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West Kootenay in the Oxford English Dictionary

Updated: Sep 14, 2021

The Oxford English Dictionary, that great repository of words that bills itself as “the definitive record of the English language,” is not lacking in West Kootenay content.


The dictionary, first published between 1884 and 1928, and updated many times since, illustrates each word’s history with a series of quotes, demonstrating its earliest use and evolution. Some of these quotes were taken from West Kootenay publications or refer to events that occurred here. The dictionary also contains at least two words that were actually born in our area.

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The online version of the dictionary, launched in 2000, makes all of those thousands of words, etymologies, definitions, and quotes searchable — if you have a subscription, or belong to a library with one.


I plunked some local words and names into the database and found some interesting things.


Kootenay

The OED doesn’t like the word Kootenay, or at least the Canadian spelling.


An entry for Kutenai was first included in the 1976 Supplement to the OED, Vol. II. As a noun, it’s defined as a) An Indian people of the Rocky Mountains; also, a member of this people, and b) Their language. As an adjective it’s “Of or pertaining to this people or their language.”


It also notes “Kootenai” is one of “many other variants.” But the second variant it gives is Kutenay — an obscure spelling I was unfamiliar with, although dictionary.com also includes it, and a Google search produces 11,600 results for it. However, it’s not used in any of the quotes listed in the OED.


(Kütne, incidentally, is my own creation.)


The earliest citation is to an 1801 map in Alexander Mackenzie’s Voyages from Montreal, which spelled it almost unrecognizably as Cattanhowes. Next earliest is David Thompson’s journal of Sept. 9, 1809, spelling it Kootenaes.


The earliest use of Kootenay (the official Canadian spelling) cited is from 1893, but the first known use is actually in the New York Herald of Aug. 17, 1858 in a dispatch about the tribes near Fort Colville: “The Flatheads, Pend d’Oreilles (north and south) and Kootenays of this region number in all 1,700.”


The first use of Kootenai (the official American spelling) offered by the OED is from 1877, but we know it was in use by 1863. Similarly, the first dictionary citation of Kutenai is from 1929, but it was in use as of 1901.


The spelling variants are to some extent academic, because they are all corruptions of Ktunaxa. The OED does provide the etymology as Kútonâqa, “the name in a North American Indian language.”


The OED also prefers an idiosyncratic pronunciation: koot-in-eye, whereas most of us say koot-nee, or perhaps koot-in-ee, and the uninitiated might go with koot-nay or koot-in-ay.


Kootenay quotes

Fourteen additional entries contain quotes that have the word Kootenay in them, including angled, destroyer, ice, knocker, pestilential, reno, silver, smoothly, and tillicum. The sources themselves include the Geographic Journal, R.E. Knowles’ 1911 novel Singer of Kootenay, the Victoria Daily Colonist, Western Living, and a 1937 booklet entitled Kootenay & City of Nelson, BC (which provided examples of silver trout and kokanee).


Kokanee

This word is truly indigenous to our area. It was first included in the Supplement to the OED, Vol. 2 (1976) and is defined as “A landlocked dwarf subspecies, Oncorhynchus nerka kennerlyi, of the sockeye salmon.” The etymology is given as Interior Salish kikinee. The alternate form kickininee is also listed.


The earliest citation is to kick-e-ninnies, in a memoir written by Susan L. Allison in 1875, as quoted in a 1953 Okanagan Historical Society report. The first quote mentioning kokanee is the one above from 1937, but the term, in English, was practically ancient by then.


The earliest reference is actually in the Victoria Daily Times of June 15, 1892: “Contractors David Black and Neil McLean started for the Slocan from the West Arm, up Cocanie Creek …”


The Nelson Miner of June 15, 1895 added: “The jagged ridge visible from Nelson away up the lake to the North-East is Ko-ko-nee, of the meaning of which we are sorry to say, we are ignorant.”


The following year, the Columbia and Kootenay Steam Navigation Co. solidified the current spelling when they named their sleek new sternwheeler the SS Kokanee. The Trail Creek News of March 21, 1896 explained it was “after the range of mountains near Nelson.”

The first references to Kokanee Glacier is from 1897.


The first reference that actually explained what the word meant was a booklet from late 1899 or early 1900 entitled Health and Wealth: Kaslo, BC: “During summer months in many streams emptying into Kootenay Lake, spearing a peculiar red fish of the trout species, called by the Indians ‘Kokanee’ is quite an amusement. Long strings of these are frequently seen.”


The Cascade Record of Dec. 29, 1900 also noted: “The Record staff is indebted to Mr. W. Forrest of Gladstone for a liberal present of Kokanees from the Christina Lake waters.”


