Before you go any further, fair warning – this post contains extremely inappropriate and offensive language for educational purposes. If that’s not your cup of tea, turn back now.
Historically at least, Chinook isn’t exactly the language of high literature or monocle-wearing upper-class dandies. No, it’s a street language. It’s the language you heard at the bars, at the docks, in the canneries, in the bush. It’s a language that you used to pick a fight, threaten someone, or sometimes beg for your life. Even Jean-Marie-Raphael Le Jeune, editor of the Kamloops Wawa and oblate missionary, was known to brag that he “could swear in 22 languages”, and I imagine Chinook Wawa was one of them. So if he could do it, then you should be able to as well!
Today I’m putting everyone’s masaachi wawa to the test to see who would be the most likely to get punched out by Stubs’ forbears (see photo above). But first for the uninitiated:
How do you swear in Chinook?
You can skip this part (click here) if you already know how to masaachi-wawa someone kopa chinook. Also, I am going to say some real bad words here and try to deal with some touchy subjects – please don’t think I am actually trying to cause offense and try to understand it is just for educational purposes.
The undisputed champion of insulting things to call someone in Chinook Jargon is “Kamooks” (=dog). This is not unique to Chinook, as this also turns up in other Indigenous languages around here as a rather potent insult.
Interestingly enough, English swear words like “damn” are a great addition to colorful Chinook in need of a bit of extra spice. Many Indigenous languages lack ‘swear words’ in the way that we have them in English – that is, words you can just say and they are immediately offensive in and of themselves like “fuck”. So why not borrow them from English!
When choosing your English swear words or thinking about this in a historical context, you should keep in mind that back when Chinook Jargon was at its peak number of speakers around mid-late 19th century, religious profanity in English was much more potent than it is today. I think we can agree that saying things like “damn”, “god damn”, “Jesus Christ”, “go to hell”, “bloody hell”, “holy shit”, etc. have pretty much lost most of their shock value today. Back then that was not the case. Think of people perceiving these words closer to the level of how some racial slurs, slurs against someone’s sexual orientation, or “cunt” are perceived today: basically unprintable (except on some kaltash pipa), definitely not socially acceptable for ‘polite’ company, and many with the (uptight) sensibilities common at the time would not only be incensed at hearing them, but many would look down on people who go around talking like that.
So they’re definitely fighting words.
There are also tabooed topics like sex, which led to the word “moosum” (which came to mean “to have sex” and apparently sounds like the word “feel around” in some Salishan languages) being replaced by the word “sleep” when talking about more wholesome bedroom activities in parts of BC. Similarly at Grand Ronde I’m told that “mamuk” has taken on a sexual connotation, like the English “to do someone”, leading speakers to prefer “munk” or “mamunk“.
Also at Grand Ronde there are insults specifically based on tribal origin and certain body parts. The former have the power of certain stereotypes behind them and the latter are mostly sexual organs like how you might call someone a “dick” or a “pussy” in English. These, as far as I know though, are mostly used just at Grand Ronde.
Finally in historical documents you sometimes see people insulting others based on things which I think we today would agree are not something that anyone with any sense would find insulting or use as an insult. For example, Louis Bee purportedly insulted Slumach by calling him a ‘pagan’ (*heilo-kristian), ‘sorcerer’ (t’amaanawas-man), and the ‘devil’ (liyob). I think liyob is a common enough insult, but the rest of those examples are only insulting if you have the Christian-with-a-large-hint-of-racism worldview that was common at the time.
There are probably other racial, ethnic, or religious words people threw around in an attempt to insult, but these are not really swear words in Chinook Jargon. “sawash” or “chaina man”, for example, are extremely offensive when speaking English, but they do not have any negative connotations when speaking Chinook Wawa (click to see Dr. David Robertson’s take on this topic), so you will not be seeing them in this post. As far as I understand, that sort of race-based profanity you see in English is just not a thing when speaking Chinuk Wawa with those words, despite what I’ve seen some (who I suspect do not actually know Chinuk Wawa) claim.
If you feel differently than me or understand the situation differently than me on any of the above, please let me know though! I don’t want to pretend like I am the judge of what is or isn’t offensive in any language and things are always changing and situation might be different in different places for different people – I’m just trying my best to tell you how I understand the situation.
So, with this all the above in mind, I reached out to some of you to produce your most insulting string of profanity in Chinook that you could put together. Now I want all you readers to take a look at these and, imaging for a second that you are a mustachioed old-timey pugilist, decide which one is most likely to pop your monocle out and get you to throw down.
Fighting Words #1
Maika mama kakwa pooipooi pi maika papa yaka hum kakwa haiyas-tumtum-olaliyou mother is like a squirrel and your father smells like elderberries
I think this one would mostly confuse someone unless they had watched a certain movie about trying to tlatwa tl’ap shisoo-kri yaka kup or they were heavily involved in the production and consumption of okok hwiski tlaska mamook-neim jin 🙂 Naika wawa masi kopa Kaskeidia tilikum pos okok masaachi wawa. Personally, I think I’ll give this one a solid confused alcoholic Buster Keaton / 10.
Fighting Words #2
maika mama yaka haiyas gris, pos yaka tlatawa salt-chuḵ, yaka kumtuks ikta orka-tilikum wawaYour mom is fat enough that when she goes to the ocean, she understands what the orca people are saying.
A classic maika mama joke. Fat jokes are also nothing new…
Fighting Words #3
gadam, kultus kamooks maika. tloosh maika tlatwa mamook-mimloos maika pi haiyaḵ tlatwa straight to hell, kamooks. maika mama diyob pi maika papa kultus kosho. tl’onas kultus kalakala shit pi maika chako-tenaas. nawiitka wik-tloosh yaka siyaahoos maika mama, wik-ḵata yaka tlatwa moosum kamooks alta, kakwa kwanisum yaka mamook anḵati.God damn, you are a worthless dog. You should go kill yourself and quickly go straight to hell, you dog. Your mom’s the devil and your dad’s a worthless pig. I reckon a no-good bird took a shit and then you were born. Really your mom is so ugly that she can’t even go fuck dogs now like she always used to.
I think this one would likely get me punched in the face before I finished saying it…
If you have an insult of your own you feel like cooking up, feel free to drop it in the comments! Let me know which one of the above you’ll be whipping out next time you feel like a round of fisticuffs at the local lum-hous.