-words, and usage may have varied regionally and
with the generation and ethnicity of the speaker.
Puss-puss - cat, also
used for cougar, lynx, bobcat, etc.
This was pronounced on Puget
Sound as pish-pish.
Hyas puss-puss -
cougar, mountain lion. i.e. "big cat", "chief of cats", "powerful
cat". Specifically the cougar, although puss-puss
by itself can have the same meaning, even as "cat" in modern-day rural
BC can mean cougar. Hyas puss-puss could also be conceivably used
for a lynx or a bobcat, but probably in the context of a large one.
Tenas puss-puss -
NB difference from kalal-kalal
- to gallop, although perhaps this latter's meaning originates in the sense
of a horse "flying" at full gallop.
Tenas kalakala -
swallow, sparrow, any small bird
Kah-kah, ka-ka -
Onomatopaeoic. NB kah-kah
also means "here and there", "wherever", from kah - where, what.
kah-kah could conceivably mean raven, although the importance
of the raven in the mythology of nearly all peoples in the region suggests
that the local word for raven would be preferred over a term meaning great
Ko-ko stick - woodpecker
From ko-ko - "knock".
Waugh-waugh, kwel-kwel -
Chak-chak - the
- the thunderbird. Also Sagalie chak-chak.
The thunderbird was a mythical
giant eagle that was regarded among the most powerful spirits, or even
as an incarnation or emissary of the Sagalie Tyee or Great Spirit.
Its English name derives from legends associating it as the source of thunder
- large enough to seize whales out of the water, it would drop them from
great heights; the impact of the whale hitting the water was the thunder.
The thunderbirds wings and eyes flashed with lightning, and the beat of
its wings could cause great storms. The occasional epic thunderstorms
in the region were believed to be caused by the passage of the thunderbird.
The thunderbird occurs as a decorative motif throughout the art and handcrafts
of the Northwest Coast peoples.
Lapeep kullakala -
the band-tailed eagle, whose feathers were used to ornament smoking pipe-stems
Haht-haht - duck
Kalakalahma - goose,
on the Lower Columbia. Accent on the penultimate syllable.
May be the source of the Washington placename Kalama.
Kehloke - swan.
Used on the Lower Columbia only
Tepeh - quills,
the wings of a bird
Lemah tepeh, kalakala yaka
lemah tepeh - wings
Vermin & Varmints
Hoolhool - mouse
Skwah-kuk - frog
- louse, lice
Sopen Inapoo -
Means jumping louse.
Chotub was used on Puget Sound. The English loan-word flea
was also used.
Noseeum - a type
of near-invisble biting fly common in many parts of the Interior and alpine
This is not historically a jargon
word according to the published lexicons, but is so much a part of the
native and frontier dialects today that it must have been.
Andialh - wasp
- bee (stabber behind, stabs behind.)
Oluk, olook - snake
There are no poisonous snakes
or major constrictors in the coastal Northwest, but the common garter snake
often grows to extraordinary size, especially in rainy summers when frogs,
slugs and other wet-land food sources are abundant. I remember seeing
whole communities of gigantic garters, some up to two inches thick and
a yard or so long, coiled up amid fields of wild broom near our house.
Not poisonous, but not even my dog felt like messing with one. This term
would have described a wide range of snakes in addition to the garter snake,
of course, especially in the Interior regions where there are a wider range
There are two varieties of rattle
snake in the Interior Plateau regions of the Northwest - the timber rattler,
a smaller, more aggressive species found in the high country, and the more
common regular rattler, found in the warm valleys. Neither species
is found in the coastal regions, although the range of the timber rattler
is often quite moist. I have heard tell of water moccasin in the
Northwest, but do not know of any documentation of this. The rattler
species are the only poisonous snakes in the Northwest.
Fish & Seafood
Samman, salmon, saumo-
salmon. The last of these three variants would have
been pronounced the French way, with the accent on the last syllable, but
this is probably a much-older usage that faded out early in the history
of the jargon. Salmon was
the major trade good and food staple
of coastal and plateau society.
Tyee salmon - chief salmon, king
salmon (the most highly prized); used in the Campbell River area to refer
to an extremely large spring salmon.
Mesachie salmon - dog salmon,
a winter species ("bad salmon"). Salmon tzum - trout ("spotted salmon").
Other varieties of salmon are called chinook, coho, and sockeye in British
Columbia; these usages presumably originated in the Chinook-speaking era,
but are not listed in the published jargons so cannot be formally considered
"jargon" (as if the jargon were formal and limited in any way). Another
specifically Jargon word is lekay, for the speckled or dog salmon; the
same word is used for a spotted horse, i.e. an Appaloosa.
Stutchun - sturgeon.
now-rare and still-mysterious giant green sturgeon of the NW rivers were
once abundant and a common food and trade-good.
Oolichan, eulachon, ooligan
- the candlefish.
A sardine-like fish that is so oily it
can be burned like a candle. Dried, smoked, or turned into a rotted-mash
pickle confection, it was (and is) among the most highly prized staples
of the NW tribes. Oolichan grease, or
glease (used in the
jargon), the aforesaid rotted-mash pickle, varies in its recipe from tribe
to tribe and family to family, and is fabulously rancid. Few non-natives
can stomach it, but natives regard it as a choice delicacy, and recipes
are jealously guarded.
Chinook - one of
the major species of salmon. Not technically a Jargon usage,
but a common English dialect word in coastal BC in the Chinook-speaking
era in the past and today.
Pish - fish, generically.
is also "fire"; there may be an etymological connection here given the
interrelationship of the main food staple and fire, as often linked in
myths concerning the origin of the use of salmon as food; the Chinookan
word for fire is opitshka, of which pish in its fire meaning
may be a corruption.
Kokanee - A kokanee
is a land-locked freshwater salmon.
Strictly speaking not a jargon
word, but one that would have been use in trade. I am uncertain what
of the language of origin of this term, though suspect it to be of Salishan
derivation (probably Secwepemc/Shuswap or Okanagan)..
Katake - a sucker-fish
This may only be a lower Columbia
term; it appears in Shaw's English-Chinook reference.
Chetlo, Jetlo -
oyster, on the lower Columbia
Words for this important food-source
may have varied with the language groups speaking the jargon, with Salishan
words on use in the Puget Sound-Georgia Strait region, and Wakashan words
being used on the outer Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island regions.
Klog-klog, klogh-klogh, klo-klo
- a more widespread word for oysters
Coop-coop - the
dentalium shell, shell-money
The original loan-word here was
from the lower Columbia. This word was used for smaller shells or
small collections thereof.
Hykwa, hyakwa -
the dentalium shell, shell-money
The original loan-word here was
from the Wakashan Nootka-Makah territories. Dentalium shells were
collected in strings up to six feet long, and were a major item of barter
trade and potlatch as far south as California and as far east as the Blackfoot
country beyond the Rockies.
Ona - clams, the
razor-fish or solen
Toluks - mussel
Salutations | Common
Phrases | Money, Trade,
& Travel | Time
& the Elements
Food & Domestic
Life | Fun & Games
| Critters & Livestock
The Body |
Numbers | Interrogatives, Prepositions,
Verbs & Concepts
| Adjectives & Abverbs
| Grammar & Prononciation
| English & other loan-words
Kamloops Wawa Word List
Jim Holton's Chinook Jargon Book (draft)
George Lang's Chinook Jargon Website
Dakelh (Carrier) Chinook Jargon Website
Jeff Kopp's Chinook Wawa Website
River-Lillooet Country | | Chinook Jargon
Main Page | Clevens &
Periards | Poetry