In 1927, the Nelson Daily News held a contest to nickname the city’s hockey club. The winning entry, submitted by old-timer R.G. Joy, was Kokanees, giving the team as unique a moniker as the Trail Smoke Eaters. Unfortunately, the name was changed after only three seasons.


The word spread far and wide and now appears in street names all over North America. But what really made kokanee a household word was the creation of the beer by that name in 1960 by Interior Breweries — something the OED is silent on.


Sinixt

The Sinixt First Nation turns up once by name, in a quotation for the adjective south-wintering from Paula Pryce’s 1999 book Keeping the Lakes Way: “This policy … was not successful in isolating north and south-wintering Sinixt from each other.”


Slocan

A search for Slocan produces six quotes. Under the figurative use of the verb dig is the September 1895 edition of Century Magazine: “I heard he was tryin’ to dig up a trade with a man who’s got a mine over in the Slocan country.” This was from a short story entitled The Cup of Trembling by Mary Hallock Foote (1847-1938), who “was best known for her illustrated short stories and novels portraying life in the mining communities of the turn-of-the-century American West.”


Then there are three quotes from the Slocan Pioneer of 1897, which is surprising, because the Pioneer is a fairly obscure paper that has only recently been digitized and is not yet available online. Who read it with an eye for neologisms? I don’t know and I can’t tell when these quotes were added.


The first word cited is Klondike, where the Pioneer of July 31 is given as the earliest known use of that spelling (it was also spelled Klondyke and Clondyke): “The Klondike fever has struck Slocan City in a mild form.” A quick search finds several earlier uses, beginning with the Nanaimo Daily News of Feb. 11, 1897.


Next, peacock copper. The Pioneer wrote on Sept. 4, 1897: “The Michigan claim on Toad mountain is showing up well, some very fine grey copper and peacock copper having been encountered.”


Third, rawhide trail. The Pioneer of May 8 wrote: “A rawhide and pack trail has been constructed from the town of Brandon to the Two Friends mine.”


There’s also a quote from the Slocan Drill of Oct. 4, 1901 — “Several yellow legs have been in during the week, examining properties” — cited as the first known example of yellow legs, a colloquialism meaning a member of the RCMP, derived “from the yellow stripe on the side of the trousers” worn by officers.


Yet this is not how the term was used in this instance (the next quote isn’t until 1924). I can find several other references in early Kootenay newspapers that indicate it actually meant someone who falsely claimed to be an expert (especially in mining), although I don’t understand the exact sense.


Lastly, there’s a quote under wheeling and dealing that cites the summer 1981 edition of Beautiful British Columbia magazine: “When silver prices rode the crest and silver-miners and promoters flocked to the Slocan … the streets of New Denver … were alive with wheeling and dealing.” The earliest reference the OED has to wheeling and dealing is from 1969; wheel and deal dates to 1961.


Kaslo

The OED’s earliest example of the rare Canadian mining term rawhider is from the Kaslo Claim of Feb. 22, 1896: “Yesterday the Madison slide came down and the Reco rawhiders only escaped by the skin of their teeth.”


Interestingly, the only other example provided is about the same mine, although it was in the Manitoba Morning Free Press of Jan. 25, 1904: “The Powers’ train of rawhiders, bringing ore from the Reco, barely escaped being caught.”


Rossland

Rossland pops up in the geological meaning of effusive, “of an igneous rock.” A 1903 citation from the American Journal of Science says: “An origin contemporaneous with that of the Rossland effusives.”


It’s also among the four examples the OED cites for hockey, as played on ice. From the Victoria Daily Colonist of Jan. 5, 1906: “The first hockey match of the season was played here between Rossland and Nelson teams.” (The “here” was Nelson.)


The Colonist is the source of a great many quotations in the dictionary: 966 to be exact — although that’s still a few less than the London Times (42,732) or the works of Shakespeare (32,956).


Talkie

One of those Colonist quotes is talkie. The April 2, 1921 edition stated: “All have seen the movies, now people are to have the opportunity of seeing and hearing the ‘Talkies’ … The author … of the remarkable speaking photoplay Shell Shocked is in the city.”


It’s not obvious what the West Kootenay connection is, but the author referred to was J.J. Atherton, publisher of newspapers at Trout Lake, Sandon, New Denver, and Creston in the first decade of the 20th century. His son Francis wrote an entertaining book based on his father’s life called Tuppence Ha’Penny is a Nickel, although it ends before Shell Shocked was created. You can read more about the latter here. Here’s the full story in the Colonist.


