Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A few words in Chinook

13th edition, 1891, photo by Joe Mabel
This is an appendix to Monday's Old West glossary. A. M. Chisholm has several characters speaking Chinook in his novel Desert Conquest (1913). Chinook was a pidgin language spoken in the Pacific Northwest, derived from Indian dialects, French, and English.

It has infiltrated the language of many of the novel's characters regardless of their ethnic origins and gives the story a kind of linguistic authenticity. Here is a sampling:

cultus = bad. “Cultus man come at night. Dark. Black. No see um.”

halo = no, not. “Halo cuss word – no bad word – no. D-a-m, ‘dam’.”

kumtuks = to know. “He waved his hand at the wreck. ‘You kumtuks that?

mamook tumtum = to make up one’s mind. “Mostly, Casey, you mamook tumtum a heap – you look ahead and savvy plenty.”

oleman = old. “‘Oleman moccasin, him,’ Simon replied oracularly. ‘White man throw him away; Injun keep him, mend him’.”

sitkum = half. “ ‘Huh!’ Simon grunted. ‘Mebbyso white man; mebbyso sitkum Siwash.”

skookum = strong, powerful. “Bring dynamite – kiyu skookum powder.”

tillikum = friend. “And I’ll bet it was his tillikum, Cross, that took the first crack at us.”

tumtum = heartbeat; firmly held belief. “ ‘This kid is some obstinate,’ he called to Dade. ‘His tumtum is that he’ll stick. I don’t want him in it.”

I like the logic of this last word. It indicates sincerity with reference to feelings that are heart-felt. And it implies a whole lot more, since tumtum, the sound of a heartbeat, is one of the earliest sounds we hear at the beginning of life.

Wikipedia has a lengthy guide to Chinook.

Picture credit: wikimedia.org

Coming up: Connie Brooks, The Last Cowboys


  1. Thanks, Ron. I appreciate links like this and they come in handy for a writer who spends a fair amount of time in the 19th century.

  2. Sounds like my drinkin` buddie after a skin fulll!

  3. I'd certainly heard of Chinook. I even used the term in a story once, with a different meaning. I wasn't quite sure what it was officialy, though.

  4. David, glad to know it.

    OGR, thanks for the interest.

    Cheyenne, Ha!

    Charles, Chinook was also the name of one of the Native American tribes where the jargon originated.