more French conundrums

hzenk at PDX.EDU hzenk at PDX.EDU
Tue Feb 22 23:34:19 UTC 2005

Here's another French-language conundrum posed by Chinuk Wawa sources, for
anyone interested (the response to "malakwa" was terrific!).

In 1853 the Smithsonian Institution published an unattributed vocab entitled:
Vocabulary of the Jargon or Trade Language of Oregon.  Gibbs says he later
learned that this vocabulary was prepared by "Mr. Lionnet, a Catholic priest,
for his own use while studying the language at Chinook Point."  From the late
Fr. Schoenberg I learned that Fr. Lionnet came as a missionary from France in
1848, serving rather briefly as priest of Stellamaris Mission at the mouth of
the Columbia before returning to France.  His vocabulary consists of French
words with Chinuk Wawa equivalents, to which the published version adds a
professor's English translations of the French.  Except, the professor didn't
give an English translation for:

bois diable [appearing as French equivalent of CW:]  kooo stik

"stik" is of course usual Chinuk Wawa for 'wood' as well as 'tree, bush'.  But
"kooo" is a real head-scratcher, especially since Lionnet uses continental
values for vowels elsewhere.  Maybe a scribal error.  Anyway, what the heck
could "bois diable" have possibly meant to a mid-19th c. Frenchman (French
French, not a Canadian recall)?  Any ideas?

Some time ago I was quite obsessed with "kooo stik", thinking it might have
been intended as CW for devil's club (Oplopanax horridus or horridum), a spiny
shrub of deep woods in the NW and an important medicinal and ceremonial plant
farther north.  But now I wonder whether it could possibly be related to the
following entry in the dictionary by the priests Demers, Blanchet, and St.
Onge, published in 1871:

kastik [translated as:] Balsam

Another mystery, actually, in that I have found the word "Balsam" applied to 1)
cottonwood, 2) hemlock (the conifer, that is), 3) fir (various species of

So I guess there are at least two questions here:  what is bois diable?; and
what is Balsam?  Plus maybe a third:  could there be a relationship between the
two?  Anyone care to give this one a try?  Henry

To respond to the CHINOOK list, click 'REPLY ALL'.  To respond privately to the sender of a message, click 'REPLY'.  Hayu masi!

More information about the Chinook mailing list