Nelson Daily News

This newspaper has ten quotations in the OED, spanning 2000 to 2008, as pulled from the Nexis database. It’s not apparent from the dictionary who wrote the stories in which those words appeared, so I looked them up and found that one author accounted for three of them, while two others were in church columns, and one was in error. Only one actually came from a news story.


• Show (verb): June 2, 2000: “God forms us that we might show forth His praise.” — Ed Ostrom, church column


• Quintetto: Nov. 8, 2002: “Other selected pieces from Cosi fan tutte will include … the quintetto Sento, o Dio, to be sung by Adele, Audrey, Robert, and the two Davids.” — Anonymous story about Nelson Community Opera.


• Retributivism: Jan. 13, 2003: “Strict retributivism basically says that if you’re guilty of something, regardless of the severity, you pay the price.” — Letter to the editor from Roy Heuckendorff


Pulsive: April 15, 2003: “The music is very powerful, pulsive, and ongoing.” — David LeHay quoted in article about Ballet Kelowna by Glenna Turnbull


• Reckoning: May 9, 2003: “There awaits a day when all will have to give a reckoning of how well we did.” — Jim Reimer, church column 


• Heart of the earth: Oct. 11, 2006: “Pretty blue flowers … crown a flat, creeping plant with the square stems common to the mint family. Known by various folk names, Hearth of the Earth, Self-Heal, All-Heal …” — Jan Norn, Kitchen Cosmetics column


Alkanet: June 6, 2007: “The longer you soak the alkanet, the deeper the colour.” — Jan Norn, Kitchen Cosmetics column


• Scotch cap: Feb. 6, 2008: “Any hiker who has blundered into a patch of devil’s cub knows the meaning of ‘horridum.’ At first glance it looks like the friendly and generous scotch cap bushes.” — Jan Norn, Kitchen Cosmetics column. (Horridum does not have its own entry.)


• Sidewalk (verb): Aug. 2, 2008: “There is a movement afoot to have some of the residential blocks near Baker Street sidewalked with cement this fall.” This actually appeared in Greg Scott’s history column — quoting the same newspaper of August 1908. The OED thought it as an example of a recent use, when in fact it’s just the opposite. The other quotations are from 1861, 1893, and 1916.


• Reseek: Sept. 24, 2008: “He announced Sunday his intention to reseek the office he once held.” — Reporter Timothy Schafer writing about former Kaslo mayor Pat Mackle running again. (As he did this month!)


Nelson Star

Just one reference from this newspaper is quoted, from Feb. 8, 2017: “Residents came together for an interfaith vigil … Representatives of the … Roman Catholic, Doukhobor, and Jewish communities were present.” The story, which had no byline, was about an interfaith vigil for the victims of the Sainte-Foy mosque shooting in Quebec. The key word here is Doukhobor.


Doukhobor(s)

First included in the Supplement to the OED, Vol. I (1972). The OED says it was first recorded as Duhobortsi in 1814. The earliest use of Doukhobors in the dictionary is from the Westminster Gazette of April 24, 1899, but I found many earlier references from October 1898 onward. The Nelson Star reference above is one of three listed from BC; there’s also a May 1974 citation from Mir magazine and a May 8, 2012 quote from the Prince George Citizen.


Nikkei

Meaning “a person of Japanese descent who has settled or been brought up abroad.” The last OED quote is from the Vancouver Sun of Aug. 29, 1998 and refers to New Denver: “This was ‘The Orchard’ — row upon row of crude cedar shacks housing more than 1,500 of the nikkei who were forcibly relocated after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941.”


Continental Waterboy

This 1970 book by Donald Waterfield about the impacts of the Columbia River Treaty on the Arrow Lakes is cited nine times by the OED, for terms such as sky-hook, tree-fruit, and riding (as in an MP’s riding). The latter is noteworthy because it mentions both Nakusp and Bert Herridge: “H.W. Herridge … our MP, gave a talk at Nakusp, warning of the considerable changes that might be expected in the economics of his riding.”


MLA

Initialism for Member of the Legislative Assembly. The earliest reference from the Medicine Hat News of April 8, 1897 states: “Another of our M.L.A.’s is to join his confreres in the new Western Eldorado, the marvellously rich Kootenay.” (The reference was to Dan Mowat, the member for South Regina, who moved to Slocan City to run a general store.) But there are earlier examples of MLA from Australia dating to 1870.


Smoke Eater

This term is not in the OED but ought to be. Originally a 19th century nickname for firefighters, it came to be applied to athletes and people generally from smelter towns. The latter use originated in Butte, Montana in the 1890s and migrated to Trail by 1901, where it was first given to a baseball team, and only much later to the local hockey club.


Updated Jan. 12, 2020 to add the 1892 reference to “Cocanie Creek.”

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